For those not familiar with the topic, Torture vs. Dustspecks asks the question: "Would you prefer that one person be horribly tortured for fifty years without hope or rest, or that 3^^^3 people get dust specks in their eyes?"
Most of the discussion that I have noted on the topic takes one of two assumptions in deriving their answer to that question: I think of one as the 'linear additive' answer, which says that torture is the proper choice for the utilitarian consequentialist, because a single person can only suffer so much over a fifty year window, as compared to the incomprehensible number of individuals who suffer only minutely; the other I think of as the 'logarithmically additive' answer, which inverts the answer on the grounds that forms of suffering are not equal, and cannot be added as simple 'units'.
What I have never yet seen is something akin to the notion expressed in Ursula K LeGuin's The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.If you haven't read it, I won't spoil it for you.
I believe that any metric of consequence which takes into account only suffering when making the choice of "torture" vs. "dust specks" misses the point. There are consequences to such a choice that extend beyond the suffering inflicted; moral responsibility, standards of behavior that either choice makes acceptable, and so on. Any solution to the question which ignores these elements in making its decision might be useful in revealing one's views about the nature of cumulative suffering, but beyond that are of no value in making practical decisions -- they cannot be, as 'consequence' extends beyond the mere instantiation of a given choice -- the exact pain inflicted by either scenario -- into the kind of society that such a choice would result in.
While I myself tend towards the 'logarithmic' than the 'linear' additive view of suffering, even if I stipulate the linear additive view, I still cannot agree with the conclusion of torture over the dust speck, for the same reason why I do not condone torture even in the "ticking time bomb" scenario: I cannot accept the culture/society that would permit such a torture to exist. To arbitrarily select out one individual for maximal suffering in order to spare others a negligible amount would require a legal or moral framework that accepted such choices, and this violates the principle of individual self-determination -- a principle I have seen Less Wrong's community spend a great deal of time trying to consider how to incorporate into Friendliness solutions for AGI. We as a society already implement something similar to this, economically: we accept taxing everyone, even according to a graduated scheme. What we do not accept is enslaving 20% of the population to provide for the needs of the State.
If there is a flaw in my reasoning here, please enlighten me.
This seems to be endemic in the discussion section, as of late.
There's something cruel about ending a post with a request for people to point out errors in your reasoning and then arguing in circles with anyone who tries. Are you trolling, or do you just never admit to being wrong?
To select 3^^^3 people to get dust specks in their eyes also violates the "principle" of individual self-determination. And if 3^^^3 people are possible, 3^^^^3 people are probably possible too, so the idea of fairness doesn't apply - these people have all been picked out to have their individual self-determination violated.
In general you seem to be trying to wriggle out of the hypothetical as stated by bringing in extra stuff and then deciding based only on that extra stuff.
This is a poor choice of terminology. Logarithmic functions grow slowly, but they're still unbounded: even if the badness of the dustspecks is a logarithmic function (say, the natural log) in the number of people specked, ln(3^^^3) is still so incomprehensibly large that the torture-favoring conclusion still follows. Perhaps what you mean is something more like logistic additi... (read more)
If you truly want to become stronger, note that several people whose intellects you respect have said that you're not processing their objections correctly. You really should consider the possibility that your mind is subconsciously shrinking away from a particular line of thought, which is notoriously difficult to see as it's happening, especially when perceived social status is at stake.
From my perspective, it looks like you're either rejecting consequentialism (which is a respectable philosophical position in most circles, but you don't admit outright t... (read more)
Am I reading that correctly?
There are multiple questions here, and they don't necessarily have similar answers.
A person who campaigns to ban torture and make it ille... (read more)
This whole discussion seems to hinge on the possibly misleading choice of the word "torture" in the original thought-experiment. Words can be wrong and one way is to sneak in connotations and misleading vividness — and I think that's what's going on here.
In our world, torture implies a torturer, but dust specks do not imply a sandman. "Torture" refers chiefly to great suffering inflicted on a victim intentionally by some person, as a continuous voluntary act on the torturer's part, and usually to serve some claimed social or moral purpo... (read more)
You have 50 years of a horrible torture and then 50*3^^^3 years of a pleasant life with no dust speck.
50*(3^^^3+1) years of a pleasant life with a dust speck every 50 years.
What would you take?
No, that was the point alright. If you don't believe me, ask Eliezer.
If it's not happiness, I don't find it intrinsically important. Also, if you do consider moral responsibility to be intrinsically important, you end up with a self-referential moral system. I don't think that would end well.
A socie... (read more)
Interesting coincidence. I was just yesterday thinking of terming the torture position "Omelasian."
As an aside, the ones who walk away are also moral failures from the pro-specks standpoint. They should be fomenting revolution, not shrugging and leaving.
Adding the issue of choice (i.e. moral responsibility) for the outcome seems to be fighting the hypo. Imagine Evil Omega forces you to choose between torture and dust-specks (by threatening to end humanity or something else totally unacceptable). You could respond that you are not morally competent to make the choice. This is true, but also irrelevant because it won't convince Evil Omega to let you go.
In short, the interesting question of the debate is "Which is worse: torture or dust specks?" At best, I think you've made an interesting case that "Should we switch the status quo from dust specks to torture (or vice versa)?" is a different question.