All the usually offered counterarguments to the idea that death is evil boil down to one universal counterargument:
If there is no death, then there will be a bad phenomenon X (overpopulation, cessation of progress, eternal dictatorship, boredom), therefore, death is necessary.
However, this universal counterargument does not work:
- The counter-argument does not tell us that death is not evil. He tells us that, from the point of view of altruism, there are situations when death is necessary, for example, it is supposedly needed to combat overpopulation.
- The counter-argument does not deny the evil of death. It talks about the collision of the value "not to die" and some other value Y (progress, the good of mankind), and then argues that the second value is more important.
- If there is a way to achieve the value of Y without people dying, then death is not needed.
For example, if at the birth, each person is granted so many resources that it will be possible to provide her with resources for entire endless life, then overpopulation will cease to be a problem. Overpopulation is only a problem because of the clash between the idea of finite resources and the prospect of exponential proliferation.
The counterargument also does not work because it is not central. The negative X phenomenon can persist even if death continues. Lack of progress, eternal dictatorship, overpopulation and degradation are possible in societies where people have short life expectancy.
FWIW, I spent quite a long time staring at things like this. I started as a die-hard immortalist (ha!). I was raised in a family that signed me up for cryonics when I was 5. They helped inoculate my mind against all the standard deathist stuff. It's in my memetic DNA at this point.
And yet, now am something like… mmm, an integral immortalist? Which is to say, I think deathist arguments are often bad articulations of something true. And it seems to me that the usual immortalist counterarguments to deathism are attacking the "bad articulation" part instead of orienting to the "something true".
(But I'm still signed up for cryonics and would love to stick around for at least a few centuries.)
One of my favorite examples is "But won't you get bored?" Some standard immortalist rebuttals go along the lines of:
The thing is, none of these address the reason why people say things like "But won't you get bored living forever?"
One reason is that they've heard this concern and are just repeating it. Basic memetics. In which case these immortalist counterarguments are just acting as memetic immune responses for the immortalist. They're basically useless for opening up a viable incentivized path from the deathist mental frame to the immortalist one.
But that's a relatively boring case. I think there's one that's way, way more interesting:
I think this is often expressing a real concern people are experiencing in the agony of being alive.
How much more alive were you when you were five years old? How ready were you to find something interesting to explore, do, play with? As adults, we can reach so, so much farther with our understanding… and yet. Maybe you in particular are blessed with ever-increasing vitality and fascination. But most people in practice experience something like a gradual entombing.
A sign of this is the wake-up call that a medical death sentence for a loved one brings. If you knew your next conversation with a beloved were your last, there's a kind of lucidity that would be present in looking into their eyes one last time. Old arguments feel different — not irrelevant, but without their weight either.
Yes, we can analyze this in terms of iterated vs. finite prisoner dilemmas, etc. But that just produces more thoughts and analysis. On the inside, in practice, death brings a freshness that's absolutely dear to the heart.
The horror of the deathist "But won't you get bored?" is often pointing at this. If you take humans as they current are and you remove death… where does the freshness come from? It doesn't? Ever? Except for some vague "We'll think of something" that feels like it's missing the point?
It's as though by default we're slowly getting buried alive, but at least at some point you die. But if you remove death without orienting to the burial…
This stuff is really easy to miss if you boil down the expressions of deathist fears into a few core principles and then logically beat them down. It's great for memetics, but it doesn't speak to the heart of the matter.
A loud hint of this is how deathists will usually either disengage or switch arguments once you successfully start countering the argument they've put forward. It has a similar structure to when a partner comes up and says something like "I feel hurt and disrespected. The way you, um, brought in the groceries…." If you counter with "Well, here are the logical reasons why I brought in the groceries the way I did, so see it actually makes sense", you're presuming that the groceries are the real reason for them bringing in the conversation. What if it was the example that just happened to come to their mind for something that's hard to articulate and maybe isn't fully conscious? Well, now you've shut down the one avenue they've thought of to try to bring their felt sense into contact with you.
Similarly: "Well, okay, yeah, I guess I don't want to kill myself when I get bored… but what about overpopulation?"
