Particular Interests of Mine

I have put some of my favorite posts on the first page, but I soon realized that there were a lot of favorites and a lot of categories and areas that I have an interest in.  Also, some of my posts took a while to load and that seemed annoying when anyone wanted to get to my site.  Thus, I have decided to put this post on the first page so that this will be the ultimate signifer which will point to some of my areas of interest.  These are projects that I’ve been thinking about or something that I found really insightful.  I will update this as interests continue.

Aesthetics

Animals

Benatar: Better Never to Have Been

  • In part one, I went through Benatar’s argument on why coming into existence is a harm.
  • In part two, I went through Benatar’s argument on just how harmful coming into existence is.
  • In part three, I went through Benatar’s anti-natalism.
  • In part four, I went through Benatar’s “Pro-Death” view of the abortion debate.
  • In part five, I went through Benatar’s argument on why the humans should become extinct.
  • In part six, I went through his concluding remarks which entails certain objections and Benatar’s replies, suicide, death, religious views, and optimism vs. pessimism.

Economics

Education

Ethics

History of Philosophy

Living and Dying

Logic

Love, Sex, Marriage and Relationships

Middle East

Politics

Religion

Vegetarianism

The Will

Posted in Anti-Natalism, Benatar, Book Review, Economics, Education, Epicurus, Ethics, Friendship, Locke, Logic, Love, Marriage, Middle East, Monogamy, Politics, Polyamory, Relationships, Sexuality, Single | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Test Whether Life is Worth Living (Test Five: Pre-existence Test) Along with Objections, and Conclusion

In part one, I went through Smuts’ article on certain tests on what makes life worth living. I went through Camus’ Suicide Test and showed Smut’s argument on why it fails.

In part two, I went through mainly Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence Test and showed Smuts’ argument on why it fails.

In part three, I went through the third test motivated by Cicero and Hume called the Extra Life Test and showed Smuts’ argument and my thoughts as well.

In part four, I looked at the fourth test motivated by Bernard Williams which he obtains from the Book of Job where the test asks that one’s life does not have worth if one prefers not to have been born.  Smuts responds to this test and I have given a few objections to this test.

In this final post, I look at Smuts’ own test, called the Pre-existence Test, a few objections with Smuts’ responses, and final concluding thoughts.

Not my image

Here is the formula:

Pre-Existence Test (PET): Life L is worth living for person P iff a benevolent caretaker with foreknowledge of the facts about L would allow P to live L.

This has the advantage from previous tests in that PET can account for objective criterion. That is, PET does not matter on whether P wishes to have been born or not, but whether P should have been born.

PET asks us to imagine a benevolent judge who has the relevant facts and information about P’s life where P has a worthy life and that P doesn’t resent living L.  Being benevolent also means that P would not be used as a means to reach some cosmic end.  At the same time, PET could allow an afterlife.  In other words, living one’s life may be miserable, but an afterlife may be valuable.  Or living through miseries may potentially be soul-making possibilities for P.  The point behind this is not to defend an afterlife, but to show that P’s life is continuous with P’s afterlife.  In other words, P living one’s life L is the same person P while she is living an afterlife.  The point is to show that this takes care of the problems regarding personal identity that previous tests had, specifically parts two and three.

As a way to show PET, Smuts’ uses what he calls the “pre-crib test:” “Imagine looking down at your infant child in his crib. Think of all the things that you want for the child: close friends, a good education, an interesting career, and the like. These are things that contribute to the child’s welfare. The crib test is designed to hone in on welfare considerations” (p. 14).   With this test, we can suppose an ideal evaluator that can apply PET.

Notice, again, that this does not tell us what makes life worth living; rather, this is a general way to track the general extension of the concept.  In other words, “[t]he test captures the idea that a life worth living is a choiceworthy life” (p. 14).  So far, I see a couple problems.

Problem 1: An interesting side note here.  If Smuts is correct, this entails what to do about birthing children, having children, or aborting conceptuses.  After all, if someone is pregnant and one can foresee that the future child will not have a worthy life, then not only is abortion permissible, but one ought to abort the conceptus because a benevolent caretaker would not allow that being to have a life.  Smuts argues that it doesn’t because “PET has the virtues of an infanticide test while avoiding concerns about the morality of infanticide and abortion. Morally, PET is akin to a counterfactual contraceptive administered by a well-informed guardian” (p. 14).  However, I think it goes much further than that.  When it comes to abortion, the morality behind the issue is that one elects to have an abortion because either one does not want to have children at the moment, and/or having a child would be ruinous to either the parents’ lives or the future child’s life.  Moreover, one who elects to get an abortion chooses to obtain one.  With infanticide, the issue is trickier because that it is more morally problematic, but I think the issue could apply.  I understand that infanticide has more complexities because the cultural beliefs and that the practice has to do with helping the child die now rather than letting the child suffer later, but the point is is that the same principle applies: better to get rid of this being now rather than later so that the future child (and perhaps parents) don’t suffer.  But with Smuts’ PET, the test does not suggest that one can opt to obtain an abortion or perform infanticide.  It seems much stronger than that: one ought to get an abortion or perform infanticide and the “ought” means that one does a duty rather than simply making a choice.

