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Not so sure. Dave believes that pains have an "ought-not-to-be-in-the-world-ness" property that pleasures lack. And in the discussions I have seen, he indeed was not prepared to accept that small pains can be outweighed by huge quantities of pleasure. Brian was oscillating between NLU and NU. He recently told me he found the claim convincing that such states as flow, orgasm, meditative tranquility, perfectly subjectively fine muzak, and the absence of consciousness were all equally good.

Regarding "people's ordinary exchange rates", I suspect that in cases people clearly recognize as altruistic, the rates are closer to Brian's than to yours. In cases they (IMO confusedly) think of as "egoistic", the rates may be closer to yours. - This provides an argument that people should end up with Brian upon knocking out confusion.

Also, still others (such as David Pearce) would argue that there are reasons to favor Brian's exchange rate. :)

Yes, it can. But a Singleton is not guaranteed; and conditional on the future existence of a Singleton, friendliness is not guaranteed. What I meant was that astronomical population expansion clearly produces an astronomical number of most miserable, tortured lives in expectation.

Lots of dystopian future scenarios are possible. Here are some of them.

How many happy people for one miserable existence? - I take the zero option very seriously because I don't think that (anticipated) non-existence poses any moral problem or generates any moral urgency to act, while (anticipated) miserable existence clearly does. I don't think it would have been any intrinsic problem whatsoever had I never been born; but it clearly would have been a problem had I been born into miserable circumstances.

But even if you do believe that non-existence poses a moral problem and creates an urgency to act, it's not clear yet that the value of the future is net positive. If the number of happy people you require for one miserable existence is sufficiently great and/or if dystopian scenarios are sufficiently likely, the future will be negative in expectation. Beware optimism bias, illusion of control, etc.

Sorry for the delay!

I forgot to clarify the rough argument for why (1) "value future people equally" is much less important or crucial than (2) "fill the universe with people" here.

If you accept (2), you're almost guaranteed to be on board with where Bostrom and Beckstead are roughly going (even if you valued present people more!). It's hardly possible to then block their argument on normative grounds, and criticism would have to be empirical, e.g. based on the claim that dystopian futures may be likelier than commonly assumed, which would decrease the value of x-risk reduction.

By contrast, if you accept (1), it's still very much an open question whether you'll be on board.

Also, intrinsic time preference is really not an issue among EAs. The idea that spatial and temporal distance are irrelevant when it comes to helping others is a pretty core element of the EA concept. What is an issue, though, is the question of what helping others actually means (or should mean). Who are the relevant others? Persons? Person-moments? Preferences? And how are they relevant? Should we ensure the non-existence of suffering? Or promote ecstasy too? Prevent the existence of unfulfilled preferences? Or create fulfilled ones too? Can you help someone by bringing them into existence? Or only by preventing their miserable existence/unfulfilled preferences? These issues are more controversial than the question of time preference. Unfortunately, they're of astronomical significance.

I don't really know if I'm suggesting any further specific change to the wording - sorry about that. It's tricky... If you're speaking to non-EAs, it's important to emphasize the rejection of time preference. But there shouldn't be a "therefore", which (in my perception) is still implicitly there. And if you're speaking to people who already reject time preference, it's even more important to make it clear that this rejection doesn't imply "fill the universe with people". One solution could be to simply drop the reference to the (IMO non-decisive) rejection of time preference and go for something like: "Many EAs consider the creation of (happy) people valuable and morally urgent, and therefore think that nearly all potential value..."

Beckstead might object that the rejection of heavy time preference is important to his general conclusion (the overwhelming importance of shaping the far future). But if we're talking that level of generality, then the reference to x-risk reduction should probably go or be qualified. For sufficiently negative-leaning EAs (such as Brian Tomasik) believe that x-risk reduction is net negative.

Perhaps the best solution would be to expand the section and start by mentioning how the (EA-uncontroversial) rejection of time preference is relevant to the overwhelming importance of shaping the far future. Once we've established that the far future likely dominates, the question arises how we should morally affect the far future. Depending on this question, very different conclusions can result e.g. with regard to the importance and even the sign of x-risk reduction.