There's something wrong they're intuiting about the effort to live forever. They just don't know how to say it, and they probably don't know how to think it.
That doesn't mean it has no value.
All these questions are not boredom or overpopulation – they are something like a protection from a new idea. Or protection against fear of death. Its like a Stockholm syndrome, where a victim take the side of a terrorist.
If people were really afraid about overpopulation, they should ban sex first.
You are right: they feel that something is amiss. The idea of immortality without an image of paradise is really boring. Becoming immortal without becoming God and without living in galactic size paradize is wrong and they feel it.
FWIW: This is part of the standard immortalist memetic immune system response. It's stuff like this happening in my own head for decades that prevented me from really listening to people.
At the risk of being really annoying to you, here are a few related elements to point at what I mean:
Well, if the single thing they cared about was overpopulation, then sure. The math checks out.
I think it's a combination of (a) they don't really care about overpopulation per se, (b) they're bad at exponential reasoning, and (c) they care about a whole system of things that are all interconnected but typically don't notice the system as a whole.
But that's just my guess.
Okay, so: If I could eliminate aging in my body as is, right now, I would.
I'm totally fine with not having an image of paradise that this leads me to. I'm fine with not clearly seeing how this makes me God. That's fine.
I'm happy to live as this human for a few centuries. Wandering the Earth.
Even if I'm the only one.
I don't intuit anything deeply wrong with that. Maybe I'm numb and stupid here. Maybe whatever that intuition others get was burned out of me by my immortalist family.
But my guess is, the deathist cringe isn't to a lack of vision of paradise or of becoming God.
Like, another deathist counterargument goes along the lines of "But people I love will die. I'd have to deal with that again and again, forever."
It's curious how often this shows up when talking about ending aging for everyone. It doesn't make logical sense given the thought experiment: those loved ones would have their aging cured too.
So what's up with that? If I had to hazard a guess, it's that they're carrying collective (and maybe personal) trauma from losing loved ones. The burden of the mortality of those who came before us across the aeons. And they just don't know how to orient to that titanic burden.
I don't think offering them a vision of Heaven would address that. What of the scar that Yehuda left? There's a soul-rending agony and grief here to reconcile with. The engineering question is important too, but on its own it comes across like the stereotypical "man fixes women's feelings" scenario.
I think this whole scenario is way more intricate and nuanced than immortalist narratives tend to allow for.
Yes, I agree. You don't.
I'm not available for arguing you into seeing it. If you can't see it from what I've already said, then I'm not the one to show you.
The fact that people are not interested in the immortalists' staff is one of the greatest misteries. It is the black matter for transhumanism. Less people have signed for cryonics than was eaten by birds in Zoroastrism.
One way to explain it is Tanatos, built-in death drive. Human apoptosis. But on personal level humans try to survive.
Or fear of revolting against God's will. Religious people are ok with immortality in afterlife, and they are not afraid that the paradise will be overpopulated or will be boring. The key difference is the idea of God? But we have superintelligence as its substitute.
Or, if we try to rationalize their argument in another way, they say: it is impossible to overstretch one parameter of the system to infinity, while other parameters are finite. Like if we get infinite lifespan, but the amount of fun is the same, the fun will be so narrowly distributed over eternity that there will be no fun at all in any given moment. The same about resources. This argument is at least reasonable, but could be objected.
I don't intend to continue this exchange. Just so you know. I've walked this particular road plenty of times already and am just not interested anymore.
But I sincerely wish you well on your journey.
This counter-counterargument doesn't work. Just because phenomenon X is possible under both scenarios doesn't mean it's equally likely or as difficult to avoid.
(Note: I think that death is bad. My point is about a specific line of reasoning.)
If one say: “death is bad, but it is more likely to prevent dictatorships”, he still say that the death is bad. But he also say that preventing dictators has higher utility than death, so he doesn’t say that the death is “absolutely” bad.
But now it is a technical problem: how to make the world where both conditions are satisfied.