Now, the test itself does not say that if life is not worth living, then one ought to kill or get rid of that possible life.   But how far does this benevolence go?  If one can see that suffering is happening (since the caretaker has enough foreknowledge of the facts, according to PET), then the caretaker ought to do something to get rid of that suffering.  Of course, it comes down to whether it’s in the caretaker’s power to get rid of the suffering.  But notice that PET suggests that the caretaker would allow P to live if P’s life is worth living.  Taking the contrapositive: the caretaker would not allow P to live if P’s life is not worth living.  Thus, there is still a connection between PET and whether one ought to receive an abortion or perform infanticide.

Problem 2: If the parents don’t want the child because they feel that the child’s life would not have much worth as opposed to a better time to have the child, this puts a strange view of applying PET.  If the parents have the child now, then they would view the worth of that child’s life pretty low.  If the parents have the child later, then they would view the worth of that child’s life pretty high.  Let us assume that this is also objectively true.  Applying PET, having the child now would have a less worthy life, and so it seems that it is more allowable to not allow that conceptus to live.  If the child later would have a more worthy life, then it is allowable to let the conceptus to live.  There is a sliding scale here: the more worth the child has, the more allowable it is to let the conceptus to live.  Worth can have ups and downs, and it is comparable to other things that have worth.  But can allowability?    It’s obvious that we can say that X has more worth than Y, but does it make sense to say that X is more allowable than Y?  I don’t mean in the clear since where X is allowable but Y isn’t.  There are things that have a clear black and white answer.  What I’m asking is does allowability have this variability where X is more allowable than Y?  Suppose a couple is ready to have a child, yet they would be more ready if they waited.  This would suggest that it is allowable to have a child, but it would be more allowable if they waited.  Does this make sense?  It’s possible, but this does give a strange view of allowability.

On the other hand, Smuts does suggest that PET sets a standard where if one passes the bar, then the benevolent caretaker would allow P to live L.  Presumably, if one does not pass the bar, then the benevolent caretaker would not allow P to live L.  This would keep the worth having different measures yet allowability to be either a clear yes or no.  Still, asking whether allowability having a clear yes or no, or whether is has different measures is worth asking because it could effect PET.

Objection:

There are a few objections that Smuts discusses, but I’ll handle one of them: the Borderline Problem.  It’s obvious we can think think of cases of life worth living and what it consists of.  We can also think of cases of life not worth living because of what these lives consist of.  But what about the not so clear cases?  If so, this suggests that worth comes in degrees.  Certain activities such as collecting rubber bands or writing handwritten copies of War and Peace have lives that have less worth than those lives where the people can accomplish good ends.  Yet, these lives are more worthy than a life where a person lives a life in pure agony and despair.  Yet, lives where one pursues one life collecting rubber bands or writing handwritten copies of War and Peace seems to be a wasted life.  Yet, is this still a life worth living?  What would PET say?  Specifically, what would the benevolent, ideal caretaker say?  This is hard to say, and there is a definite grey zone here.  Between “live worth living” and “lives worth avoiding” is a between grey area: “lives worth neither.”  Obviously, the benevolent, ideal caretaker will consent for P to live a life worth living, and would not consent for P to live a life worth avoiding.  But would the benevolent, ideal caretaker consent for P to live a “life worth neither?”  We don’t know.  More importantly, if the caretaker avoids the issue, this is equivalent to saying that the caretaker would not let P have L anyways.  Thus, this is a forced option.  Perhaps what this suggests is that the test is forced into two options, but since worth comes in degrees, the test forces worth into options to be carried out.  To escape this, we need a reason for the caretaker to exercise the decision to consent or not to let P have L?  But for this to work, we need a theory of worth and a theory of what makes life worth living, which is what I have been saying throughout these past posts.

Overall, the test is instructive in that it is not meant to give us an account of testing out lives worth living, but to construct an objective theory of worth.  What’s interesting is that the test is meant to be a heuristic rather than a final say on the worth of a life.  What this whole article is to give a starting point for some criteria on a theory of worth.

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Let’s See What’s in the News Today (Feb. 16, 2014)

Children

The increased visibility and acceptance of women who choose not to have children is just one part of a social evolution away from the limited “traditional family” model, and into a world where human beings with a diversity of needs can create family arrangements that work for them. That’s not just good for the child-free; it’s great for feminism – and even better for society and families.

That isn’t to equate child-free people with freedom fighters, feminists and other activists, or to say that the discrimination child-free women face is anything on the scale of systematic racism, homophobia, sexism or other bigotries. It is to say that creating new norms and models is powerful, and stepping outside the status quo often brave.

And parenthood is difficult in very particular ways. It should only be entered into entirely voluntarily. There is no “voluntary” in a culture where parenthood is a required part of adulthood.