Hi Nick, thanks! I do indeed fully agree with your general conclusion that what matters most is making our long-term development go as well as possible. (I had something more specific in mind when speaking of "Bostrom's and Beckstead's conclusions" here, sorry about the confusion.) In fact, I consider your general conclusion very obvious. :) (What's difficult is the empirical question of how to best affect the far future.) The obviousness of your conclusion doesn't imply that your dissertation wasn't super-important, of course - most people seem to disagree with the conclusion. Unfortunately and sadly, though, the utility of talking about (affecting) the far future is a tricky issue too, given fundamental disagreements in population ethics.

I don't know that the "like most people would" parenthesis is true. (A "good thing" maybe, but a morally urgent thing to bring about, if the counterfactual isn't existence with less well-being, but non-existence?) I'd like to see some solid empirical data here. I think some people are in the process of collecting it.

Do you not argue for that at all? I thought you were going in the direction of establishing an axiological and deontic parallelism between the "wretched child" and the "happy child".

The quoted passage ("all potential value is found in [the existence of] the well-being of the astronomical numbers of people who could populate the far future") strongly suggests a classical total population ethics, which is rejected by negative utilitarianism and person-affecting views. And the "therefore" suggests that the crucial issue here is time preference, which is a popular and incorrect perception.

Yeah, I've read Nick's thesis, and I think the moral urgency of filling the universe with people is the more important basis of his conclusion than the rejection of time preference. The sentence suggests that the rejection of time preference is most important.

If I get him right, Nick agrees that the time issue is much less important than you suggested in your recent interview.

Sorry to insist! :) But when you disagree with Bostrom's and Beckstead's conclusions, people immediately assume that you must be valuing present people more than future ones. And I'm constantly like: "No! The crucial issue is whether the non-existence of people (where there could be some) poses a moral problem, i.e. whether it's morally urgent to fill the universe with people. I doubt it."

Is it the "bringing into existence" and the "new" that suggests presentism to you? (Which I also reject, btw. But I don't think it's of much relevance to the issue at hand.) Even without the "therefore", it seems to me that the sentence suggests that the rejection of time preference is what does the crucial work on the way to Bostrom's and Beckstead's conclusions, when it's rather the claim that it's "morally urgent/required to cause the existence of people (with lives worth living) that wouldn't otherwise have existed", which is what my alternative sentence was meant to mean.

OK, but why would the sentence start with "Many EAs value future people roughly as much as currently-living people" if there wasn't an implied inferential connection to nearly all value being found in astronomical far future populations? The "therefore" is still implicitly present.

It's not entirely without justification, though. It's true that the rejection of a (very heavy) presentist time preference/bias is necessary for Bostrom's and Beckstead's conclusions. So there's weak justification for your "therefore": The rejection of presentist time preference makes the conclusions more likely.

But it's by no means sufficient for them. Bostrom and Beckstead need the further claim that bringing new people into existence is morally important and urgent.

This seems to be the crucial point. So I'd rather go for something like: "Many (Some?) EAs value/think it morally urgent to bring new people (with lives worth living) into existence, and therefore..."

The moral urgency of preventing miserable lives (or life-moments) is less controversial. People like Brian Tomasik place much more (or exclusive) importance on the prevention of lives not worth living, i.e. on ensuring the well-being of everyone that will exist rather than on making as many people exist as possible. The issue is not whether (far) future lives count as much as lives closer to the present. One can agree that future lives count equally, and also agree that far future considerations dominate the moral calculation (empirical claims enter the picture here). But one may disagree on "Omelas and Space Colonization", i.e. on how many lives worth living are needed to "outweigh" or "compensate for" miserable ones (which our future existence will inevitably also produce, probably in astronomical numbers, assuming astronomical population expansion). So it's possible to agree that future lives count equally and that far future considerations dominate but to still disagree on the importance of x-risk reduction or more particular things such as space colonization.

Thanks, Luke, great overview! Just one thought:

Many EAs value future people roughly as much as currently-living people, and therefore think that nearly all potential value is found in the well-being of the astronomical numbers of people who could populate the far future

This suggests that alternative views are necessarily based on ethical time preference (and time preference seems irrational indeed). But that's incorrect. It's possible to care about the well-being of everyone equally (no matter their spatio-temporal coordinates) without wanting to fill the universe with happy people. I think there is something true and important about the slogan "Make people happy, not happy people", although explaining that something is non-trivial.

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