Also, is there even any evidence for this assertion? If we stipulate that absolutist monarchies are about as bad as a dictatorship then how did that assertion work out historically? Over the last 10'000 years when lifespans were much shorter dictatorships and related systems flourished. The ascent of democracy has paralleled an increase in lifespans. Correlation does not imply causation, but at least it makes it more likely, whereas the dictator argument is just speculation as far as I can tell.
I think this counterargument also applies to "death gives meaning to life", but we need to unpack the argument first. Like, what specifically would make the unlimited life meaningless?
Which then translates it to the "if there is no death, then X" form, and then... what OP said.
There was an interesting article recently: Weinberg, R. (2021). Ultimate Meaning: We Don’t Have It, We Can’t Get It, and We Should Be Very, Very Sad. Controversial Ideas, 1(1), 0–0.
She tried to prove that life itself is meaningless, as meanings are the property of projects, and life is only a container of projects. I don't agree with her: all my projects can't expire simultaneously. But more importantly, I feel my life more than just a container, I feel that my existence is a value for me itself.
This seems like a universal counterargument against consequentialism. For example, it also works as a pro-death/anti-immortality argument.
Alice: "If there is death, then there will be bad phenomenon X. People suffer when they die (X1). Their family and friends also suffer (X2). When happy people die the total happiness of the world is reduced (X3). Humanity loses the knowledge, wisdom, and memories of the person who died (X4). Therefore immortality is necessary."
Bob: "This is just four different examples of the universal counterargument against death, which is that death is bad because it conflicts with some other value Y (happiness, knowledge). If there is a way to achieve the value of Y while people are dying, then death can be good."
"For example, if at death each person's memory is read by a mind lace and archived in a digital format, then the loss of knowledge of dying people will cease to be a problem. Loss of knowledge at death is only a problem because of our current technology level."
"Your counterargument also doesn't work because it is not central. The negative X phenomenon can persist even if death is ended. Ignorance and suffering are possible in societies where people are immortal."
Alice: "Sure, get back to me when you've invented the mind lace. I promise I'll reconsider my position on death then."
Reading your comments below, it looks like you place intrinsic value in life, and you are arguing that discussions about the consequences of death (positive and negative) do not alter that intrinsic value. That's fine as far as it goes. But I don't think it goes as far as defeating all arguments for mortality. Some reasons:
Disclaimer: I don't like it when people die.
Good point that the argument works in other way if we do not postulate "death is bad" as a moral axiom and instead try to derive the badness of death from some other values.
Actually who? Most examples I can imagine, like samurai, buddhists, drug addicts or suicide people – still have some value for not dying, but are overwhelmed by another value.
You don't have to imagine, you already read Dagon in this comment section, who writes: "Death is neither bad nor good, it's just a part of the world which has formed our ideas of identity and experience".
Virtue ethics places intrinsic value in virtues, and deontology places intrinsic value in rules, so straight-forwardly neither of those ethical frameworks places intrinsic value in life and death as states of the world. That is a majority of philsophers, per this 2009 EconLog survey.
Also, religions that view death as a reunification with a higher power can place intrinsic positive value in death, or at least not place negative value in death. Or religions can place intrinsic value directly and solely in the higher power. Likewise, I roughly model Buddhism as placing intrinsic value on ending suffering and rebirth, with human life instrumentally valuable to achieve those goals.
If everyone placed positive intrinsic value on immortality, in addition to the convergent instrumental value of avoiding death, I imagine that immortality wouldn't be a topic of debate like this.
[note: still thinking somewhat abstractly, and unsure of my own actual values on this topic - my revealed and introspected preferences don't scale very well to global, let alone future quantities. ]
One can feel intrinsic value in life, without particularly caring WHICH lives are being valued. Being pro-life (or pro-intelligent-experience, or pro-qualia-level-complexity, or many other similar formulations) does not require being anti-death. It just implies that one hopes that creation happens faster than cessation.
One of the reason for this type of conclusions is thinking in "far mode", as was suggested by Robin Hanson. If we speak, say, about the perspective that "your grandmother will die tomorrow", we start to think in near-term mode, and we don't like death in near-term mode. But every death will be eventually in near-term mode.
I can only wish my grandmother was able to die tomorrow, instead of years ago. It’s sad when people die. But that’s selfish and wrong, and only sees part of the context.
Her death was also freeing to those of us still healthy and alive. The amount of expense and effort to keep them alive a bit longer was significant, and it was on balance best. I think it was accepted and freeing for her as well, but of course it’s impossible to tell.
Extending healthy, creative, productive portions of individual lives seems like a pure good to me. If it results in immortality, great! If not, that’s probably OK to. I think it’s a mistake to focus on death as the problem, rather than the decay and loss of dynamism that currently comes with aging.
If aging will be defeated in 2030 (say, by superinteligent AI), then surviving even in poor state is reasonable.
Generics will be soon available
Ack. Sorry for the misrepresentation. Scrubbed that line of the post.
No apology needed - I appreciate the summary, and it gives me the opportunity to clarify (and to think further; as I say, I don’t trust my intuitions here).
Quotes from H.P. Lovecraft's Nietzscheism and Realism (full text):
Of course, H.P. Lovecraft was not suicidal, but that might be because (a) death is inevitable so there's no reason to rush the road to blissful oblivion, and (b) he's human just like everyone else, so he is just as valuable as everyone else. But note that he is in favor of the mitigation of suffering, and attaches no intrinsic value with life itself. He probably would be okay with life extension, but only if you are able to mitigate suffering in the process. If you can't do that, he'll probably complain. Conversely, if you do find a way to convince people to give up their "primitive cowardice" and thereby ease humanity's suffering that way...well, he may consider it.
Interestingly, fewer (non-religious) people argue against a reframing of immortality as "eternal youth with a voluntary check-out option".
One thing I don't get about this debate is how "~conservatism" is never mentioned. If we manage not to die, the resulting society will be extremely conservative in the sense that things will be much more likely to be done in the same way that they "always" have been done. The saying that science advances one death at a time is not 100% true, sure, but it holds a lot of truth. Similarly, on average, the older we get, the more conservative we are. Are we okay with a severe decrease in technical advancements and cultural evolution? Normally, there is a lot of overlap between advocates of technological and cultural advancement and advocates of eliminating dead; yet, this disjunction —at least as far as I have seen— is very rarely spoken about.
It's pretty difficult to, quite literally, argue that hundreds of billions of people should die because it might help your favored political ideology a little* or you have this correlation that a field would change citation patterns a little if the older researchers died. I would be unlikely to change my breakfast plans based on that kind of research, much less... [checks notes] "deliberately consign all humans forever to rapid decay, suffering, death, and permanent oblivion". If you're going to argue that and believe it's a good use of time in such a discussion compared to other issues, you'd better bring your A-game.
I can't think of any argument which comes within orders of magnitude of possibly justifying that, especially when the aging literature is so ambiguous about cohort effects and life-cycle trends (so being older guarantees unproductivity? Why do many fields peak so late like the 40s or 50s, then?) and the upfront loss is enormous (every time someone dies, a lifetime of experience and investment goes with them), and there is the enormous confound to any claimed 'effect of time' which is the aging process itself: how much of what you regard as bad about the elderly, their inflexibility and whatnot, is simply that they are literally dying one piece at a time, particularly their brains, increasingly dysfunctional in ways like being unable to sleep (good thing sleep doesn't do anything important mentally, right?), and often are in constant pain and having lost much of what they liked about living or involvement in the affairs of the world? (We can mask this with 'age norms' and lowballing our cognitive tests like, "they know their name and the current US president, guess they don't qualify for a diagnosis of senile dementia... yet", but the reality remains, no matter what labels you use.) Sure would be embarrassing if we procrastinated on fixed aging and discovered that most or all of what is bad about the aged is the aging, and actually, living for centuries in good health is great for investment, productivity, morals etc, in the same way that the smallpox vaccine or public health are just great things and didn't lead to societal stasis and a world trapped in amber.
* You think, based on a selective reading of history. People love to say "posterity will judge you thus-and-so", but you'll find that we judge our ancestors in ways people making that argument back then (how's would find surprising, that youth movements believe and do horrifying things all the time (eg Cultural Revolution), and there's not much reason to think that contemporary oracles prophesying moral progress in line with their personal ideologies will do much better.