Normalization of being child-free is a gain for all of us, whether we choose to have children or not. It reminds us that kids are people, who deserve to be raised and nurtured by adults who proactively want to have them. And it reminds us that women are people, too – that we exist once on this planet, and we have one life in which to seek happiness and pleasure and goodness. Making choices that center on our own needs and desires isn’t selfish. It’s radical. It’s transformational.

Education

Gender

Marriage

Sexuality

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How to Test Whether Life is Worth Living (Test Four: Preferring Not to Have Been Born Test)

In part one, I went through Smuts’ article on certain tests on what makes life worth living. I went through Camus’ Suicide Test and showed Smut’s argument on why it fails.

In part two, I went through mainly Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence Test and showed Smuts’ argument on why it fails.

In part three, I went through the third test motivated by Cicero and Hume called the Extra Life Test and showed Smuts’ argument and my thoughts as well.

In this post, I’ll look at the fourth test motivated by Bernard Williams which he obtains from the Book of Job.

Not my image.

Not my image.

Williams quotes from Job where Job laments after losing his children, his wealth, and gains sickness and boils.  From all of his horrible experiences, Job curses the day he was born because he views his life not having any worth.  We have the fourth test:

Preferring Not to Have Been Born Test: Life L is worth living for person P iff P does not prefer not to have been born.

So far, this test has the advantages from the previous tests.  It looks at the life as a whole instead of looking at the remainder of a life, thus it avoids the problem from the suicide test.  This test avoids the problems of repetition from the recurrence test.  And this test avoids the problems of personal identity from the extra life test.  Despite these advantages, there are problems with this test.

Problem 1: One could be wrong about whether one wishes to have never been born, yet one can still live a life worth living.  For example, someone may have severe self-loathing and this may make one wish to have never been born.  However, one may nevertheless live a life worth living.  Moreover, this test still faces the same subjective problems that the simple suicide test faced in Test one.  Recall the distraught adolescent who wishes that she had never been born because her boyfriend of two weeks broke up with her.  If so, then this test is no better than the subjective suicide test.  Subjectively, then, this is a problem. Thus, we have another reason that what makes life worth living must be an objective test.

Could there be an objective test?  What would this look like?  Smuts uses an example taken from Smilansky.  Imagine a self-loathing, yet happy child molester who wishes he was never born, yet he still considers his life having worth, and thus, his life is worth living.  Smuts argues against this suggesting that even if the child molester considers his life having worth, objectively it does not.  Smuts argues that “[j]ust as we might ask if an activity is objectively worth performing, we can ask the same of lives” (p. 12).  I have problems with this, but I’ll come back to it.  Smuts suggests that one can be wrong about whether one’s life is worth living.  For example, Hitler may have been upset that the final solution was not completed right before he committed suicide.  Still he may have been pleased that he executed so many Jews, and that he could have thought that his life may have been better if he had killed millions more.  Even if he thought this, in reality, he would have been wrong.  This is because “any life that furthers hideous evil is not worth living” (p. 18).

Problem with Smuts’ reasoning: I find two problems with Smuts reasoning.  The first is when he says “[j]ust as we might ask if an activity is objectively worth performing, we can ask the same of lives.”  This is ambiguous.  A life may consist of many actions, but a life does not equal the summation of one’s actions.  Of course, one needs to have a life in order to do actions, but the actions themselves do not equal the entirety of one’s life.  

On the other hand, perhaps what Smuts means is that the actions may constitute one’s life.  That is fine, but I still don’t see the logic between seeing the objectivity of performing the action and the objectivity of the worth of a life.  I may enjoy a certain activity, and this activity is so mundane but it gives me great pleasure, and hence is a subjective worth, yet one can still consider whether a life has objective worth.  Either way, Smuts is ambiguous in this phrasing.

However, the second and major problem deals with Smuts’ example with Hitler.  Hitler thought his life had worth, but objectively it was wrong.  Smuts’ reasoning is because “a life that furthers hideous evil is not worth living.”  However, this doesn’t seem true necessarily.  I will provide two examples to problematize to show how.

Example one: suppose you are really charitable and an overall generous person.  There was a recent catastrophic natural event that happened on the other side of the world.  This even could be an earthquake, tsunami, a major hurricane, etc.  You have the resources to go there and help out.  Once you arrive, you do the best you can to make sure that you’re healthy and to provide services to those around you.  After you exercise your generosity, you head back home feeling good that you provided a good service to others, and the recipients are thankful for your service.  Your friends and family members are proud of your generosity and service.  You may think, then, that your actions had worth, and that your life also had worth.  However, you find out that you’re incredibly sick.  You shake it off and think that it’s just a fluke and that you’ll get over it soon.  A week later, however, you get worse and head to the doctor.  You later find out that it is a contagious parasite that you brought back from the other side of the world, and because it’s contagious, you have contaminated your friends and family members.  Everyone is upset with you for bringing this contagion into the USA.  This sickness is so bad, that we can even imagine the same afflictions that Job had: boils, ill health, sheer mental exhaustion, etc.  It has become so bad that you wish that you were never born and that your life doesn’t have worth.  In the first place, I would say that this is untrue.  Your life may still have worth even with this unfortunate event happening.  Thus, the preferring not to have been born test does not hold.  But more to the point, it seems that more evil has been furthered.  Is this “hideous” evil?  It’s hard to say.

