"The whole manifesto presupposes a Benthamite utilitarian ethic. If we don't accept its utilitarian presuppositions, then the abolitionist project collapses."
The abolitionist project isn't hostage to a single contested family of ethical theories. For it's not only utilitarians who abhor cruelty and suffering. Admittedly, the utilitarian may find it a matter of moral indifference whether our potentially ecstatic descendants opt to become wireheads, blissed-out junkies, or emotionally enriched post-Darwinian superminds. On the hypothetical felicific calculus, it's the sustainable intensity of our well-being (or the minimisation of malaise) that counts, not its peculiar flavours. But utilitarianism is a highly controversial ethic. So this manifesto, at least, lays stress on the quite extraordinary diversity of options for paradise-engineering. These options embrace a spectrum of intellectual, psychedelic, aesthetic, empathetic and even spiritual modes of well-being far richer than anything accessible today. There's no obvious moral imperative driving us to unrefined pleasure-maximisation culminating in a perpetual cosmic orgasm.
Nevertheless, many contemporary thinkers will balk at any form of scientific utopianism. It's not that non-utilitarian ethicists typically argue that the texture ("what it feels like") of unpleasantness is inherently valuable. Instead, most non-utilitarians believe that a capacity for mental distress as well as physical pain serves an important functional role in life itself - and it always will. The many faces of suffering have been harnessed by natural selection [or more traditionally, Divine Providence] to promote the plurality of values that non-utilitarians uphold. Individual happiness is only one of those values. Much of what we care about isn't reducible to a unidimensional pleasure-pain axis.
Yet bioscience and nanotechnology promise more than the abolition of suffering and the enrichment of our emotional well-being. Critically, the new technologies allow us potentially to create the functional analogues of aversive states - analogue states that can play similar or even enhanced functional roles in the informational economy of an upgraded organism, but without the "raw feels" of suffering as we know it. Genetically constrained gradients of immense well-being - or smart neurochips with the right functional architecture - can be harnessed to animate our lives and promote what non-utilitarians typically value, but without the texture of subjective nastiness. If this prediction is borne out by the implementation of the new neurotechnologies, then the core of the secular anti-abolitionist case collapses. For only the most misanthropic nihilist would allege that despair, agony and malaise are inherently good. Suffering that serves no instrumental purpose at all, not even the interests of the genes whose inclusive fitness it once served, can be phased out without loss.
Of course, functionalist philosophy of mind may turn out to be wrong. As the functionalist alleges, minds may indeed implement the same computation/function in different ways and in different substrates, but perhaps effective nociception, say, must always have an unpleasant textural essence. Functionalism fails to explain the "hard problem" of consciousness; and our ignorance of why sentience (or anything at all) exists may infect everything else - including plans to get rid of suffering. It would seem very odd to claim that the texture of experience is functionally irrelevant or incidental to the role played by its biological substrates. For it's the sheer nastiness of suffering that ostensibly drives the abolitionist project in the first place. Yet we know we can build programmable silicon robots and embedded artificial neural networks to emulate the functional architecture of organic life-forms: we already engineer robotic sensory capacities, basic "appetitive" states, and the behavioural capacity to avoid noxious stimuli in ways that mimic feats of conscious human agency but without the merest whiff of sentience. On the other hand, today's robots are still primitive in their capabilities; and bionic implants are barely in their infancy. We can't simply extrapolate present-day technical successes into the indefinite future. Perhaps, contra functionalism as understood today, a subjective texture of unpleasantness will prove functionally indispensable for say, certain critical acts of judgement or discernment, or introspective self-examination. If these capacities are accorded a value potentially greater than the abolition of suffering, and if their subjective nastiness is functionally essential to the role they perform, then the abolitionist project may prove to have a more restricted appeal than the wider consensus canvassed here. If so, then seemingly abstruse debates about functionalist philosophy of mind would have an ethical significance beyond their technical merits.
Whatever the truth of functionalism, many non-utilitarian ethical positions are inconsistent with an abolitionist agenda; all the world's major religions for a start, with the ambiguous exception of Buddhism. Ethical systems that mandate the infliction of misery on other sentient beings against their will can't be reconciled with any form of paradise-engineering. But on the whole, religious and secular ethicists alike aren't so much hostile to abolitionism as simply oblivious to its very possibility. Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha didn't have anything to say on molecular genetics and nanotechnology. Indeed, it's only in the past few decades that the abolitionist project could be contemplated as technically feasible on earth. Now that its blueprint can at least be formulated, all utilitarians should be abolitionists. But there's no need to turn utilitarian to endorse abolitionism: what's indispensable is an absence of malice.
4.26 ...will never be a Post-Darwinian Transition... there will always be selection pressure... 4.27 ...paradise-engineering is impossible...not evolutionarily stable... 4.28 ...contradiction...abolitionism can't be reconciled with an absence of compulsion... 4.29 ...why invoke nanotechnology ...isn't genetic engineering enough...? 4.30 ..."pushy" parents will choose genotypes for children who are smart, driven and successful rather than happy... 4.31 ...persistence of "natural" reproducers with Darwinian genotypes means that suffering won't be abolished... 4.32 ...cosmic HI? Some pitfalls... 4.33 ...why stress gradients of well-being? Wouldn't permanent maximum bliss be ethically better...? 4.34 ...why the headlong rush? Let's wait until we have the wisdom to understand the implications of what we're doing... 4.35 ...the Simulation Argument suggests suffering can never be abolished...
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