Just to add to the above: even without (massive) cognitive decline in the aged, just knowing you only have a few years left likely has an effect on someone's decisions. Most changes and improvements, in technology and institutional processes, cause initial short term problems. They only pay off long term. If you're in the last 5 years of your career, or your life, there's no expected payoff for learning most new things, or for seeing a major change in how the institution you work in works.
If you can reasonably expect to live for many more centuries (since with a perfect cure for aging you'd have a life expectancy of several thousand years), you might as well start adopting new things now, maybe you'll see a net payoff in 50 years. Or maybe you'll procrastinate first. Could go either way.
(sorry for the late reply)
Wow, many assumptions about me here. And what a tone. I didn’t expect this in LW. And that such a response gets so many votes and no pushback. It really looks like Valentine is spot on in her or his comments.
To start, note that I never say or imply that anybody should use “~conservatism” to argue against the badness of dead, nor do I do it myself. Yet, your answer focusses on that.
Then, I’m not speaking about the political ideology. For example, although they may prefer most things to be done as they have always been done, many conservatives advocate for fast scientific advancement. That’s why I wrote “~conservatism”. Probably I should have been clearer. I’m bad at finding the right words. But I think that typing “~X” is a clear signal that I don’t mean X. If the meaning is not clear one can ask.
That a humanity without (human) dead would be much more “~conservative” seems a zero controversial statement to me. I don’t care if being older does or does not guarantee unproductivity. The point is that being older, on average, guarantees a much lower inclination to change one own’s mind and a huge tendency of doing things as previously done*.
In addition, science does not only advance one paper or one citation at a time; it advances when the scientific community adopts the better-than-previous ideas in those papers. I would be very surprised if you’d argue that a much older scientific community won’t have a much tougher time adopting the new better ideas, particularly the game-changing ones. And probably not in the short-run, but in the long-rung this would surely slow technological development.
I point out that there is a huge overlap between advocates of technological and cultural advancement and advocates of eliminating dead and, as for me it is plainly obvious that a society without dead would be much more “~conservative”, I find it strange that this is never mentioned in that debate.
I —and I think most people around here— try to be consistent with my believes and values. That’s why when some of them are in conflict, I try to acknowledge it. In part I do it for myself, probably to help me process the tension, and in part to make my ideas less confusing. I assume others would do this as well, at least some. Maybe this is the error. But I find the absolute lack of discussion about this —again, as far as I have seen, but nobody seems to contradict this observation— very strange.
And to finish: “what [I] regard as bad about the elderly”? That’s a good one. Where did I wrote about something bad about the elderly? I did zero value judgements in my comment. Please, assume less and engage more.
*[Probably there are many different causes for this and I’m not an expert, but I have some hypotheses. For example, for learning something new in many cases one has to unlearn something old, changing/breaking routines and habits requires effort, our remembered experience of time accelerates as we age… Actually, I also find it strange that this last point is barely mentioned in the debate.]
I would have wished for some reply. I'd be interested to know 1) whether you think that a much older scientific community would or would not have a much tougher time adopting the new better ideas, 2) whether or not you think that being older, on average, guarantees a much lower inclination to change one own’s mind and a huge tendency of doing things as previously done, and 3) if you maybe think that these factors would be out-compensated by other factors.
What you said is results of brain aging. I hope it will be cured.
What do you think results from brain ageing? I don't think what I mention results (mainly) from brain ageing (I'm not disputing it also affects it).
For example, when you learn something, you can learn the newest theory or an older one with more or less the same ease. Once you have learned it, updating it is hard. So people who have learned older/worse stuff, have to spend energy to update. That's not related to brain ageing. Really engaging to a deep level with a new idea/theory when you already have one that is valid/working is something we are not inclined to do and usually we need to spend a lot of mental energy for that. Changing a routine is similarly difficult, one has to actively work on that. Our ability to do such things is limited. Almost nobody outside this community is constantly pushing to find out "the truth". And, in addition, one must realise that a particular routine/habit/tradition/theory is outdated before trying to update it. Unless the rate of change is severely decreased (a much more “~conservative” society), this is very much a red queen race. Trying to keep the pace of change would be overwhelming.
Most people will have a hard time to learn a language at native-speaker level if they start to learn it after ~10; to fully learn the grammar it becomes harder after ~18. I don't think that's curable ( in the context of brain ageing, increasing brain capacity would be something separate); I don't think a society with teenager or pre-teenager brains would be successful. Our brains cannot be arbitrarily malleable and this implies some resistance to change once a valuable neuronal connection is made.
In addition, our brains are finite. So, one advantage of infinitely long lives, which could counter those effects, is finite. It could be argued that the limit is typically far away; I could not argue neither for or against it right now, I don't have a sense of where this limit would be if we manage to keep our brains healthy. Is there any sound theory about this?
I don't think this will matter much as we enter the age of AGI.
AGI is immortal by default, so that reframes the question to one where mortality must have some significant advantage. I do think the steelmanned version of your innovation-via-death argument has some merit - namely in that there is value in exploring new hyperparam rollouts of mindspace. But AGI will be able to do that without mortality (by training up entire new version of brain modules from scratch, and integrating slowly), so it becomes a moot point.
In other words, AGI (and by extension, posthuman uploads) will be able to arbitrarily regain childlike cognitive flexibility - existing in a state of continuous rebirth, so to speak.
(sorry for the late reply)
Ok, but this only works with “posthuman uploads” not with bodily humans. A large portion of the current work for eliminating dead is focussed on keeping our bodies healthy. And, as far as I have seen, many people seem to support eliminating dead by keeping our bodies healthy.
So, it may not be strange that the disjunction is not spoken about when the debate is explicitly about eliminating dead by uploading human brains or the like, but not in a general setting, right?
In any case, thanks for engaging.
To me this is a good example of a too theoretic discussion, and as the saying goes: In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. (But in practice there is).
My counterargument is a different one, and I kind of already have to interrupt you right at the start:
Putting "immortal animals" into any search engine gives lots of examples of things that get pretty close. So we can talk about reality, no need to talk only about Gedankenexperimente. So the first question cannot be: "Why is the counterargument wrong"?
Instead it should be: "Why are there no immortal living beings that dominate. Why are all of them more or less unimportant in the grand scheme of things?"
And the answer is pretty obvious I think. Because it's simply unfavorable being immortal. It may be due to evolutionary bottlenecks, or due to energetic ones (inefficiency of repair vs reproduction for example), or a myriad of other ones. I don't think you get to simply state that obviously being immortal is better, when all of the observable evidence (as opposed to theoretical arguments) points in the opposite direction.
So what is clear is, that if you want to be immortal, you have to pay some kind of tax, some extra cost. And if you cannot, you will be of marginal importance, just like all other (near-)immortal beings.
Incidentally, I think this is why only rich people ever talk about immortality (In my experience). To them, it's clear that they will always be able to pay for this overhead, and simply don't worry about it.
I would actually be interested if I am mistaken on that last point. Please speak up, if you are a person that is strongly interested in immortality, and you are not rich (for example when you went to school, you knew you were obviously different because your parents couldn't afford X). I would really be interested to learn what you see differently.
[epistemic status: trying on a model, unsure if "belief" is an applicable word here]
I don't think the counterargument works, but I also don't think there's an argument that works either. Death is neither bad nor good, it's just a part of the world which has formed our ideas of identity and experience. Certainly, on the margin, I'd prefer to delay my own death, and more importantly my decay in body and mind that will likely precede such a death.
I don't actually have strong intuitions of whether I'd prefer others' immortality, over the somewhat dynamic system of death and replenishment we've always had so far. Details matter so much that I don't think a far-mode general value can be applied. I don't even have a systemic description of individual vs collective identity and utility that would inform such an intuition.
I can get behind any movement to defer or remove the effects of aging, but my value drive there is to increase total maximally-valuable experience-hours, not to privilege any existing individual over a potential one.