Indeed, major governmental officials have to quarantine you, your friends, and family members in a restricted area in order to contain the problem.  This totally upsets you and your loved ones’ life plans and all of your well-being isn’t as great as it was before.  You may think, then, that your life does not have worth.  People are dying because of you, the government has to step in and quarantine the community, this plague is a disaster in epic proportions.  Even though this is a natural phenomenon, I’d still say it’s a hideous evil.  However, this evil was because of your actions.  If you never contracted the contagion, the whole mess wouldn’t have happened.  In a sense, you are responsible for this hideous evil.  Still, I would say that because you didn’t know about it and you had good intentions, your life—considering all other things being equal—still had worth.  You didn’t bring back the contagion with ill intent, even if hideous evil came about.

Example 2: Alternatively, what about a person where their life didn’t have any worth, yet they didn’t further any hideous evil?  In fact, they averted a great evil.  What then?  Suppose we had vicious cannibals that simply loved to eat people.  Once they get a craving, look out!  They’re on the rampage.  Let’s suppose that these cannibals lived in Germany at the end of the 19th century.  They are so cruel and so vicious that it seems that they are living lives not worth living.  Now suppose that these cannibals had a taste for young children.  So they go out sneaking around, snatching young babies to quench their thirst for blood, and then they eat them.  Clearly what they’re doing is morally wrong and that it’s not a life worth living.  However, imagine that the babies they ate were Hitler and other members of the SS party.  By getting rid of Hitler and the rest of his men, a great and hideous evil has been averted, but it was all because of these cannibals.  Yet, these cannibals’ lives are not worth living.  Thus, Smuts cannot be right about how “a life that furthers hideous evil is not worth living.”  (Both these examples come from Sinhababu.)

Despite these problems, I think Smuts is right that this test cannot be correct.  Here’s another problem.

Problem 2: A vice versa example is a life not worth living (suppose one is living a full life of intense pain, misery, and suffering), yet this person still prefers to exist rather than to have never been born, for whatever reason.  According to the test above, this person is being inconsistent and is mistaken that he or she prefers to exist.  This seems out of place too.  Of course, this again depends on some objective criteria on a worthy life, which I’ve mentioned before.

This, however, depends on whether the vice versa test could be an equivalent form of the test.  Recall that the test is Life L is worth living for person P iff P does not prefer not to have been born.  But is this the same as Life L is not worth living for person P iff P does prefer not to have been born?  I’m not so sure.  Vice versa’s are not necessarily equivalencies.  However, I’ll move on with this post.

In the next and final post, I’ll look at Smuts’ own answer on how to test whether life is worth living: the benevolent caretaker test.

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Let’s See What’s in the News Today (Feb. 1, 2014)

Abortion

  • Some states require women to look at an ultrasound before an abortion.  The argument behind this is that this would hopefully form a bond between the mother and the fetus and the mother would change her mind and continue with the pregnancy.  A new study shows that a woman’s behavior and thoughts hardly change after seeing the ultrasound.
  • More abortion restrictions were enacted between 2011-2013 than in the entire previous decade: Not my image

Children

Economics

Education

Emotions

  • People often blame procrastination on lack of will power.  However, new research suggests that it have to do with our moods.

Families

Geography

Philosophy

Science

Sexuality

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How to Test Whether Life is Worth Living (Test Three: The Extra Life Test)

In part one, I went through Smuts’ article on certain tests on what makes life worth living. I went through Camus’ Suicide Test and showed Smut’s argument on why it fails.

In part two, I went through mainly Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence Test and showed Smuts’ argument on why it fails.

In this post, I’ll look at the third test motivated by Cicero and Hume called the Extra Life Test.

Cicero and Hume

Cicero imagines Cato on his deathbed, who lived a life of accomplishment and learning.  Cicero imagines Cato being offered another life to live, and Cato declining this offer.  Hume through Philo supports Cicero’s pessimism.  The point is that Cato is a person who has accomplished much and is considered to have lived one of the best possible human lives, even a worthy life.  If Cato declines, then human life must not be worth living because a great person who lived a great life declines to relive it.  The conclusion, therefore, is that if someone lived a worthy life, one would want to live it again if given the choice.  Here we have a formula:

Extra Life Test: Life L is worth living for person P iff P would choose to live another life, L’, after L.

Before I move on, I want to make a comment on Cato’s conclusion above.  The test isn’t the problem; rather, it’s the usage of Cato to derive the Extra Life Test.  From what I’ve gathered, Cato was considered one of the best people to have ever lived.  The reason for this evaluation is because he had a life worth living.  However, from Cato’s statement (derived from Cicero), he would not want to relive it.  Therefore, based on Cicero’s and Hume’s pessimism, life isn’t worth living because even the greatest person who has ever lived wouldn’t want to have another life.  In a way, Cato is an expert at living a worthy life, and if someone with Cato’s caliber wouldn’t want to live again, and by following an expert’s guide would be helpful to living one’s own life, then we wouldn’t want to live another life again.

