Monday, June 7, 2010

generation 0

"Should This Be the Last Generation?"

I'm glad my parents did not seriously ponder that one. Peter Singer does, in his guest column for The Stone.

Bill McKibben went out on a limb a few years ago with Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families. Peter Singer goes him one better. How about none? Zero? What if we just let ourselves be the end of the human line? And what if, contrary to fact, everyone could be encouraged to join us in this mass species suicide?

I wonder what the Times's non-academic readers will make of the philosopher's dispassion towards the prospect of universal, self-inflicted euthanasia?

Thought experiment or not, I find it unsettling to weigh the very existence of homo sapiens (and of life in the universe, for all we know) in so coldly calculating a fashion. Singer does arrive at the right conclusion, but is this really the right way to get there?
I do think it would be wrong to choose the non-sentient universe. In my judgment, for most people, life is worth living. Even if that is not yet the case, I am enough of an optimist to believe that, should humans survive for another century or two, we will learn from our past mistakes and bring about a world in which there is far less suffering than there is now. But justifying that choice forces us to reconsider the deep issues with which I began. Is life worth living? Are the interests of a future child a reason for bringing that child into existence? And is the continuance of our species justifiable in the face of our knowledge that it will certainly bring suffering to innocent future human beings?
There are clear limits to the value of a calculus that tries to translate everything into a statement about the stipulated utility of separate individuals. These are good questions, but there are better ones. For instance: what is life going to make of itself, not just during my own brief stint on the ground but much further on?

And, how do we calculate the relevance of that eventuality? I don't know, but I do know we ought to give it some thought..

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