What is Evil about creating House Elves?

The evil in creating house-elves is not that they like doing chores -- it is that they suffer and cannot do anything about it.

They are capable of feeling pain (and psychological anguish) but are incapable of defending themselves, avenging wrongs done to them, or even demanding better treatment. They are entirely dependent on specific humans (their house's family) for any happiness or satisfaction they might receive. They do not have the choice of leaving.

As such, they are perfect victims for abusers. Like human abuse victims, they can be provoked to self-b... (read more)


Presumably, the mythical sentient pain-feeling creature would merely assign high utility to serving its master. Given enough pain/dis-utility, it would move on to a different master. As long as this were allowed, your horrifying, sentient, pain-feeling punching bag would not arise.

Edit: But I see what you mean: canon house-elves are sentient punching bags.

4Eneasz9yHuh. This line of thinking hadn't even occurred to me. Very insightful, and it actually changed my mind. I wish I could vote it up more than once.

What is Evil about creating House Elves?

by [anonymous] 1 min read13th Dec 201060 comments


Edit: This is old material. It may be out of date.

I'm talking about the fictional race of House Elves from the Harry Potter universe first written about by J. K. Rowling and then uplifted in a grand act of fan-fiction by Elizer Yudkowsky. Unless severely mistreated they enjoy servitude to their masters (or more accurately the current residents of the homes they are binded to), this is also enforced by magical means since they must follow the letter if not the spirit of their master's direct order.

Overall treating House Elves the way they would like to be treated appears more or less sensible and don't feel like debating this if people don't disagree. Changing agents without their consent or knowledge seems obviously wrong, so turning someone into a servant creatures seem intuitively wrong. I can also understand that many people would mind their descendants being modified in such a fashion, perhaps their dis-utility is enough to offset the utility of their modified descendants. However how true is this of distant descendants that only share passing resemblance? I think a helpful reminder of scale might be our own self domestication.

Assuming one created elf like creatures ex nihilo, not as slightly modified versions of a existing species why would one not want to bring a mind into existence that would value its own existence and benefits you, as long as the act of creation or their existence in itself does not represents huge enough dis-utility? This seems somewhat related to the argument Robin Hanson once made that any creatures that can pay for their own existance and would value their own existance should be created.

I didn't mention this in the many HP fan fiction threads because I want a more general debate on the treatment and creation of such a class of agents.


Edit: Clearly if the species or class contains exceptions there should be ways for them to pursue their differing values.