Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Worst-Case Scenario?

Sam Harris says the worst imaginable universe is one in which all conscious beings suffer as much as they can and for as long as they can. This is not just categorically bad, but the categorically worst-case scenario. This is supposed to be intuitive. Yet, my intuition tells me we can imagine a worse situation.

Imagine planet X populated by as-yet-undiscovered aliens. Now imagine a universe in which all the animals on earth suffer for as long as possible and to the highest possible degree, and in which the aliens on planet X enjoy this suffering greatly. The suffering on earth gives the aliens more pleasure than anything else in their entire history. They celebrate it annually, laughing at and finding joy in documentary films, pictures, and reenactments which graphically depict the unspeakable horrors experienced on earth.

My feeling is that this scenario, in which the suffering of some produces great pleasure in others, is less appealing--less morally satisfying--than the scenario in which the inhabitants of planet X suffer as much as the inhabitants of earth. It doesn't seem better to have the inhabitants of planet X enjoy our suffering. I am not convinced that the minimization of overall suffering is the highest good, or that the maximization of overall suffering is the greatest evil.