The impossibility of “canceling out” suffering and pleasure.

Two items here. First, a quote from Benatar discussing why we can’t “cancel” out good and bad to give a hedonistic evaluation of a human life. Then, a link that further disproves the point.

“How well or badly a life goes depends not simply on how much good or bad there is, but also on other considerations- most prominently considerations about how that good and bad is distributed.

One such consideration is the order of the good and bad. For instance, a life in which all the good occured in the first half, and uninterrupted bad characterized the second half, would be a lot worse than one in which the good and bad were more evenly distributed. This is true even if the total amount of good and bad were the same in each life. Similarly, a life of steadily inclining achievement and satisfaction is preferable to one that starts out bright in the very earliest years but gets progressively worse. The amount of good and bad in each of these alternative lives may be the same, but the trajectory can make one life better than the other.

Another distributional consideration is the intensity of the good and the bad. A life in which the pleasures were extraordinarily intense but correspondingly few, infrequent, and short-lived might be worse than a life with the same total amount of pleasure but where the individual pleasures were less intense and more frequently distributed across the life. However, pleasures and other goods can also be distributed too widely within a life, thereby making them so mild as to be barely distinguishable from neutral states. A life so characterized might be worse than one in which there were a few more noticeable ‘highs.’

A third way in which the distribution of good and bad within a life can affect that life’s quality derives from the length of life. To be sure, the length of life will interact dynamically with the quantity of good and bad. A long life with very little good would have to be characterized by significant quantities of bad, if only because the absence of sufficient good over such long periods would create tedium- a bad. Nevertheless, we can imagine lives of somewhat unequal length that share the same quantity of good and of bad. One life might have more neutral features, sufficiently evenly distributed over the life not to affect the quantity of good or bad. In such cases, one might plausibly judge the longer life to be better (if the life is of sufficient quality to be worth continuing) or worse (if it is not).

There is a further (non-distributional) consideration that can affect an assessment of a life’s quality. Arguably, once a life reaches a certain threshold of badness (considering both the amount and the distribution of its badness), no quantity of good can outweigh it, because no amount of good could be worth that badness. It is just this assessment that Donald (‘Dax’) Cowart made of his own life- or at least of that part of his life following a gas explosion that burnt two-thirds of his body. He refused extremely painful, life-saving treatment, but the doctors ignored his wishes and treated him nonetheless. His life was saved, he achieved considerable success, and he reattained a satisfactory quality of life. Yet, he continued to maintain that these post-burn goods were not worth the costs of enduring the treatments to which he was subjected. No matter how much good followed his recovery, this could not outweigh, at least in his own assessment [the only assessment that matters], the bad of the burns and treatment that he experienced.”

Better Never to Have Been, chapter 3

Now look at this entry from Suicide Treatise. The basic argument is, if we accept this “canceling out” process and that this somehow validates the harms of procreation, then why not do this for any other crime? Why don’t natalists take it to its logical extent and permit assault, theft or rape if an equivalent good is given to the victim? And if not, why is it okay for the harms of procreation but not any other creation of harm?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: