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Old Jun 13th 2015, 02:15 PM
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Default What value/use the human species?

As some of you know, I spend a good bit of my time reading/researching/writing early US history. As a way of breaking that up a bit, I've been toying around with some science fiction on the side. There's something refreshing about switching from historic non-fiction to futurist fiction.

Anyway, I'm of the opinion that good sci-fi should make a point of engaging with some philosophical question(s), and the one I'm playing with here is the value/utility of species preservation. Specifically, the human species. As questions, I might be asking:
  • How important is it to preserve humanity from extinction?
  • Is there a duty to do so? If so, where does that duty come from?
  • Is there overriding utility in doing so? If so, what goal is it useful toward and could that goal be achieved even if humanity went extinct?
  • Are there conditions under which the species might persist that would be worse than extinction? If so, what and why?

Since things are kind of slow 'round here, I thought I'd throw this out, see what people think, and maybe get some good ideas. Feel free to toss out answers to any/all of these or propose your own.
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Old Jun 14th 2015, 11:54 AM
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Default Re: What value/use the human species?

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How important is it to preserve humanity from extinction?

Is there a duty to do so? If so, where does that duty come from?
I think these two questions are closely related because I can't imagine that one might consider preservation of humanity to be highly important and then do nothing about it if it were in danger. That is to say, if one believes that preservation of humanity is important, then it logically follows that there is [or ought to be] a duty to preserve it in the face of danger.

As for the importance of preservation in the first place, I think that we can reason from the institution of family. I think we can all agree that it is important to preserve one's family and loved ones from extinction/death and that we have a duty to prevent that. I will suggest that society itself is ultimately an agglomeration of families and therefore it follows that preserving the species is essentially the same as preserving one's own family and loved ones and we do have a duty to preserve/protect that.

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Is there overriding utility in doing so? If so, what goal is it useful toward and could that goal be achieved even if humanity went extinct?
I don't understand this question. What possible human utility could be achieved if humanity went extinct? That seems like a null question.

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Are there conditions under which the species might persist that would be worse than extinction? If so, what and why?
I don't think it is possible to answer this question on purely speculative basis without any data at all. One might think that a nuclear holocaust and subsequent mass-scale mutations amongst the survivors might be 'worse than extinction' but without being in that position, it seems impossible to assess.

People with superhero fantasies just might like the idea of humans being born with all kinds of different mutations.
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Old Jun 15th 2015, 11:51 AM
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Default Re: What value/use the human species?

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[*]How important is it to preserve humanity from extinction?
It all depends form which viewpoint you look at this. From the viewpoint of the planet's ecosystem and all but the domesticated species of fauna and flora, the extinction of humanity would be a huge blessing, if not a necessity.

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[*]Is there a duty to do so? If so, where does that duty come from?
Duty? No. If a species is detrimental to its own environment -which it always depends upon no matter how much technology it has- it will become extinct eventually. That is a fact. The concept of duty has no impact or even relevance to that.
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Old Jun 15th 2015, 11:51 AM
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People with superhero fantasies just might like the idea of humans being born with all kinds of different mutations.
Everyone is born with heaps of mutations. That is what make sexual reproduction so successful.
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Old Jun 16th 2015, 08:31 AM
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Default Re: What value/use the human species?

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I think these two questions are closely related because I can't imagine that one might consider preservation of humanity to be highly important and then do nothing about it if it were in danger. That is to say, if one believes that preservation of humanity is important, then it logically follows that there is [or ought to be] a duty to preserve it in the face of danger.

I don't understand this question. What possible human utility could be achieved if humanity went extinct? That seems like a null question.
I suppose I'm thinking of duty and utility as [the only?] potential motivations. One is motivated to act out of a sense of duty (i.e. because there is some moral obligation) or utility (i.e. because doing so is useful and/or makes one happy). And, of course, they aren't mutually exclusive.

So I'm think that either (A) humanity ought to be preserved because its preservation is a moral good, or (B) it ought to be preserved because preserving it increases my happiness, or (C) it needn't be preserved at all.

As to utility specifically, I'm trying to separate myself (as a specific, concrete human) and humanity (the general abstraction). So while I might want to keep myself alive as long as possible, does/should that translate into a desire to ensure the survival of the species generally beyond myself? Is ensuring the future of the species useful to me?

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As for the importance of preservation in the first place, I think that we can reason from the institution of family. I think we can all agree that it is important to preserve one's family and loved ones from extinction/death and that we have a duty to prevent that. I will suggest that society itself is ultimately an agglomeration of families and therefore it follows that preserving the species is essentially the same as preserving one's own family and loved ones and we do have a duty to preserve/protect that.
Oh, I like that as a line of reasoning. That's useful.

