Defending the Procreation Asymmetry with Conditional Interests

post by MichaelStJules · 2019-10-13T18:49:15.586Z · score: 24 (16 votes) · EA · GW · 10 comments

Contents

  The Defense
  Narrow and Wide Person-Affecting Views, Briefly
  Examples, Transitivity and the Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives
  Final remarks
None
10 comments

The Procreation Asymmetry consists of these two claims together:

  1. it’s bad to bring into existence an individual who would have a bad existence, other things being equal, or the fact that an individual would have a bad existence is a reason to not bring them into existence; and
  2. it’s at best indifferent to bring into existence an individual who would have a good existence, other things being equal, or the fact that an individual would have a good existence is not a reason to bring them into existence.

However, if a bad existence can be an "existential harm" (according to claim 1), why can’t a good existence be an "existential benefit"? I.e. if we accept claim 1, why should we accept claim 2? If it’s worse for people who regret being born (or whose suffering outweighs their happiness) to actually be born, isn’t it better for people who are grateful for being born (or whose happiness outweighs their suffering) to actually be born? This is an immediate response to the Procreation Asymmetry, and providing a satisfactory defense which does not rely solely on base intuition (from hypotheticals) would better make the case for it. I attempt to provide one in this post.

My defense here isn’t very original: it starts from interests as being conditional upon existence, so that if someone exists, they may have interests in existing or not existing, but if they do not exist, they have no interests at all. This thinking has been somewhat useful to me in defending the Procreation Asymmetry without just accepting it from intuition, but I aim here to make the argument more formal. It's primarily inspired by Johann Frick’s defense of the Procreation Asymmetry in "Conditional Reasons and the Procreation Asymmetry" and "'Making People Happy, Not Making Happy People': A Defense of the Asymmetry Intuition in Population Ethics", as well as "Person-affecting views and saturating counterpart relations" by Christopher Meacham (full paper here). It's worth noting that these are fairly recent publications (2012, 2014).


The Defense

There is indeed a sort of asymmetry in the situations that can be used to defend the Procreation Asymmetry. I illustrate it this way:

Consider the above graph, and suppose an individual can exist with a positive existence (top left), exist with a negative existence (bottom left) or not exist at all (right). In the graph, the arrows represent when the individual in the given state would have a stronger overall interest in being in the other state. So, if and only if there’s an arrow which points out of the current outcome X, then X is dominated by the outcome Y the arrow points to, from the "point of view" of outcome X (or the point of view of the individuals in outcome X). If an outcome is dominated by another in this way and there's no stronger domination in the exact opposite direction, it is not stable (in a sense somewhat similar to a decision/game-theoretic one), and I claim it’s in one way worse to choose over the more strongly dominating outcome. Other outcomes may of course be impermissible to choose for other reasons.

Here are the two principles I rely on:

Comparative Interests: An outcome X is in one way worse than an outcome Y if, conditional on X, the individuals in X would have a stronger overall interest in outcome Y than in X and, conditional on Y, the individuals in Y would not have an equally or even stronger overall interest in X than in Y.

NOTE: I've added "equally or" in an edit.

Here, "individuals in X " and "individuals in Y " are perhaps underspecified, but they should be interpreted as individuals who exist or will exist in the given outcome, which is the second principle:

Interests Imply Existence: If an individual has interests (and overall interests) in (inside) a given outcome, then they exist or will exist in that outcome.

Conversely, if an individual doesn’t exist and won't come to exist in an outcome, they have no interests in the outcome. Our obligations to others may be, in this way, conditional on their existence.

Furthermore, I claim that some individuals who exist or would exist in some outcomes have an overall interest in not existing, e.g. they may prefer to not to have come to exist, or there's more suffering than happiness in their life. We can say these individuals are exactly the individuals who have negative existences in that outcome. On the other hand, I am agnostic here about the possibility that an individual who exists or would exist in an outcome can have an overall interest in existing, e.g. they may prefer to have come to exist, or there's more happiness than suffering in their life. We can say these are exactly the individuals who have positive existences in that outcome. My argument does not depend on whether or not positive existences are possible.

Here are the arguments for the two claims of the Procreation Asymmetry and each arrow (or its absence) in the graph, regarding only the interests of the individual whose existence we're considering. For readability, I copy the graph here again:

  1. If the individual would come to exist and have an overall negative existence, this means that, in that outcome, they have an overall interest in not existing. So, there is an arrow from Negative existence (bottom left) to Nonexistence. On the other hand, there's no arrow from Nonexistence to Negative Existence, because an individual who does not and will not exist has no interests at all, by Interests Imply Existence. Together and with Comparative Interests, this implies claim 1 of the Procreation Asymmetry.
  2. Nonexistent (and never existing) individuals have no interests in coming to exist, since they have no interests at all, by Interests Imply Existence. So, there is no arrow from Nonexistence (the right side of the graph) to Existence (the left side of the graph). With Comparative Interests, this implies claim 2 of the Procreation Asymmetry.
  3. Although not required to show the Procreation Asymmetry, I also claim existing individuals have an interest to be at least as well off as they are (or would be) or strictly better, so there are arrows going up in Existence, and I claim no individual has an interest in being worse off, so there are no arrows going down in Existence.
  4. By Interests Imply Existence, there are no arrows at all starting in Nonexistence.

Furthermore, those who do exist often prefer to continue to exist and may have an overall interest in continuing to exist, so ending an individual's existence may be a harm, and the weaker version of Interests Imply Existence could account for this, perhaps falling under 3. However, once they stop existing, they no longer prefer to exist.


Narrow and Wide Person-Affecting Views, Briefly

Existence can be understood in a narrow or wide way: with a narrow view, identities matter, but with a wide view, they don’t. The Nonidentity Problem is a classical illustration of the differences between these two views. Briefly, "solving" it means that if you have to choose for Alice or Bob to be born, and Alice would be better off than Bob, then you should choose for Alice to be born, even if Alice and Bob are different individuals. A narrow person-affecting view would be agnostic about whether (or reject that) it's better for Alice to be born than Bob to be born at all if they are different individuals, while wide views typically accept this.

A wide view can be applied to generalize a theory ranking consequences dealing only with the same individuals to different individual cases (with the same number of individuals) by using the principle of Anonymity:

Anonymity: If two outcomes have the same (finite) number of individuals and there's a bijection between the individuals that preserves their utilities (i.e. if A has utility u in one outcome, then A is mapped to an individual with utility u in the other outcome), then the two outcomes are equivalent.

E.g. if Alice in one outcome gets mapped to Bob in the other, they have the same wellbeing.


Examples, Transitivity and the Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives

This defense is essentially pairwise comparative: it does not proceed by assigning an overall value to each outcome and then comparing these values, it directly compares pairs of outcomes. As such, it's natural to ask whether or not it's compatible with Transitivity and the Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives or if it can be modified to be compatible with them.

Transitivity: If X is at least as good as Y, and Y is at least as good as Z, then X is at least good as Z. If, furthermore, X is better than Y or Y is better than Z, then X is better than Z.

Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives: The rankings of outcomes do not depend on what outcomes are possible, so if X < Y within a given set of possible outcomes (option set), then X < Y within any set of possible outcomes, and similarly with equivalence instead of the inequality.

Compatibility actually hinges upon our interpretation of "interest" in one outcome over another. We still require that an individual who does not and will not exist has no interest in existence, because they have no interests at all in the outcomes in which they never exist.

If you accept the Procreation Asymmetry and Transitivity, but are willing to give up the Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives, you may find the following utilitarian approach for comparing outcomes intuitive:

“Person-affecting views and saturating counterpart relations” by Christopher Meacham (full draft here)

His approach is to measure the harm in an outcome with respect to an option set as the sum of the differences between an individual’s maximum utility in this option set and their utility in the given outcome, using 0 if they don’t exist in the given outcome, and then minimize this harm. Interests are therefore relative to the option set, with individual interests relative to the best for the individual within the option set. He then extends this approach to cases with different individuals (different identities) through “saturating counterpart relations”, effectively injective/one-to-one maps between individuals in outcomes, using both narrow and wide views of existence, and an extra minimization condition. An individual's identity matters if and only if they exist in both outcomes, and in this case, they must be mapped to themself between the two outcomes.

