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Circular Altruism

My first reaction to this was, "I don't know; I don't understand 3^^^3 or a googol, or how to compare the suffering from a dust speck with torture." After I thought about it, I decided I was interpreting Eliezer's question like this: as the amount of suffering per person, say a, approaches zero but the number of people suffering, say n, goes to infinity, is the product a*n worse than somebody being tortured for 50 years?" The limiting product is undefined, though, isn't it? If a goes to zero fast enough, for example by ceasing to be suffering when it fall below the threshold of notice, then the product is not as bad as the torture. I think several other commentors are thinking about it the same way implicitly, and impose conditions so the limit exists. Andrew did this by putting a lower bound on a, so of course the product gets big, but it's not the same question. Even leaving aside the other contributions to utility like life-altering effects, I'm having trouble making sense of this question.