Of course, this again depends on what a worthy life is, and this may be a fallacy of appeal to an authoritative figure.  Nevertheless, if this is how Cicero is making a remark on a worthy life, then Cato may be an authoritative figure that has some basis.

Anyways, this doesn’t detract too much from Smuts’ argument.  What are some of the problems that Smuts has?

Problem 1: We lose a sense of personal identity.  If you lived your life L, and then was reborn into life L`, can we say that the reborn person is really you?  When you are reborn, you may have another life, but this life is not continuous with your previous life?  After all, your memories would be gone as soon as L ends.  Everything that you knew and gained in L would be lost.  Reliving a life not only means that you wouldn’t have the same body, but it also means you wouldn’t have the same mind.  In other words, P doesn’t just have L and then has L` right after.  Rather, as soon as P lives out L, P would not have L`; rather, it could be P` who has L`.  In which case, there is no “reborn” because it’s just a different person living a different life.  This, of course, assumes that one’s identity is based on the body or the mind, and not the soul.  However, even if it was the soul that was being reborn, it still seems to give not much importance.  After all, suppose that as soon as I die, my soul would be reborn again.  However, the caveat is that I would have a new body, and my memories, personality, knowledge, and anything mental would be lost.  Thus, I would gain a new mind.  The only thing that would remain the same would be the soul.  Now if that is the case, my intuition would be: “who cares?”  If my soul survives but I don’t even remember previous lives, memories, or experiences, then what do I care what happens?  Suppose that my life right now is L`.  I don’t remember my previous life or memories.  So why should I care what happened to my previous life if I don’t remember it?  Indeed, it’s as if the previous person was a different person.  With that, I agree with Smuts that it doesn’t matter what happens to “me” in L` because I wouldn’t remember it.  However, what if we changed the circumstances?

Reply: What if P could remember everything that happened during L?  What if while P is living L`, P does keep the memories, experiences, and knowledge of what happened during L?  What then?  If that’s the case, then we don’t lose a sense of personal identity.  Thus, I don’t think Smuts considers the full capacity of this test in terms of personal identity.  I could continue with this line of thinking, but the next problem is much more convincing.  Smuts has another problem with the extra-life test.

Problem 2: Suppose that P could be living L`, it doesn’t follow that if L is worth living, then L` would be too.  Living L and finding worth in it doesn’t imply that one would want L`.  Perhaps living L is enough.  Maybe living one life is satisfactory, and having another one may not be worth it.  The quantity of something does have limits in terms of what we desire.  After all, just because one Snickers bar satisfies you, it doesn’t imply that you’d want another immediately right after.

What about some objective criterion for living another life?  What would that look like?  Smuts doesn’t offer one because he doesn’t think it’s tenable.  However, I think a formula would look like this:

Objective Extra Life Test: Life L is worth living for person P iff P should choose to live another life, L’, after L.

This formula is weird.  Imagine someone approaching you saying that since you’re life has worth, you ought to have another one.  Apply that with any artifact: “that Snickers bar was worth it.  You ought to have another.”  I don’t know about you, but that would be a weird statement.  First, I’d have to ask the other person how one determines what the worth of life is.  This goes back to what Smuts’ project is all about: namely that he’s not looking for a theory of a worthy life, but to test out certain general concepts to test our intuitions to see what makes a life worth living.  Secondly, why should I live another life?  Regardless if my life is a worthy life, why live another?  Again, this goes back to problem 2 mentioned before.  As before, there is no necessary nor sufficient condition between a worthy life L, and whether one ought to live another life, L`.   Thus, the objective extra life test does not work.

In the next post, I’ll look into the Job test.

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How to Test Whether Life is Worth Living (Test Two: The Recurrence Test)

In part one, I went through Smuts’ article on certain tests on what makes life worth living. I went through Camus’ Suicide Test and showed Smut’s argument on why it fails.

In this post, I’ll look into the second test from Smuts: The Recurrence Test from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

Schopennietzsche

To start, Schopenhauer has a pessimistic view of the world: it’s better to have never existed in the first place.  Anyone who looks at the realities of the world would see that one would not want to live again if one had the opportunity:

No man, if he be sincere and at the same time in possession of his faculties, will ever wish to go through it [life] again. Rather than this, he will much prefer to choose complete non-existence. The essential purport of the world-famous monologue in Hamlet is, in condensed form, that our state is so wretched that complete non-existence would be decidedly preferable to it. (The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 1, p. 324)

For Nietzsche, he uses what is famously known as the “eternal recurrence” passage as a test to see if life is worth living:

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!” (The Gay Science, Section 341)

We can easily gather two principles from Nietzsche’s prescription, namely that life is worth living if one would choose to live it again.

Weak Recurrence Test: Life is worth living for a person iff that person should will to live an intrinsically qualitatively identical life over again.