It also solves the Nonidentity Problem, and avoids the Repugnant Conclusion, the Absurd Conclusion and a specific principle of Antinatalism:

The Absurd Conclusion: "There can be a moral difference between worlds whose populations have the same distributions of well-being, but where the subjects live concurrently instead of consecutively." (Partfit originally, quoted from Meacham)

Antinatalism: It would be better for anyone who would come to exist with non-maximal utility to not come to exist at all, other things being equal.

In health, a view which minimizes some aggregate of disability-adjusted life years is fairly similar to Meacham's, setting the best life for each person as X years of full health, with X being the life expectancy of the Japanese (the highest of any country), and then doing some age-weighting. You could at least imagine that almost any particular person in the world could immigrate to one of the healthiest countries and live a much healthier life there (although it might be too late to live to 80+ years for many). Whether this outcome should be included in the option set depends on how we decide what's in the option set.


Otherwise, if you aren’t willing to give up the Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives, but still accept the Procreation Asymmetry and Transitivity, then this leads, under another modest assumption, to the principle of Antinatalism defined above. This is because for any individual with non-maximal utility, we can imagine the same individual (or, if the Nonidentity Problem is solved, another hypothetical individual) with a higher utility, other things being equal, and that would be strictly better (say if it's always strictly better for an individual to have higher utility, other things being equal, a Pareto principle, but some reject this, e.g. some egalitarians), and by claim 2 of the Procreation Asymmetry, no better than not coming to exist at all, so by Transitivity (and the Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives), not coming to exist at all would be strictly better than coming to exist with non-maximal utility. In symbols:

If A has non-maximal utility, there's some (hypothetical) B with greater utility, so

X ∪ {A} < X ∪ {B}, and since X ∪ {B} ≤ X , we have X ∪ {A} ≤ X .

This leads us to interpret interests as relative to all hypothetical outcomes, practically possible or not, with individual interests relative to the best for the individual in any hypothetical outcome. Strong negative utilitarian (including hedonistic and preference-based) views are examples.


Note that positive existences are possible in the above approaches if individuals can have an overall interest in not being dead. For example, if they would continue to accumulate goods in their lives, and these goods outweigh the bads, then continued existence means further accumulation of net good compared to death. In the DALY minimization approach, dying early is worse than continuing to live in good health.


Final remarks

Other things are rarely equal in practice, since in realistic scenarios individuals will have effects on others. This particular Antinatalism principle does not imply that we generally should not have children in practice (even considering the nonzero probability of a bad life), because there may be other reasons why having a child is good, e.g. they may have an overall positive impact on the wellbeing of others, greater than the harm to themselves, although this might mean using the child as a means to an end, which may be wrong as a deontological principle. Even if we accept the Procreation Asymmetry without accepting the Antinatalism principle, having children might also imply using them as means to ends, or not counting the risk that they'll have a bad life. There could also be reasons to have children that aren't based on consequences alone.

See Simon Knutsson's article "The 'Asymmetry' and Extinction Thought Experiments" or his paper "The world destruction argument" for responses to the objection that the Procreation Asymmetry or negative utilitarianism implies we should prefer to go extinct.

10 comments

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comment by MichaelPlant · 2019-10-14T19:54:53.627Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for putting this up here. One major and three minor comments.

First, and probably most importantly, I don't see how this line of reasoning gets an asymmetry. If I understand it correctly, the idea is that people need to actually exist to have interests, so if people do or will exist, we can say existence will be good/bad for them. But that gets you to actualism, it seems, but not an asymmetry. If X would have a bad life, were X to exist, I take it we shouldn't create X. But then why, if X were to have a good life, were X to exist, do we not to have reason to create X? You say you're 'agnostic' about whether those who would have good lives have an interest in existing, but I don't think you give a reason for this agnosticism, which would be the crucial thing to do.

Second, I didn't really understand the explication of Meacham's view - you said it 'solves' a cavalcade of issues on pop ethics but didn't spell out how it actually solves them. I'm also not sure if your view is different from Meacham's and, if so, how.

Third, it would be useful if you could spell out what you take (some of) the practical implications of your view to be.

Fourth, because you get stuck into the deep end quite quickly, I wonder if you should add a note that this is a relatively more 'advanced' forum post.

comment by MichaelStJules · 2019-10-14T21:55:57.655Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)
If X would have a bad life, were X to exist, I take it we shouldn't create X.

Yes, because in the outcome where X exists, they would have a claim to not exist (by my assumption), so this would have been a mistake, and you would want to undo the choice, if you could. Therefore, it's not a rational choice to make.

But then why, if X were to have a good life, were X to exist, do we not to have reason to create X?

Not from a situation in which X does not and will not exist, as a person-affecting rule (my claim), since X would not exist to be able to have such a claim. So, if you chose for X not to exist, then you would have no reason to change your mind, since X will not be around to give you such a reason. If you did choose for X to exist (whether or not they exist yet), this would give you a reason to not change your mind, but this reason does not apply if you'd have already chosen otherwise, so your choice to not bring X into existence would be stable; you wouldn't change your mind. See also my discussion with Stijn.

You say you're 'agnostic' about whether those who would have good lives have an interest in existing, but I don't think you give a reason for this agnosticism, which would be the crucial thing to do.

This is just my personal view, since I'm uncertain about the matter, and the argument goes through either way. That those who would have a good life have an interest in existing is compatible with some of the example theories I gave, including even consequentialist theories that always assign a negative value to new individuals, all else equal.

Second, I didn't really understand the explication of Meacham's view - you said it 'solves' a cavalcade of issues on pop ethics but didn't spell out how it actually solves them. I'm also not sure if your view is different from Meacham's and, if so, how.

I didn't plan to explain all of that, since it was just a brief overview and a reason for readers to check out the paper themselves.

Meacham's system is a full utilitarian calculus, and so can be taken to be a full ethical system. What I present here is just an argument that could defend or motivate parts of the design choices in his system, e.g. that in an outcome in which an individual doesn't exist, the harm to them is 0.

Third, it would be useful if you could spell out what you take (some of) the practical implications of your view to be.

That's a good point. There's a lot that will depend on what other views you hold, but I think broadly, the views would be more present-focused with a narrow person-affecting view, and generally more suffering-focused (including future suffering) with a wide or narrow person-affecting view. They would probably reject the astronomical waste argument, so human extinction or slowed population growth could only look bad instrumentally, and may even look good, although this depends on empirical views about whether our presence would be useful for others.

If we use a wide person-affecting view and also accept empty individualism (and the independence of irrelevant alternatives), then our comparison of outcomes is basically strong negative utilitarianism, although it need not aggregate through a sum.

If instead we take a narrow person-affecting view, then there's still reason to prevent bad lives in the future, but we can't make future individuals better off otherwise, since they'd be different individuals. So, we might focus on individuals alive today, as well as future bad lives only to prevent their existence, since we wouldn't be able to make future bad lives better otherwise.

If, on top of the narrow view, we also accept empty individualism, then we can't make individuals who exist now better off either, and the only good we can do for anyone is prevent them from existing. We would focus only on preventing bad individual person-moments.

I'd need to think more about whether there are further important practical implications beyond just those implied by the Procreation Asymmetry.

Fourth, because you get stuck into the deep end quite quickly, I wonder if you should add a note that this is a relatively more 'advanced' forum post.

I was actually hoping it would be fairly accessible, because I think a lot of EAs might be committed to a totalist view without having thought much about arguments for the alternatives, even if they might have found the Procreation Asymmetry intuitive before.

comment by Stijn · 2019-10-13T22:02:36.843Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

It seems that with the formulation of the Comparative Interest principle, you already assume an asymmetry. Consider the symmetric (equally reasonable) formulation, by writing ‘better’ instead of ‘worse’ and switching X and Y: An outcome X is in one way better than an outcome Y if, conditional on X, the individuals in X would have a stronger overall interest in outcome X than in Y and, conditional on Y, the individuals in Y would not have an even stronger overall interest in Y than in X.

With this formulation, the procreation asymmetry illustriation looks different: there is an arrow from non-existence to positive existence (top arrow from right to left), but no arrow from negative existence to non-existence.

Your formulation of the comparative interest principle, means that you focus on the tails of the arrows in the figure: an arrow can only be drawn if someone exists (and has interests) at the position of the tail of the arrow. My formulation focuses on the arrowheads: an arrow can only be drawn if someone exists (and has interests) at the position of the head of the arrow. There is a symmetry in choosing heads or tails, so your comparative interest principle is not suitable for a good defense of the procreation asymmetry.

I have another defense, based on my theory of variable critical level utilitarianism (https://stijnbruers.wordpress.com/2018/02/24/variable-critical-level-utilitarianism-as-the-solution-to-population-ethics/). This is a critical level utilitarianism, where now everyone is free to choose their own critical level. The condition is: everyone should be willing to accept a life at the chosen critical level. This means that no-one will choose a negative critical level. Critical levels always have to be positive. That introduces an asymmetry between the positive and the negative, and this asymmetry is at the root of the procreation asymmetry.

comment by MichaelStJules · 2019-10-14T00:15:50.990Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)
It seems that with the formulation of the Comparative Interest principle, you already assume an asymmetry. Consider the symmetric (equally reasonable) formulation, by writing ‘better’ instead of ‘worse’ and switching X and Y

This is a good point, and I should have put more thought into this. I think there's a pretty good reason to accept my original principle that does not apply to the modified one: mine implies a kind of stability by focusing on arrow tails, while the modified one does not seem to. I did write "stable (in a sense somewhat similar to a decision/game-theoretic one)", but didn't expand further on this or consider your modified principle. I'll do that here.

We first consider the interests of those existing in the given outcome for person-affecting reasons and then only consider the interests in the opposite direction from the other outcome as a potential defeater if the first interests actually pointed towards the other outcome. This is to ensure we don't change our minds back and forth between the two outcomes. (I see now that we might want to extend the consideration of the interests in the opposite direction to cycles of length > 2.)

That is, if X is worse than Y in my way, and you choose X, you would realize it was a mistake after considering the interests in X that you actually observe and you would wish for Y to have happened instead, and may even try to make the future closer to Y, undoing the work you did for X. In my view, it's absurd to choose outcomes which you know you will prefer to not have happened. I think we can defend this on grounds of rationality, e.g. avoiding things like money pumps and Dutch books.

On the other hand, with your modified principle, if X is better than Y, and Y happens, the interests of the individuals in X are not the same as the interests in Y, which is the outcome that actually happened. Supposing you choose Y, if there's a pull from Y to X that would cause you to change your mind about choosing Y, I claim now that it should be from the individuals in Y as they are in Y because that's your reality (the individuals in X may not even exist), but the modified principle considers overall interests from Y only in the opposite direction (for Y > X), so it has nothing to say about this.

For example (to illustrate or defend the Procreation Asymmetry directly, but I should probably not defend Comparative Interests in this way to defend the Procreation Asymmetry), if people decide to have a child they know will be forever miserable because they don't count the harm ahead of time, once the child is born (or the decision to have the child is made), the parent(s) may decide to euthanize (abort, etc.) them for the child's sake. And then, they could do this again and again and again, knowing they'll change their minds at each point, because at each point, although they might recognize the harm, they don't count it until after the decision is made. This is basically a money pump for the parents, and the modified principle allows this, while mine does not.

On the other hand, if people decide to not have a child instead of a happy one, there's no child in that outcome whose interests would push them to have the child. The child with interests in existing is in an outcome that didn't happen. The child won't be around to tell them they messed up by not bringing them into existence. So, there's no money pump.



I have another defense, based on my theory of variable critical level utilitarianism (https://stijnbruers.wordpress.com/2018/02/24/variable-critical-level-utilitarianism-as-the-solution-to-population-ethics/). This is a critical level utilitarianism, where now everyone is free to choose their own critical level. The condition is: everyone should be willing to accept a life at the chosen critical level. This means that no-one will choose a negative critical level. Critical levels always have to be positive. That introduces an asymmetry between the positive and the negative, and this asymmetry is at the root of the procreation asymmetry.

If people are choosing their own critical levels, shouldn't we just redefine negative existence and positive existence in terms of the situations/identities that correspond to those critical levels? I.e. we didn't actually put 0 at the right place in the first place, and if we did so, there would be no need to subtract a critical level. I suppose if we want to define negative and positive existence in terms of hedonistic utility (or some other values), but define critical level preferentially, this would make sense.

comment by Stijn · 2019-10-14T14:48:13.379Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm still not perfectly convinced: there still seems to be a symmetric formulation. You describe it in terms of pushing instead of pulling. But what about the symmetry between expressions "an existing individual in X pushes the situation from X to Y", versus "an existing individual in Y pulls the situation from X to Y"? Why would there be no money pump in pulling cases if there could be a money pump in a pushing case?

That being said, my gut feeling tells me that your reference to game theoretic instability or money pumps is similar (analogous or perhaps exactly the same?) as my reference to dynamic inconsistency (subgame imperfect situations) that I described in my variable critical level utilitarianism draft paper https://stijnbruers.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/variable-critical-level-utilitarianism-1.pdf. So in the end you could be pointing at a valid argument indeed.

comment by MichaelStJules · 2019-10-14T16:43:17.977Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)
I'm still not perfectly convinced: there still seems to be a symmetric formulation. You describe it in terms of pushing instead of pulling. But what about the symmetry between expressions "an existing individual in X pushes the situation from X to Y", versus "an existing individual in Y pulls the situation from X to Y"? Why would there be no money pump in pulling cases if there could be a money pump in a pushing case?

In the pushing case, if you make one choice, you're sometimes compelled to change your mind: if you've chosen X, the individuals in X can push you towards Y. In the pulling case, the reasons to change your mind don't apply in the option you've chosen: if you've chosen X, the individuals in Y can't pull you towards Y, because those claims don't come from X. The claims in Y for Y over X only make a difference if there are also claims in Y for X (or something else) over Y that they defeat, which is captured by "in Y, a stronger overall interest in Y than in X" or "in Y, a stronger overall interest in X than in Y" (or equality).

I'll break it down into cases to illustrate:


Suppose "an existing individual in X pushes the situation from X to Y". Then:

1. If you choose X, an individual who exists in X has a claim to Y over X, so you have reason to change your mind to Y, and this reason only applies in X, which you've chosen. That's a reason to change your mind to Y, although it may ultimately be outweighed if there are other claims (but first by other claims in X, and then if there's an overall claim in X to Y over X, i.e. in the same direction, also by claims in Y). If there are no other reasons to be concerned with, then this is not a stable solution, since you have an overall reason in X to change your mind to Y, and no other reasons in any other outcome to change your mind.

2. If you choose Y, we don't have enough information to say anything (we don't know if the individuals in Y have claims to anything else). The claim in X to Y over X does not apply here, since you didn't choose X, although there could be other claims. If there are no other reasons to be concerned with, then this is a stable solution, since you have no reason in Y to change your mind.


Now, instead suppose "an existing individual in Y pulls the situation from X to Y". Then:

1. If you choose Y, an individual who exists in Y has a claim to Y over X, so you have a reason to not change your mind to X, but this reason only applies in Y, which you've chosen. That's a reason to not change your mind to X, although it may ultimately be outweighed if there are other claims (but first by other claims in Y, and then if there's an overall claim in Y to X over Y, i.e. in the opposite direction, also by claims in X). If there are no other reasons to be concerned with, then this is a stable solution, since you have no reason in Y to change your mind.

2. If you choose X, we don't have enough information to say anything (we don't know if the individuals in Y have claims to anything else). The claim in Y to Y over X does not apply here, since you didn't choose Y, although there could be other claims. If there are no other reasons to be concerned with, then this is a stable solution, since you have no reason in X to change your mind.

comment by Stijn · 2019-10-23T20:45:33.132Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

got it! :-)

comment by MichaelStJules · 2020-02-17T08:43:00.881Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Here's a more thorough treatment of a similar approach:

Teruji Thomas: The Asymmetry, Uncertainty, and the Long Term

Post on the EA Forum [EA · GW].

comment by antimonyanthony · 2019-10-18T11:37:57.280Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think the following is a typo:

not coming to exist at all would be strictly worse than coming to exist with non-maximal utility

The transitivity argument you presented shows that it's strictly better.

Nitpicks aside, thank you for sharing these ideas! I think identifying that interests (or desires associated with experiences) are the morally relevant objects rather than persons is crucial.

comment by MichaelStJules · 2019-10-18T15:50:09.272Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for pointing that out.

I think you can still treat persons as morally relevant, on top of their interests. In particular, you could think that we should weight interests within a person differently from how we weight them across persons, so that personal and interpersonal trade-offs can be treated differently. The principle of Comparative Interests I put forward doesn't make any claims about how interests should be weighted.

If you accept empty individualism, then you might just respond that each interest (or preference or experience, etc.) should be its own person, so that all trade-offs are interpersonal.