MORALITY AND THE HUMAN CONDITION, #28–Could Human Immortality Be A Good Thing?

By Robert Hanna

“The Human Condition,” by Thomas Whitaker


Table of Contents

II. The Standard Conception of Morality

II.1 The Moral Question and The Meaning Question

II.2 How Ethics Relates to Morality

II.3 How Morality Relates to Rationality

II.4 Six Famously Hard Cases

III. Three Classical Challenges to the Standard Conception of Morality

III.1 Moral Relativism

III.2 Eight Logical Principles of Human Rationality

III.3 Moral Skepticism

III.4 Psychological and Moral Egoism

IV. Morality and Religion

IV.1 God and The Divine Command Theory

IV.2 Does an Essentially Rational God Exist?

IV.3 Religion and Morality

V. Three Classical Moral Theories

V.1 Aristotelian Virtue Ethics

V.1.1 Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, books 1–3: A Brief Exposition

V.1.2 Four Worries about Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics

V.1.3 Contemporary Virtue Ethics

V.2 Millian Utilitarianism

V.2.1 Not-So-Happy Little Campers: Ten Big Problems for Millian Utilitarianism

V.3 Kant’s Ethics of Persons and Principles

V.3.1 Ten Basic Ideas

V.3.2 Three Classical Worries about Kant’s Ethics

V.4 All-Things-Considered Conclusion of This Section

VI. Pascal’s Optimism and Schopenhauer’s Pessimism

VI.1 Pascal’s Optimism About The Meaning of Life

VI.2 Schopenhauer’s Pessimism About The Meaning of Life

VI.3 Pascal or Schopenhauer? Optimism or Pessimism?

VII. Existentialism, the Absurd, and Affirmation

VII.1 Two Kinds of Existentialism

VII.2 Nagel and The Absurd

VII.3 Camus and Affirmation

VIII. The Ethics of Authenticity

VIII.1 Existential Ethics and the Concept of Authenticity

VIII.1.1 What is Authenticity?

VIII.1.2 Authenticity and Radical Freedom

VIII.1.3 Inauthenticity, Freedom-Refusers, and Freedom Deniers

VIII.2 Two Important Problems for Existential Ethics

VIII.3 Sartre on Principled Authenticity

IX. The Nature of Death

IX.1 The Ambiguity of “Death”

IX.2 The Nature of Our Own Death

IX.2.1 Nagel On the Nature of Our Own Death

IX.2.2 Suits Against the “Deprivation” Account of the Badness of Death

IX.2.3 Some Critical Worries About What Nagel and Suits are Saying About the Nature of Our Own Death

X. The (Im)Possibility of Human Immortality

X.1 Williams on the Tedium of Immortality

X.2 Fischer on How Human Immortality Could Be a Good Thing

X.3 Some Worries About What Williams and Fischer are Saying About Human Immortality

X.4 Human Life Without Immortality


But you can also read or download a .pdf version of the complete short course HERE.


X.2 Fischer on How Human Immortality Could Be a Good Thing

(i) the identity condition, which says that the person who lives on must remain the same person over time, and

(ii) the attractiveness condition, which says that the person’s future life must be appealing, that is, not filled with pain and/or suffering, and not joyless — in particular, and perhaps most importantly, not boring.

In view of those necessary conditions, Fischer then claims that Williams’s argument makes three questionable assumptions, and fails to recognize one crucial distinction, hence it is an unsound argument.

The first questionable assumption that Williams makes is that in order for human immortality to preserve identity over time, future activities cannot be completely absorbing, since then the subject would lose herself, and therefore her self, in them, and could not preserve her identity over time.

But as Fischer correctly points out, it’s one thing for the content of an experience to be completely absorbing, and quite another for an experience to be unowned by a distinctive, synchronically and diachronically identical self.

More generally, completely absorbing experiences in the content-sense can also be owned by the very same self at any given time and over time.

Williams’s second questionable assumption is that in order for human immortality to be attractive, it must consist in one single activity that in turn would eventually become joyless and boring.

But on the contrary, Fischer plausibly argues, immortality could consist in a plurality of activities, and it is not at all clear that this plurality would itself ever be joy-exhaustible or become boring in the way that a single activity could.

And Williams’s third questionable assumption is that in order for immortality to be attractive, all experiences in the subject’s future sempiternally endless or infinite life have to be pleasurable, even though they all would eventually become joyless and boring.

But on the contrary, according to Fischer, since finite or terminating human lives can be overall very good even if there is a certain amount of pain/suffering, joylessness, and boredom in them, then there is no good reason to think that a sempiternally infinite or endless human life could not be similarly composed.

In addition to these three questionable assumptions, according to Fischer, Williams fails to recognize a crucial distinction between

(i) self-exhausting pleasures, which aesthetically and/or hedonically terminate themselves and are inherently non-renewable for the subject,

either (ia) because they turn out, in the event, to be disappointing (e.g., the prospectively amazing New Year’s party that’s not so very amazing after all, indeed quite the contrary)

or (ib) because they are complete in themselves (e.g., the intense thrill of climbing Mount Everest, that one never needs or wants to repeat, having “been-there, done-that”), and

(ii) repeatable pleasures, that don’t exhaust themselves and are inherently worth experiencing again and again.

Self-exhausting and repeatable pleasures can, to some important extent, be relativized to individuals and contexts: what counts as self-exhausting or repeatable for one individual or in one context, need not count as self-exhausting or repeatable for another individual or in another context.

Moreover, repeatable pleasures should not, in general, be obsessively or mechanically repeated, but instead require appropriate distribution or patterning over time.

Now Williams seems to assume that all pleasures will ultimately be self-exhausting in the condition of human immortality.

But, on the contrary says Fischer, there’s no good reason to believe that there cannot be endlessly or infinitely repeatable pleasures in a sempiternally endless or infinite life, provided that these pleasures are appropriately distibuted or patterned over time.

So, taking Williams’s three questionable assumptions together with his failure to recognize the category of repeatable pleasures, his conclusion does not follow.

On the contrary, Fischer concludes, human immortality could be a good thing.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Tuesday 8 September 2020

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Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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