According to this test, if one is willing to live life L1, then one is willing to live life L2.  Moreover, L1 and L2 are qualitatively identical.  Since it would have the same qualitative life, the only difference is that L2 comes after L1.  Thus, it would be weird to say that L1 is worth living but L2 is not.  However, we run into a problem.

Problem: If L1 is worth living, then L2 is worth living.  Moreover, if L2 is worth living, then L3 is worth living since according to the weak test, one is willing to live it again.  And if L3 is worth living, then L4 is worth living.  And so on.  There is no way to stop this regress; thus one must be willing to live this life for eternity.  Let’s move to the next test.

Strong Recurrence Test: Life is worth living for a person iff that person should will to live an intrinsically qualitatively identical life over and over again eternally.

Problem 1: Just because a life is worth living, it doesn’t follow that we’d want to repeat it.  I  don’t mind running in place on the treadmill, but not forever.  Likewise, we may not want to repeat our lives (even a worthy life) indefinitely.  Imagine that you could live forever.  While you may take advantage of gaining new knowledge and experiences, it seems that the worth of such a life is diminished because it wouldn’t end.  Suppose you wrote a great story that has a lot of worth, but you constantly have amnesia and so you write the story again indefinitely.  Overtime, writing the story for the 100th time just seems to have less of an accomplishment.  Writing it the first time, however, makes the accomplishment and worth greater.

Problem 2: Another problem has to do with the worth of L1 and L2.  Suppose that L1 is barely worth living, but it doesn’t cross the threshold to repeat it to have another life, L2.  Thus, L1 may be worth living, but a person may not will to live it over again since L2 may not be worth living.

Problem 3: Finally, the last problem deals with past lives: we wouldn’t remember them according to Nietzsche’s hypothesis.  Would our lives be the same?  Is L1 really the same as L2?  Here we reach a dilemma:

Dilemma 1: If we can remember our previous lives, then L2 is not qualitatively identical as L1 and so the recurrence test isn’t really a recurrence, but more of a eternal reliving.  If so, then we fall back into problem 2 that eternally living seems to lose its luster, and the worth of a life diminishes.  Moreover, if I’m just reliving my life repeatedly and I can’t change it, and I know what’s going to happen next, then this doesn’t seem to be worth it.  In fact, it would just be maddening to repeat my life again and again for all eternity knowing what I’d do next for all eternity.  It’d be like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, except you don’t escape it.  That doesn’t seem to be a life worth living.

Dilemma 2: If we can’t remember our previous lives, then why do I care what happens to me in L2?  Indeed, is it really me?  In fact, suppose that this life I’m living is L1, but what if it was L2, L5, L234, or L235,343?  Either way, I can’t remember my previous lives, nor my future lives.  Why would I care about my previous lives or my future lives if I can’t remember it?

As a way to push this idea, imagine Bill Murray’s character (and everyone else) in Groundhog Day reliving their lives but no one remembers reliving it.  Everything is exactly the same, and they don’t know that they’re repeating lives.  My intuitions tell me that they wouldn’t care about their previous lives (nor their future lives if somehow they gained knowledge of their future lives).

While I see Smuts’ motivation, I would like to offer another interpretation of Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence and see how Smuts would respond.

What if the eternal recurrence was a test of your yes-saying?  Would you say Yes! even to everything in the world around you?  In other words, this eternal recurrence is a trial of strength. If you can say yes to this, then you’re a strong person.  We should strive to make each moment of life one that we would want to repeat over and over again for eternity.  Not literally, but a way where you live L1 and live it as if you would want to live it for eternity.  If you can’t see yourself doing that activity for eternality, then change it!  This is the test then: esteem your life, as you are living it right now. Would you be willing to relive it for eternity, or are there some things that you want changed?  

There have been many moments in our lives where we go through mundane and boring moments in our lives.  We may say to ourselves, “man, I wish I was doing something else, like skiing or surfing the waves somewhere.  Anywhere but here.”  These fantasies might be consoling to us, but we invent them only because we can’t bear that this is all there is.  By having these fantasies, they are just that: fantasies.  We don’t do anything to make these fantasies come true.  Thus, our fantasies are signs of weakness.  This whole thing means that Nietzsche is challenging us to something simple, but at the same time not easy:  Make this fantasy a reality.  Imagine repeating your life in every single detail—including these boring moments—and how much of it you could bear.  And because you must say Yes! to life, any resentment, remorse, and regrets suggests that you are unwilling to live your life again, exactly as it has been.

In short, then, we live our lives as if we could live it eternally, and if we can’t imagine it, nor would we want to live our life for eternity, then we must change our life so that we could say Yes and then will to live for eternity, even metaphorically.

I could imagine Smuts responding like this.  Even if this is true, this is using the eternal recurrence as a motivation to describe a worthy life.  Thus, this may be a starting point of a worthy life.  However, the project was to test what makes a life worth living, not to find the criterion or a test on what a worthy life is.

Fair enough!  Again, as before, I think that these tests that Smuts puts forward motivates one to find criterion for a worthy life, even if using that worth as a test to make life worth living doesn’t work.

In the next post, I will look at Smuts’ next test: Cicero’s and Hume’s Extra Life Test.