Even if you don't agree with the counterargument, you can see that people use this construction all the time: "death is needed because some other bad thing would happen in the world without death". They just put different names for the "other thing": eternal boredom, overpopulation, stagnation as Musk recently said, lack of meaning of life etc. But it doesn't address the badness of death per se.
Humans have strong preference against personal-death-today. Any reasonable preferece-extracting procedure will learn this. E.g. worst punishment is death penalty but not castration or tongue-cutting.
By induction, it could be shown that if a person doesn't want his death today (and also doesn't want to change his preferences about this), he will not want it tomorrow, and in any other day in the future. So death is personally bad.
If a person is altruistic, he would not want to act against preferences of other people. So he would not want other people's death, except some trolley-problem-like situations. Thus fighting death is universal altruistic goal.
It means that you are not supporter of preferential utilitarianism. But real people would likely resist implementing pure hedonist utilitarianism where individual life doesn't matter, and someone could be killed because he consumes too much resources which otherwise could be used to support several less resource-consuming possible people. This will result in a war and a lot of sufferings. Thus from the consequentialists point of view hedonic utilitarianism will produce less hedons than other moral theories.
Yup, most people don't think clearly. Most public arguments are bad. It's not unreasonable to transform the common argument into "other people should die because I (and my in-group) will have a better future without them".
This is a VERY hard thing to argue against, as there's some truth in it. Even if you extend it to "and I accept that I will die in the future, as part of this equilibrium", it's pretty strong, as we have an actual working example, unlike any counter-proprosal. You can point out that it's not utilitarian (as it values different individuals differently). To me, that's a truth-derived feature, not a bug - people are not, in fact, equal.
Not all humans have that preference at all times in their life - I've known a few who chose to die (including some who I understood and supported the choice), and MANY who didn't choose to suffer more in order to live longer. Your induction is invalid.
Many people have preferences and revealed preferences that I'm willing to ignore or actively prevent. I like having laws against assault, for instance. So pure preference adhesion is not a sufficient definition of altruism to apply here.
Also, I'm only altruistic on some topics, and not perfectly so. I like many people, and I like people as a concept, and all else equal, I prefer that even strangers be happy, all else equal. But all else is NEVER equal, and I honor some other-peoples-preferences far less than others, and I care more about people closer to me than further.
I suspect that attempts to generalize on these topics are doomed to fail. Most people don't have consistent utility functions, let alone values. And there's LOTS of behavioral data showing that a very large number of people don't care very much about distant strangers.
My point is that if someone chose death – this doesn't mean that he doesn't have the preference "do not die". It means that he has two preferences: "not die" and "not suffer", and the suffering was so strong that he choose to dish "not die" preference and choose death to stop sufferings. However, if he would have other ways to cure sufferings, he would choose them instead.
I guess when we're discussing "this preference is invalid, because we should change the situation", I get a little lost at which preferences to honor and which to "fix". At this point in the discussion, we should stop arguing about goodness or badness of death until we've solved the suffering (which almost everyone agrees is bad).
Obviously we want to honor both preferences, but we just don’t know how. However, it seems to me that solving suffering as qualia of pain is technologically simpler: just add some electrodes to a right brain center which will turn it off when pain is above acceptable threshold. Death is more complex problem, but the main difference is that death is irreversible.
From Personal utilitarian view, any amount of suffering could be compensated by a future eternal paradise.
I can't tell if you're serious here - it seems to negate your argument (because we haven't actually done so or taken significant steps toward it) if this is an intentional strawman, but it's pretty weak as a motte-and-bailey.
I didn't say "pain", I said "suffering". This includes the anguish that one has degraded over time and is now a net drain on family/society. And the degradation itself, regardless of the emotional reaction. Once you've solved aging, then there can be a reasonable debate about the value of death. Until then, it's simply more efficient for the old and infirm to die. Fortunately, we're rich enough to support a lot of people well past their useful duration, and that feels good, but one wouldn't want to increase the proportion of old to young by an order of magnitude (with today's constraints).
Solve the underlying constraints, and the argument about death will dissolve, or will migrate to more concrete reasons for one way or the other.