Simfish/InquilineKea's Thoughts

13 November, 2010 14:34
November 13, 2010, 2:34 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Note: this post is high on philosophical jargon. There are nice wikipedia (and stanford encyclopedia of philosophy) entries on b-theory, deep ecology, total utility, and utilitarianism.

Hypothesis: Assume b-theory of time *and* assume deep ecology *and* assume utilitarianism (as applied to deep ecology)

If you subscribe to the b-theory of time (which most philosophers of science see to do), then the “deep ecology” conception of environmentalism is flawed.

The reason being that life will inevitably be extinguished. But despite that, the Earth has still enjoyed several billion years of life (life without human intervention). Sure, many habitats are currently being destroyed. But the environment will only be destroyed for a very small portion of time compared to the total amount of time that life has enjoyed without human intervention (and according to the b-theory of time, the present is no more “significant” than the past). In fact, this will be true even if life continues on earth for 1 more billion years (and fact is, life as we know it cannot continue for more than ~1 billion years, because by then, the Sun’s luminosity will be sufficiently high enough to boil away the earth’s oceans). By then, human technology will be the only way to ensure that life will continue.

Okay sure, a deep ecologist might want to maximize the total utility of the biosphere (and argue that reducing human activity will reduce it, even though the total impact of human activity will still only be limited to a very small fraction of the total utility of the biosphere integrated over time dating back to 4.6 billion years ago). After all, f(t) = U(t)*(4*10^9 + 1000) is still bigger than f(t) = U(t)*4*10^9. So conclusion: if you subscribe to all three theories, your total impact will be very small (unless you can find a way to migrate Earth’s biosphere into another stellar system before the Sun goes red giant). In any case, if the hypothesis (heat death of the universe) holds [and the evidence for that outcome seems to be rather high], then the impact of any person will be very limited.

Of course, his judgment of total utility is subjective [it depends on how much you weigh factors such as biomass, the well-being of “sentient” creatures, and other factors].

Also, this does in no way argue against environmentalism if you’re an environmentalist due to human concerns. There are many valid reasons for that. It also doesn’t argue against deep ecology *without* the b-theory of time. Most people do not view the present as less significant to the past. It’s antithetical to human survival, after all. The philosophically unsophisticated may, for example, weigh the well-being of charismatic creatures higher than that of uncharismatic creatures. They may also weigh certain intervals of time with higher importance than other intervals of time. Many implications of utilitarianism, in any case, go against people’s moral intuitions.


The b-theory of time also brings up interesting new ways to analyze utilitarianism. Since again, the present is no more “significant” than the past. In any case, assuming b-theory of time, you can then analyze total utility by integrating the total sum of “utility” (experienced by all sentient beings) over time (you can then divide it by the total number of individuals [each weighted by their level of sentience] if you wish).


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