Posted in Article, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Values | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

How to Test Whether Life is Worth Living (Test One: The Suicide Test)

The meaning of life has been a huge question in philosophy.  The answers range from gaining knowledge, gaining pleasure, coming to know God and follow his commandments, getting off the cycle of samsara, and self-creation by finding your own meaning.  Yet, we must make a distinction between a meaningful life, and a life worth living.  Aaron Smuts makes this important distinction and in this post, I’ll be looking at his article, “Five Tests for What Makes Life Worth Living.”

Smuts’ goal, however, is not to give a sustained account of what makes life have worth, or devise a test to evaluate one’s life.  Rather, as he puts it, “I offering a handbook for evaluating lives. Instead, I undertake a preliminary task—to find a way to track the general extension of the concept” (p. 3).  In other words, this article—and hence, this post—will not investigate the worth of meaning of life and what that worth is.  Rather, Smuts is going to test out the different theories of a worthy life to see if they are sound.  If not, then the theory is flawed.  Along with that, the test will help us determine what would be a better theory for a worthy life.

With that in mind, Smuts develops four tests that philosophers have used for determining what makes a life worth living.  He argues that all four of them fail and offers a better fifth test that can track the general extension of the concept of what makes a life worth living.

First of all, what are these four tests?

  1. The Suicide Test (from Camus)
  2. The Recurrence Test (from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche)
  3. The Extra Life Test (from Cicero and Hume)
  4. The Preferring Not to Have Been Test (from Williams and the Book of Job)

What would be Smuts’ fifth test?

5.  The Pre-Existence Test.

This test argues that “a life worth living is one that a benevolent caretaker with foreknowledge would allow.  A life worth avoiding is one that a benevolent caretaker would disallow” (p. 3).

To repeat, Smuts is not giving an account on what makes life worth living.  For that to work, we need an account of worth.  Rather, Smuts is testing out what makes life worth living through these tests in which this could further develop a theory of worth.  Smuts notes: “a useful test provides an epistemic indicator of when worth obtains. A test does not provide a metaphysical account of why some lives are worth living. Again, for that we need a theory of worth” (p. 3).

With that, let us go straight to these tests and see why they fail.

The Suicide Test (Camus)

Coming from Camus, he argues that there is a connection between suicide and whether life is worth living.

Not my image.

Not my image.

Camus doesn’t make this connection clear, but Smuts’ project is not to “fill in the gaps” with Camus’ philosophy.  Rather, Smuts wants to see whether the test holds.  The first test, then, is a subjective one:

Subjective Suicide Test:  Life is worth living for the person iff the person does not desire to  end one’s life.

There are two problems with this:

Problem 1: We can be mistaken about whether our lives are worth living or not.  Suppose Sally breaks up with her boyfriend of two weeks and she decides that life is therefore not worth living.  So, she considers suicide.  However, she’s mistaken.  Her subjective desire does not entail that her life is therefore not worth living.  Therefore, the desire to commit suicide is not sufficient for a life not worth living.

While I see what Smuts is doing (and I happen to agree with him on this problem), I think it would be instructive to show why Sally is wrong.  In other words, someone could be  wrong with one’s self-assessment.  I understand that this would require a theory of worth and what makes a life have worth, which is not Smuts’ project.  However, an inkling of why Sally is wrong would be beneficial in order to push the problem forward.

Problem 2: Stemming from Hume, if life was really so bad, why don’t we see more people committing suicide?  Philo responds: the reason is because people fear death.  Death could bring something worse than life.  This is instructive.  Even if one’s life is not worth living, one may nevertheless not desire to commit suicide because of this fear.  Thus, the desire to commit suicide is not a necessary condition for a life not worth living.

From problem one and two, the desire to commit suicide is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for a life not worth living.  Thus, the worth of one’s life is not determined by one’s attitude that one takes towards one’s life.  Therefore, the subjective suicide test is false.  Let’s go to the next test:

Objective Suicide Test:  Life is worth living for a person iff the person should not end one’s life.

This test argues that the worth of one’s life is not determined by any attitude towards one’s life; rather, it must be determined by an appropriate attitude.  Notice that with an objective test, a life worth living is where the person should not commit suicide, whereas the subjective test was when one desired to commit suicide.  Moreover, with the objective test, it also implies that a life worth avoiding is one where the person should commit suicide.

To make things simple, suppose a person is well-informed about her life and she knows whether it’s going to be a life of misery or a life of happiness, whether it’s going to have negative or positive consequences in the world, etc.  However, Smuts argues that even though the objective test may be better than the subjective test, it still fails.  Smuts uses Philo (from Hume) again to show why.

Problem: Suppose there was an afterlife.  Suppose that one’s life is bad.  Thus, according to the objective test, one ought to commit suicide.  However, what if one’s afterlife was worse.  It’s just a miserable afterlife.  It may be better to suffer through a tortuous life than to endure a hellish afterlife.  On the other side, suppose one’s life is pleasant and good, but the afterlife is enriched with joy and greater pleasures.  Thus, one ought to commit suicide because it’s the rational thing to do.  Again, whether one should commit suicide or not is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for whether a life is worth living.  Thus, the objective test fails.  Of course, this brings in a lot of assumptions about what the afterlife is like and whether it’s better or worse for someone.  How do we handle this?  We’ll need another test.