But, to appeal to the distinction above, is preserving one's family important because it's a moral obligation or because it tends to be useful for the individuals involved in the preservation? If the latter, could that utility be achieved some other way?

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I don't think it is possible to answer this question on purely speculative basis without any data at all. One might think that a nuclear holocaust and subsequent mass-scale mutations amongst the survivors might be 'worse than extinction' but without being in that position, it seems impossible to assess.
I agree, it's hard to compare anything to the sort of null-state of non-existence.

Here's how I'm thinking about it, with regard to story: The human population faces a choice between two alternatives: (A) Use its remaining resources to ensure that all currently-living humans will have healthy, peaceful, theoretically happy, but childless lives; once the last of them dies the species will be extinct. or (B) The species can survive, perhaps indefinitely, but in order to ensure this, the current generation, and perhaps all foreseeable future generations, will live in poverty, pain, disease, and desperation.

That's an extreme choice, of course. Perhaps a more general question would be: If the last humans have the opportunity to live and die well, does it matter one way or the other that there won't be any more humans after them?
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Old Jun 16th 2015, 08:37 AM
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It all depends form which viewpoint you look at this. From the viewpoint of the planet's ecosystem and all but the domesticated species of fauna and flora, the extinction of humanity would be a huge blessing, if not a necessity.
Ok. But does that analysis provide an impetus to preserve humanity or to extinguish it? I suppose I've assume that the point of view in question is human, either that of each individual or of the community of those now living.

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Duty? No. If a species is detrimental to its own environment -which it always depends upon no matter how much technology it has- it will become extinct eventually. That is a fact. The concept of duty has no impact or even relevance to that.
True, but the question I'm trying to get at here is, "So what?" Is our extinction inherently a bad thing, something to be prevented? Are there a set of circumstances under which we would/should really be fine with it? Or under which it might actually be preferable?
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Old Jun 17th 2015, 06:21 PM
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I suppose I'm thinking of duty and utility as [the only?] potential motivations. One is motivated to act out of a sense of duty (i.e. because there is some moral obligation) or utility (i.e. because doing so is useful and/or makes one happy). And, of course, they aren't mutually exclusive.

So I'm think that either (A) humanity ought to be preserved because its preservation is a moral good, or (B) it ought to be preserved because preserving it increases my happiness, or (C) it needn't be preserved at all.
I consider the difference between morality and utility [in this case] to be essentially identical because it is impossible to differentiate.

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As to utility specifically, I'm trying to separate myself (as a specific, concrete human) and humanity (the general abstraction). So while I might want to keep myself alive as long as possible, does/should that translate into a desire to ensure the survival of the species generally beyond myself? Is ensuring the future of the species useful to me?
If you can question whether it is moral or not to prevent species extinction, then you have no morality to speak of, using the term in its conventional sense.

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Oh, I like that as a line of reasoning. That's useful.

But, to appeal to the distinction above, is preserving one's family important because it's a moral obligation or because it tends to be useful for the individuals involved in the preservation? If the latter, could that utility be achieved some other way?
As I noted above, I think the distinction between moral obligation and utility in this case is one and the same (or impossible to actually differentiate).

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I agree, it's hard to compare anything to the sort of null-state of non-existence.

Here's how I'm thinking about it, with regard to story: The human population faces a choice between two alternatives: (A) Use its remaining resources to ensure that all currently-living humans will have healthy, peaceful, theoretically happy, but childless lives; once the last of them dies the species will be extinct. or (B) The species can survive, perhaps indefinitely, but in order to ensure this, the current generation, and perhaps all foreseeable future generations, will live in poverty, pain, disease, and desperation.
Humans are hopeful, future oriented and tend to obsess about raising children. On this basis, I'd think they'd choose the latter, but I'm just speculating.

I just don't see how such a scenario could be realistic outside of SciFi novels.

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That's an extreme choice, of course. Perhaps a more general question would be: If the last humans have the opportunity to live and die well, does it matter one way or the other that there won't be any more humans after them?
Does it matter to whom?

I'd guess that half of them would enjoy their hedonism and the other half would be very sad and bewail the fate of humanity. Such is human nature.
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Old Jun 23rd 2015, 03:32 PM
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I consider the difference between morality and utility [in this case] to be essentially identical because it is impossible to differentiate.
...
As I noted above, I think the distinction between moral obligation and utility in this case is one and the same (or impossible to actually differentiate).
Well, that sounds like an interesting question for a threat in and of itself!

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If you can question whether it is moral or not to prevent species extinction, then you have no morality to speak of, using the term in its conventional sense.
Why? I think of "conventional" morality being almost entirely focused on benign/proper relationships between people, but not on the existence of people.

E.G. I may be morally obligated to love my neighbor, but it doesn't necessarily follow that I'm morally obligated to ensure that I will always have neighbors to love.

Admittedly, treating people well tends to further the survival of the species, but that effect strikes me as incidental, not inherent.

To embrace a SciFi trope, suppose a post-nuclear Armageddon scenario where very few people are left in a ravaged world. Suppose farther that (rather understandably) many of the limited number of fertile women who remain would prefer not to endure the hardships of pregnancy, labor, and motherhood in this environment. Does [conventional] morality obligate them to do so anyway? Or does it obligate others to let them make their own decision?

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Humans are hopeful, future oriented and tend to obsess about raising children. On this basis, I'd think they'd choose the latter, but I'm just speculating.

I just don't see how such a scenario could be realistic outside of SciFi novels.
Well, SciFi is the scenario in question here.

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Does it matter to whom?

I'd guess that half of them would enjoy their hedonism and the other half would be very sad and bewail the fate of humanity. Such is human nature.
I don't know. To you, I suppose.

Would the spectre of species extinction weigh heavily on you? Would you sacrifice your final years of ease to preserve the race? Why?
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Old Jun 29th 2015, 02:43 PM
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Well, that sounds like an interesting question for a threat in and of itself!
I don't think that particular point is all that interesting. I'm a cynic - I believe that people can and do lie. And thus, statements about self-motive or self-morality are always highly suspect in my book.

That's my key point here - assertions about moral motives cannot ever actually be known. Utility can be demonstrated or illustrated, morality can only be [imaginatively] asserted but can never be proven.

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Why? I think of "conventional" morality being almost entirely focused on benign/proper relationships between people, but not on the existence of people.
Conventional or historical definition of morality is entirely "God's will". Or if you prefer, that which is pleasing to god is good, that which displeases god is evil. That's the historical, traditional and conventional definition of morality.

I'm not aware of any other definition of morality that isn't entirely predictated upon one's own subjectivity. That is to say, if you try to take God out of that definition, you are left with nothing but hot air and the whole concept of morality vanishes, no matter how much we want morality to be real.

Nietzsche said we are living 'beyond good and evil'. This is precisely what he meant - because God was dead and the whole idea of morality died with him.

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E.G. I may be morally obligated to love my neighbor, but it doesn't necessarily follow that I'm morally obligated to ensure that I will always have neighbors to love.
Human extinction includes you.

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Admittedly, treating people well tends to further the survival of the species, but that effect strikes me as incidental, not inherent.
I'd say that treating people well has a generally high utilitarian value. People whom I am nice to tend to help me when I'm in trouble. People whom I'm mean to are far more less likely to help me when I'm in trouble.

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To embrace a SciFi trope, suppose a post-nuclear Armageddon scenario where very few people are left in a ravaged world. Suppose farther that (rather understandably) many of the limited number of fertile women who remain would prefer not to endure the hardships of pregnancy, labor, and motherhood in this environment. Does [conventional] morality obligate them to do so anyway? Or does it obligate others to let them make their own decision?
Since Christian morality commands humans to go forth and multiply, I think it is pretty cut and dried that those women have a clear moral obligation to breed in this case. But that's only because your question was predicated on morality. If morality is the defining point, then the obligation to go forth and multiply is obvious.

I repeat, the concept of morality has no definition or content without God/religion to drive it.

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Well, SciFi is the scenario in question here.
Well then, your SciFi scenario needs to identify the role of God/religion in the world in question, otherwise discussions about morality are meaningless.

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I don't know. To you, I suppose.

Would the spectre of species extinction weigh heavily on you? Would you sacrifice your final years of ease to preserve the race? Why?
Me personally? The extinction of the species would not weigh heavily upon me because I'm naturally a cynic and therefore I'm already expecting that result.

That being said, if I was in that position, I probably would sacrifice my final years of ease to preserve the race just for something to do and for some adventure.

Question: Why did he climb the mountain? Answer: Because it was there.

That is the nature of humans.
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Old Jul 5th 2015, 01:08 PM
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Default Re: What value/use the human species?

I've been thinking about this question and I think that we should look towards the environment question to get a better sense of the issue.

That is to say, let me re-phrase the question as "what value/use of any species?"

That is a real question that humans are faced with in the present day. On this basis, I think what the environmental activists have learned about the issue is quite instructive about answering the question.

While it is true that environmental activism and the original formation of environmental groups (such as the WWF) was driven by mostly by principles of ethics and/or morality, but that the growth and success of such movements seems to be entirely predicated upon their ability to frame the issue in monetary and economic terms.

In other words, an ethical or moral approach may to appeal to some people, but no where near enough people for this approach to be meaningful or effective. It is the 'utility' argument that seems to move people in large numbers, not ethics.

Thus, to answer your question, I think you have to focus on the utility side for the answer. Ethics and/or morality doesn't move mountains. The desire for a dollar does.
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