Exempted Objective Suicide Test: Life is worth living for a person iff a person should not end one’s life, assuming that the afterlife for that person wouldn’t be worse than living one’s life.

This still has problems.

Problem: It may be better to commit suicide if others benefit from it.  Suppose that self-immolation would result in the downfall of an oppressive regime.  Assuming that humans don’t have infinite value, then suicide could bring about greater value for the world.  However, this suggests that one’s life may be worth living even though one ought to commit suicide.  Thus, we need to modify the Exempted Objective Suicide Test to fix this.

Double Exempted Objective Suicide Test: Life is worth living for a person iff that person should not end one’s life, assuming that the afterlife for that person wouldn’t be worse than living one’s life and the benefit to others from ending one’s life does not outweigh the value of one’s life.

Problem: A life that is not worth living might nevertheless be wrong to end, say, if one’s children would suffer greatly as a result.  We need another modification.

Triple Exempted Objective Suicide Test: Life is worth living for a person iff that person should not end one’s life, assuming the afterlife for that person wouldn’t be worse than living one’s life, the benefit to others from ending one’s life does not outweigh the value of one’s life, and it wouldn’t be wrong for that person to end one’s life.

Problem: By adding “…and it wouldn’t be wrong for that person to end one’s life” doesn’t give us any information for what makes life worth living.   Smuts argues that this makes the definition circular (“It merely amounts to a statement that one should commit suicide if one’s life is not worth living” (p.7).)  However, one can escape the circularity if we had a theory of worth and whether it’s wrong for that person to end one’s life.  Of course, if we say that it’s wrong for a person to commit suicide, we would have to ask why which means we need a theory of worth.

At this point, we cannot say when the person should end one’s life.  Suppose that the rest of your life that you live out would be miserable.  This does not therefore mean that your life was not worth living.  On the other side, suppose that your entire past included so much pain and suffering that your life on the whole was not worth living.  However, the rest of your life might be good and so your life may be worth continuing, but on the whole, it wasn’t a life worth living.

I think what Smuts is doing here is instructive.  Even though he’s not giving us a theory of meaning, these tests pick apart our intuitions in order to find what worth means, and what makes life have worth.  By going through these tests, one would sift through ideas of a worthy life and how a life has worth.

In the next post, I’ll go through Smuts’ second test: the Recurrence Test from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

Posted in Article, Camus, Life, Values | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Let’s See What’s in the News Today (Jan. 12, 2014)

Abortion

Animals

Economics

  • The Pope recently made comments critiquing capitalism.  The Atlantic has a response by saying the Pope is ignorant about world economics.  Toward the end, the article says: “Pope Francis has a big heart, but his credibility as a voice of justice and morality would be immeasurably improved if he based his statements on facts.”

Epistemology

Food

Gender

Music

Philosophy

Because in the end, we are all run by chemistry and biology and electricity, even when we are in love, even when we are in grief, even when we are watching a film and analyzing it. Grow something in your head that shouldn’t be there, change the chemistry, sever something, modify something, treat something, and you will get a person who acts differently, whose personality perhaps shifts. Jonze is asking, really: if we are the sum of processes that can be understood as based in science, why could science not recreate them?

Politics

Science

Sexuality

Posted in Abortion, Buddhism, Drug Use, Economics, Epistemology, Gender, Music, News, Politics, Science, Sexuality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s See What’s in the News Today (Jan. 1, 2014)

Feminism

Music

Relationships

Sexuality

Will Power

Posted in Feminism, Music, News, Prostitution, Relationships, Sexuality, Will | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s See What’s in the News Today (Dec. 8, 2013)

Children

Culture

Economics

Feminism

  • Very good discussion of the Christian Right incorporating feminism.  What a strange brew!

Health

  • An explanation on why you wake up five minutes earlier than your alarm.  Taken from the article:

    There’s evidence you can will yourself to wake on time, too. Sleep scientists at Germany’s University of Lubeck asked 15 volunteers to sleep in their lab for three nights. One night, the group was told they’d be woken at 6 a.m., while on other nights the group was told they’d be woken at 9 a.m..

    But the researchers lied-they woke the volunteers at 6 a.m anyway. And the results were startling. The days when sleepers were told they’d wake up early, their stress hormones increased at 4:30 a.m., as if they were anticipating an early morning. When the sleepers were told they’d wake up at 9 a.m., their stress hormones didn’t increase — and they woke up groggier. “Our bodies, in other words, note the time we hope to begin our day and gradually prepare us for consciousness,” writes Jeff Howe at Psychology Today.

    Moreover, the snooze button is the worst way to start your day.

Gender

Marriage

Politics

Race

Science

Sexuality

Posted in Culture, Evolution, Feminism, Gender, Health, Marriage, News, Politics, Sexuality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment