Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

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Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Sat Aug 24, 2013 8:32 pm

Does this make sense??

ABSTRACT:
In this paper I argue that coming into existence can benefit (or harm) a person. My argument incorporates the comparative claim that existence can be better (or worse) for a person than never existing. Since these claims are highly controversial, I consider and reject a number of objections which threaten them. These objections raise various semantic, logical, metaphysical and value-theoretical issues. I then suggest that there is an important sense in which it can harm (or benefit) a person not to come into existence. Again, I consider and reject some objections. Finally, I briefly consider what the conclusions reached in this paper imply for our moral obligations to possible future people...

I have argued for the Value of Existence View by making the comparative claim that existence can be better (or worse) for a person than non-existence. However, some philosophers suggest that it is incoherent to defend the Value of Existence View in this way. Here are representative observations, made by Derek Parfit and John Broome, respectively:

Causing someone to exist is a special case because the alternative would not have been worse for this person. We may admit that, for this reason, causing someone to exist cannot be better for this person.

At least, it cannot ever be true that it is better for a person that she lives than that she should never have lived at all. If it were better for a person that she lives than that she should never have lived at all, then if she had never lived at all, that would have been worse for her than if she had lived. But if she had never lived at all, there would have been no her for it to be worse for, so it could not have been worse for her.

The argument set out by Parfit and Broome seems to have two premises. According to the first, the judgement that it is better (or worse) to exist than never to exist entails that it is worse (or better) never to exist than to exist. According to the second, it cannot be worse (or better) never to exist. Presumably, the first premise is based on a claim about the logic of “betterness” relation; and presumably, the second premise is based on the following metaphysical principle:

The No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle: An individual cannot have any properties if it does not exist. It is because a person who does not exist cannot have any properties that she cannot be worse (or better) off.

The claim that Parfit and Broome are committed to the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle can be disputed, but their argument is best explained by invoking this principle. After all, what reason could there be for denying that it is worse (or better) never to exist, if not because, in general, a person cannot have properties if she does not exist? This interpretation is also suggested by Broome’s remark that “if she had never lived at all, there would have been no her for it to be worse for, so it could not have been worse for her” (my emphasis). Broome’s point would seem to be that, if a person does not exist, her absence makes it impossible for properties to “stick” to her.

Let us call this argument against the view that existence can be better (worse) than non-existence the “Metaphysical Argument.” Besides being pressed into service by Broome and Parfit, it also seems to be endorsed by David Heyd, who claims it make no sense to regret having been born: For if regret means in this case “being better off not born,” who is the subject of this better state? The answer is that there is no such subject, and hence...such a judgement cannot make sense.

Heyd does not make any explicit claims about the logic of the betterness relation, but he must be assuming that in order for existence to be worse than non-existence, non-existence must be better than existence. If he were not assuming this, the truth of the former claim alone would establish a reason for regret. Also, Heyd seems to invoke the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle when he argues that a person who does not exist cannot be in a state of being better off (for present purposes we can assume that being in such a state is equivalent to having the property of being better off). In this section, I briefly comment on the logic of the betterness relation. In the following section, I shall attempt to show how both premises of the Metaphysical Argument are in fact compatible with my defence of the Value of Existence View.

What logical property, or properties, of the betterness relation ensure that the proposition that existence is better (or worse) than non-existence implies that non-existence is worse (or better) than existence? Such an entailment might be based on the way “better than” and “worse than” are defined.

So consider the following definition:

(1) y is worse than x, if and only if x is better than y.

How will (1) help Broome, Heyd and Parfit? If we substitute non-existence and existence for x and y we get: (2) Existence is worse than non-existence, if and only if non-existence is better than existence. This may seem to establish the entailment our authors require. However, what is needed is not a two-place but a three-place predicate, since the claim at issue is that existence can be better (or worse) for a person than non-existence. So let us consider the following definition:

(3) y is worse for S than x, if and only if x is better for S than y
.
(3) states that if existence is better (or worse) for a person than non-existence, non-existence is worse (or better) for her. And the claim that non-existence is worse (or better) for her seems to violate the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. It seems to ascribe to her the property of being worse (or better) off in a possible world in which she does not exist.
So (3), then, seems to be just what Broome, Heyd and Parfit need.


5. METAPHYSICS

Let us now examine more closely the second premise in the Metaphysical Argument – the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. What exactly is it that this principle rules out regarding the properties of non-existent individuals? Consider what we may call a positive property such as having black hair. This property is instantiated in any object that has black hair. Certainly, the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle rules out that individuals can have positive properties if they do not exist.

Now, according to the Metaphysical Argument, we cannot claim that existence is better (or worse) for a person than non-existence, because this implies that non-existence is worse (or better) for her than existence, and this is ruled out by the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. Let us now re-assess this argument. Consider the following (allegedly dubious) proposition:

P: Non-existence is worse for Jeremy than existence.

The question is whether the truth of P can be established without ascribing positive properties to Jeremy in a possible world in which he does not exist. In my main argument, I described different theories of well-being on the basis of which the Value of Existence View can be defended. Each of these theories involves distinctive ontological commitments. Invoking the object account of preferences, I argued that existence is better for Jeremy because he prefers existence to non-existence. And it may now be argued that, for the same reason, non-existence is worse for him. Here, the truth of P is established merely by appeal to a preference Jeremy has in a possible world – the actual world – in which he exists. In this world, then, he has the positive property of having a particular preference. More importantly, the truth of P is established without ascribing any positive properties to Jeremy in a possible world in which he does not exist.

The three other theories of well-being on the basis of which I argued for the Value of Existence View involved a two-step procedure. First, it was pointed out that Jeremy’s life includes a surplus of positive value (preference-satisfactions, positive mental states, or items on an objective list), and that his non-existence involves no such values. Both of these claims are, of course, compatible with the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. It was then pointed out that it seems to be better to have a surplus of positive value than to have no value. Contrariwise, it seems to be worse to have no value than it is to have a surplus of value. This judgement relies only on the nature of positive value and no value. Thus, assuming any of these other theories of well-being, once again, the truth of P is established without presupposing any dubious ontology. It may be objected that I have not yet shown that P is metaphysically innocent. It may be argued that, if P is true, it must be true in virtue of a particular relation that obtains and serves as a truthmaker for P. More precisely, the (triadic) relation x is worse for S than y must obtain between the state of affairs, Jeremy does not exist, Jeremy, and the state of affairs, Jeremy exists. Now, Jeremy exists and thus the state of affairs,
Jeremy exists, obtains. But the state of affairs, Jeremy does not exist, does not obtain. So how can the betterness relation obtain, when one of its relata does not?

It seems clear that, in fact, a state need not obtain in order to be an object in a betterness relation. Consider, for instance, the following relation: the state of affairs that the allies win the war is better than the state of affairs that the Nazis win the war
.
A more plausible requirement, then, is that in order for a relation to obtain, its relata must exist. And while the state of affairs, Jeremy does not exist, does not obtain, it can be sensibly claimed that it exists as an abstract entity. Since all three relata thus exist, we can claim that the triadic relation, Jeremy does not exist is worse for Jeremy than Jeremy exists, obtains.

Therefore, assuming that this relation is indeed the truthmaker for P, P is true.

Nevertheless, perhaps Broome, Heyd and Parfit’s point is not that P cannot be true. Perhaps their point is that it cannot be true if Jeremy does not come into existence. Indeed, this (counterfactual) situation seems to be what Broome aims at in the passage quoted above: “if it were better for a person that she lives than that she should never have lived at all, then if she had never lived at all, that would have been worse for her than if she had lived” (my emphasis). However, (3) does not claim that if existence is better for Jeremy than non-existence, then if Jeremy does not exist, non-existence is worse for him than existence. In order for this to follow, we would have to accept something like:
(4) If x is better (or worse) for S than y, then x is better (or worse) for S than y even if x obtains.
How does (4) challenge my argument for the Value of Existence View? I have argued that existence is better for Jeremy than non-existence. (3) then implies that non-existence is worse for Jeremy than existence. And given this implication, (4) implies that even if Jeremy had not existed, nonexistence would be worse for him. But the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle rules out that Jeremy can have any positive properties, including relational ones, if he does not exist. So it would seem that my claim that existence is better for Jeremy than non-existence leads to a contradiction.
However, nothing forces us to accept (4). In fact, assuming the account of the truthmaking relation suggested above, we may have reason to reject
(4), at least in cases in which x implies the non-existence of S.

Consider again P.

Since Jeremy exists, P is true in virtue of the obtaining of the truthmaking relation. But if, instead, we assume that Jeremy does not exist, P does not preserve this truth value for the simple reason that one of the relata, Jeremy, does not exist. Thus, we have a perfectly natural explana-tion of why (4) does not hold in such cases. The metaphysical basis for P is not preserved.

So much for the Metaphysical Argument. Before I move on, note that nothing in my defence of the Value of Existence View in this section hinges on the fact that Jeremy exists. Even if Jeremy had never come into existence, it would still be true that, had he been caused to exist, he may have benefited. Had he been caused to exist the relevant relation would obtain (or so we may assume), and so he would have benefited from coming into existence.

6.THE HARM OF NON-EXISTENCE

I now want to go further. It can benefit (or harm) a person to come into existence; but there is also a sense in which it can harm (or benefit) a person not to come into existence. To see this, let us first consider the (dis-)value of death. Suppose a person dies painlessly but prematurely. Suppose also, for simplicity, that we accept hedonism as our theory of well-being. On this assumption, since her death was a painless one, it did not intrinsically harm her. Finally, suppose that, had this person not died, she would have experienced far more future pleasure than pain. Surely, then, there is a sense in which her death harmed her. Indeed, I suggest that it extrinsically harmed her, where:

(5) x extrinsically harms S if and only if: (a) S would have been intrinsically better off, had x not occurred, and (b) x does not intrinsically harm S.

This person’s death extrinsically harmed her since she would have been intrinsically better off, had she survived (she would have enjoyed future pleasures), and since it did not cause her any pain. In other words, her death harmed her since it deprived her of future benefits. In fact, I believe that this notion of extrinsic harm provides us with the best account of the
badness of death.

Nevertheless, it may be suggested that if we accept an alternative theory of well-being, say, a preference theory, then we do not need a concept of extrinsic harm to explain the badness of death. But this is not so. All plausible theories of well-being will need to appeal to extrinsic harm (I shall argue this in the case of preference theories in the next section). Therefore, extrinsic harm has prudential and moral significance. Now, just as death may extrinsically harm a person, a person may be extrinsically harmed by never coming into existence. After all, had a person’s non-existence not occurred, that is, had he been caused to exist, he may have been intrinsically better off, since he may then have enjoyed various intrinsic benefits (for instance, pleasures). Also, this person’s non-existence does not intrinsically harm him. Therefore, depending on what his life would have been like, he may be extrinsically harmed (or benefited) by not being caused to exist. Note that what makes it true that a person is extrinsically harmed by not coming into existence is the truth of a counterfactual claim about what would be the case if he existed. And as we have seen, if he existed, it may both be true that his existence is better for him and that his non-existence is worse for him. Therefore, once again, there is no dubious metaphysics in the wings here. However, if we claim that a person is harmed by his non-existence, does it then not follow by the principle of existential generalization in classical logic that he must exist? Not necessarily. Thus, “ S is harmed by his non-existence” may be interpreted as meaning “S does not exist and had he existed, his existence would be intrinsically better for him than his non-existence.” Clearly, the latter claim does not legitimate existential generalization; it does not imply that S exists.

http://people.su.se/~folke/holtug.pdf
Last edited by Michael on Tue Aug 27, 2013 12:02 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: A Philosophy Student on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby watchman1706 » Sun Aug 25, 2013 4:54 am

zzzzzzzzz :ugeek: :?
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Re: A Philosophy Student on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Sun Aug 25, 2013 12:27 pm

watchman1706 wrote:zzzzzzzzz :ugeek: :?


Maybe you find the subject boring because you've never bothered to think through the implications of saying that no state of existence can be better (or worse) than non-existence.

If you assume a horse ceases to exist at death (as most people assume), it would mean that leaving a horse with a broken leg to suffer for hours or days isn't really cruel, because that state of existence is no worse than total extinction.


It would also seem to mean that you'll never really have any reason to be grateful for being brought into existence, even if you get to heaven, because even that state of existence is no better than non-existence.

And you could never really have any reason to complain if you ended up in eternal torment, because that state of existence would be no worse than non-existence.

Those are the logical consequences of saying that no state of existence can be better (or worse) for than non-existence.

That's why I found this whole paper, and especially the following, very interesting.

I have argued for the Value of Existence View by making the comparative claim that existence can be better (or worse) for a person than non-existence. However, some philosophers suggest that it is incoherent to defend the Value of Existence View in this way. Here are representative observations, made by Derek Parfit and John Broome, respectively:

Causing someone to exist is a special case because the alternative would not have been worse for this person. We may admit that, for this reason, causing someone to exist cannot be better for this person...The argument set out by Parfit and Broome seems to have two premises. According to the first, the judgement that it is better (or worse) to exist than never to exist entails that it is worse (or better) never to exist than to exist. According to the second, it cannot be worse (or better) never to exist. Presumably, the first premise is based on a claim about the logic of “betterness” relation; and presumably, the second premise is based on the following metaphysical principle:

The No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle: An individual cannot have any properties if it does not exist. It is because a person who does not exist cannot have any properties that she cannot be worse (or better) off.

The claim that Parfit and Broome are committed to the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle can be disputed, but their argument is best explained by invoking this principle. After all, what reason could there be for denying that it is worse (or better) never to exist, if not because, in general, a person cannot have properties if she does not exist? This interpretation is also suggested by Broome’s remark that “if she had never lived at all, there would have been no her for it to be worse for, so it could not have been worse for her” (my emphasis). Broome’s point would seem to be that, if a person does not exist, her absence makes it impossible for properties to “stick” to her.

Let us call this argument against the view that existence can be better (worse) than non-existence the “Metaphysical Argument.” Besides being pressed into service by Broome and Parfit, it also seems to be endorsed by David Heyd, who claims it make no sense to regret having been born: For if regret means in this case “being better off not born,” who is the subject of this better state? The answer is that there is no such subject, and hence...such a judgement cannot make sense.

Heyd does not make any explicit claims about the logic of the betterness relation, but he must be assuming that in order for existence to be worse than non-existence, non-existence must be better than existence. If he were not assuming this, the truth of the former claim alone would establish a reason for regret. Also, Heyd seems to invoke the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle when he argues that a person who does not exist cannot be in a state of being better off (for present purposes we can assume that being in such a state is equivalent to having the property of being better off). In this section, I briefly comment on the logic of the betterness relation. In the following section, I shall attempt to show how both premises of the Metaphysical Argument are in fact compatible with my defence of the Value of Existence View.

What logical property, or properties, of the betterness relation ensure that the proposition that existence is better (or worse) than non-existence implies that non-existence is worse (or better) than existence? Such an entailment might be based on the way “better than” and “worse than” are defined.

So consider the following definition:

(1) y is worse than x, if and only if x is better than y.

How will (1) help Broome, Heyd and Parfit? If we substitute non-existence and existence for x and y we get: (2) Existence is worse than non-existence, if and only if non-existence is better than existence. This may seem to establish the entailment our authors require. However, what is needed is not a two-place but a three-place predicate, since the claim at issue is that existence can be better (or worse) for a person than non-existence. So let us consider the following definition:

(3) y is worse for S than x, if and only if x is better for S than y
.
(3) states that if existence is better (or worse) for a person than non-existence, non-existence is worse (or better) for her. And the claim that non-existence is worse (or better) for her seems to violate the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. It seems to ascribe to her the property of being worse (or better) off in a possible world in which she does not exist.
So (3), then, seems to be just what Broome, Heyd and Parfit need.


5. METAPHYSICS

Let us now examine more closely the second premise in the Metaphysical Argument – the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. What exactly is it that this principle rules out regarding the properties of non-existent individuals? Consider what we may call a positive property such as having black hair. This property is instantiated in any object that has black hair. Certainly, the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle rules out that individuals can have positive properties if they do not exist.

Now, according to the Metaphysical Argument, we cannot claim that existence is better (or worse) for a person than non-existence, because this implies that non-existence is worse (or better) for her than existence, and this is ruled out by the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. Let us now re-assess this argument. Consider the following (allegedly dubious) proposition:

P: Non-existence is worse for Jeremy than existence.

The question is whether the truth of P can be established without ascribing positive properties to Jeremy in a possible world in which he does not exist. In my main argument, I described different theories of well-being on the basis of which the Value of Existence View can be defended. Each of these theories involves distinctive ontological commitments. Invoking the object account of preferences, I argued that existence is better for Jeremy because he prefers existence to non-existence. And it may now be argued that, for the same reason, non-existence is worse for him. Here, the truth of P is established merely by appeal to a preference Jeremy has in a possible world – the actual world – in which he exists. In this world, then, he has the positive property of having a particular preference. More importantly, the truth of P is established without ascribing any positive properties to Jeremy in a possible world in which he does not exist.

The three other theories of well-being on the basis of which I argued for the Value of Existence View involved a two-step procedure. First, it was pointed out that Jeremy’s life includes a surplus of positive value (preference-satisfactions, positive mental states, or items on an objective list), and that his non-existence involves no such values. Both of these claims are, of course, compatible with the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. It was then pointed out that it seems to be better to have a surplus of positive value than to have no value. Contrariwise, it seems to be worse to have no value than it is to have a surplus of value. This judgement relies only on the nature of positive value and no value. Thus, assuming any of these other theories of well-being, once again, the truth of P is established without presupposing any dubious ontology. It may be objected that I have not yet shown that P is metaphysically innocent. It may be argued that, if P is true, it must be true in virtue of a particular relation that obtains and serves as a truthmaker for P. More precisely, the (triadic) relation x is worse for S than y must obtain between the state of affairs, Jeremy does not exist, Jeremy, and the state of affairs, Jeremy exists. Now, Jeremy exists and thus the state of affairs, Jeremy exists, obtains. But the state of affairs, Jeremy does not exist, does not obtain. So how can the betterness relation obtain, when one of its relata does not?

It seems clear that, in fact, a state need not obtain in order to be an object in a betterness relation. Consider, for instance, the following relation: the state of affairs that the allies win the war is better than the state of affairs that the Nazis win the war
.
A more plausible requirement, then, is that in order for a relation to obtain, its relata must exist. And while the state of affairs, Jeremy does not exist, does not obtain, it can be sensibly claimed that it exists as an abstract entity. Since all three relata thus exist, we can claim that the triadic relation, Jeremy does not exist is worse for Jeremy than Jeremy exists, obtains.

Therefore, assuming that this relation is indeed the truthmaker for P, P is true.

Nevertheless, perhaps Broome, Heyd and Parfit’s point is not that P cannot be true. Perhaps their point is that it cannot be true if Jeremy does not come into existence. Indeed, this (counterfactual) situation seems to be what Broome aims at in the passage quoted above: “if it were better for a person that she lives than that she should never have lived at all, then if she had never lived at all, that would have been worse for her than if she had lived” (my emphasis). However, (3) does not claim that if existence is better for Jeremy than non-existence, then if Jeremy does not exist, non-existence is worse for him than existence. In order for this to follow, we would have to accept something like:
(4) If x is better (or worse) for S than y, then x is better (or worse) for S than y even if x obtains.
How does (4) challenge my argument for the Value of Existence View? I have argued that existence is better for Jeremy than non-existence. (3) then implies that non-existence is worse for Jeremy than existence. And given this implication, (4) implies that even if Jeremy had not existed, nonexistence would be worse for him. But the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle rules out that Jeremy can have any positive properties, including relational ones, if he does not exist. So it would seem that my claim that existence is better for Jeremy than non-existence leads to a contradiction.
However, nothing forces us to accept (4). In fact, assuming the account of the truthmaking relation suggested above, we may have reason to reject
(4), at least in cases in which x implies the non-existence of S.

Consider again P.

Since Jeremy exists, P is true in virtue of the obtaining of the truthmaking relation. But if, instead, we assume that Jeremy does not exist, P does not preserve this truth value for the simple reason that one of the relata, Jeremy, does not exist. Thus, we have a perfectly natural explana-tion of why (4) does not hold in such cases. The metaphysical basis for P is not preserved.

So much for the Metaphysical Argument. Before I move on, note that nothing in my defense of the Value of Existence View in this section hinges on the fact that Jeremy exists. Even if Jeremy had never come into existence, it would still be true that, had he been caused to exist, he may have benefited. Had he been caused to exist the relevant relation would obtain (or so we may assume), and so he would have benefited from coming into existence.

http://people.su.se/~folke/holtug.pdf
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Re: A Philosophy Student on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby watchman1706 » Sun Aug 25, 2013 3:42 pm

You are right. I have never, nor would I ever have those thoughts. It's a pointless argument. A theoretical exercise. It has no real bearing on my life, nor will it ever. If I already know what is coming, why would I imagine anything else? Why would I put all that effort into it. Rather, I am better to keep my eye on the goal and with everything within me press towards the mark of the high calling that says I already exist, I was created for a purpose and predestined. Do you think you are going to win souls or converts with your argument? Most people won't even comprehend it. Do you think your existence is in peril? :?:
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Re: A Philosophy Student on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Sun Aug 25, 2013 4:46 pm

You are right. I have never, nor would I ever have those thoughts...Do you think you are going to win souls or converts with your argument? Most people won't even comprehend it. Do you think your existence is in peril?


Actually, I didn't write that paper, so the thoughts contained therein aren't mine.

The thoughts were apparently put on paper about ten years before I lost everything I valued here on earth, and began questioning everything I believed.

(If you look at the acknowledgements on that last page, you'll see "the article was presented at the Oxford-Copenhagen Summit on Ethics in 1999, and at the International Society for Utilitarian Studies conference in North Carolina in 2000...)

I might never have considered these questions myself, if I hadn't encountered one of the counter arguments Prof. Holtug addresses (namely, that it couldn't be any worse for you if you didn't exist, because there wouldn't be any you.)

It's a pointless argument. A theoretical exercise. It has no real bearing on my life, nor will it ever.


I thought the purpose of this section on philosophy was to discuss philosophy?

And as far as the question of whether any states of existence are better than non-existence having any bearing on your life, that might depend on whether your faith (in God, His existence, His goodness, His plan and purpose) is always as strong as you think it is now.

If you ever find yourself alone in the dark, questioning everything you once believed, the question of whether any state of earthly or heavenly existence could be better than non-existence might take on more practical importance.

Do you think you are going to win souls or converts with your argument?


I don't know

Agustine, Anselm, and Aquinas seemed to think they could win souls by arguing that existence is greater than non-existence (that was part of their Cosmological argument in favor of God's existence), but some might disagree (or even say they were making a category error.)

What I do know is that churchmen have been discussing philosophy since Paul's sermon on Mars hill, and have considered it right and proper to do so.

Do you think your existence is in peril?


The JW's, the 7th day Adventists, other Sabbatarian groups, and Sunday Adventists have always denied the immortality of the soul, and now even the Church of England favors an annihilationist interpretation of scripture.

Given that view, it's quite possible for creatures to cease to exist.

And given the view that existence can't be any better or worse than non-existence, the saved gain nothing, and the lost lose nothing (and I don't expect that argument to wine many souls, do you?)

But to answer your question directly (if the annihilationists are right, and suicide is a sin) I do think that my existence may have been in peril when I was first hit with the repeated suggestion that existence was really no better or worsethan non-existence.

Anyway, I would like to know what those with an interest in philosophy think of this paper.

Thank you.
Last edited by Michael on Tue Aug 27, 2013 12:21 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: A Philosophy Student on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Username » Mon Aug 26, 2013 9:03 am

Hi Michael

I'm no philosopher. But it seems to me that you're trying to 'get behind' a concept -ie can non-existence ever be better or worse than existence? - which is intrinsically meaningless.

If I never exist then anything you say about the relative merits of my existence or non-existence is immediately null and void. You simply cannot say anything coherent about 'me' at all. If I never exist, there is no 'me' - never is, never was, never will be - to talk about. I can't do the talking. Neither can anybody else. The very concept of 'me' is a non-concept. It is meaningless.

I've read a number of your posts over the last few months, and you seem to be obsessed with this idea that non-existence may be 'better' or 'worse' than non-existence. But surely you can see that the very question is totally, utterly meaningless?

I'm very sorry to hear of your troubles. We all have troubles. Yours have clearly been very severe. But the answer - if answer there is (and I doubt there is) - does not lie in obsessively analysing a meaningless concept.

God bless you sir.

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Re: A Philosophy Student on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Mon Aug 26, 2013 4:31 pm

johnnyparker wrote:If I never exist, there is no 'me' - never is, never was, never will be - to talk about.


President Hillary Clinton doesn't exist, and may never exist.

But President Hillary Clinton could exist, because she could be elected President in 2016.

I'm no philosopher


But I'm sure you've heard of abstract entities, haven't you?

The state of affairs where Mrs. Clinton is elected President in 2016 is one type of abstract entity (and during the next presidential election cycle I suspect Democrats and Republicans will find it meaningful to discuss the properties of that particular abstract entity.)

Merely-possible individuals are another type of abstract entity.

See http://www.ou.edu/ouphil/faculty/swoyer/AbstractEntities.pdf

If johnnyparker exists, and there was a time when he didn't exist, than even at that time (when he didn't exist) it was possible for him to exist.

He was an abstract entity.

I believe that was the point the author of that paper was making here.

In my main argument, I described different theories of well-being on the basis of which the Value of Existence View can be defended...Invoking the object account of preferences, I argued that existence is better for Jeremy because he prefers existence to non-existence. And it may now be argued that, for the same reason, non-existence is worse for him. Here, the truth of P (P: Non-existence is worse for Jeremy than existence) is established merely by appeal to a preference Jeremy has in a possible world – the actual world – in which he exists. In this world, then, he has the positive property of having a particular preference. More importantly, the truth of P is established without ascribing any positive properties to Jeremy in a possible world in which he does not exist

http://people.su.se/~folke/holtug.pdf

(Parentheses and emphasis mine.)

If you disagree with Prof. Holtug (the author of this paper), could you please show me the logical flaws in his arguments?

Also, could you please answer the following questions for me?

1.) If no state of conscious existence is any better or worse than non-existence, doesn't it follow that eternal conscious torment is no worse than non-existence?

2.) And wouldn't there be no logical or moral reason for a materialist (or even for most Christians, who believe that death is total extinction for an animal) to put a suffering animal out of it's misery?

Every materialist believes that death is oblivion, and most Theists believe it is for a horse, so wouldn't there be no reason to put a suffering horse out of it's misery (if misery is no worse than non-existence)?

Getting back to the paper, i particularly liked the surplus of positive value argument.

The three other theories of well-being on the basis of which I argued for the Value of Existence View involved a two-step procedure. First, it was pointed out that Jeremy’s life includes a surplus of positive value (preference-satisfactions, positive mental states, or items on an objective list), and that his non-existence involves no such values. Both of these claims are, of course, compatible with the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. It was then pointed out that it seems to be better to have a surplus of positive value than to have no value. Contrariwise, it seems
to be worse to have no value than it is to have a surplus of value.
This judgement relies only on the nature of positive value and no value. Thus, assuming any of these other theories of well-being, once again, the truth of P is established without presupposing any dubious ontology.

http://people.su.se/~folke/holtug.pdf

What did you think of the surplus of positive value argument?

Did you bother to read the paper Johnny?
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Re: A Philosophy Student on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Username » Mon Aug 26, 2013 11:23 pm

Hi Michael

Thanks for your reply. But I'm afraid you're missing the point.

An abstract entity is one thing. And given that I exist now, and once didn't, then it is coherent to talk about the possibility of my existence. But had I never existed, it would be incoherent to talk of the possibility of my existence - because there is no 'me' to discuss even theoretically. I am not an abstract entity, because I am not an 'I' at all. The word has no meaning.

I read some of the paper, and skimmed the rest. As I said before, I think the whole subject of the paper is a meaningless concept. The moment you start trying to compare the relative merits of an individual's existing or not existing you have voided logic altogether. You cannot apply logic to nonsense, which is what this author is talking.

What I was trying to do was encourage you to stop fretting about a meaningless and useless concept, and get on with the real life you have now. I really hope you can do that.

All the best

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Re: A Philosophy Student on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Tue Aug 27, 2013 4:34 am

An abstract entity is one thing. And given that I exist now, and once didn't, then it is coherent to talk about the possibility of my existence. But had I never existed, it would be incoherent to talk of the possibility of my existence - because there is no 'me' to discuss even theoretically. I am not an abstract entity, because I am not an 'I' at all. The word has no meaning.


The point is that as long as you could exist (even if you never did) you would be an abstract entity, and it would not be at all incoherent for God to consider the possibility of your existence.

There is nothing incoherent about that.
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Re: A Philosophy Student on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Tue Aug 27, 2013 4:42 am

P.S. You never answered my two questions.

1.) If no state of conscious existence is any better or worse than non-existence, doesn't it follow that eternal conscious torment is no worse than non-existence (and that there would be nothing morally objectionable in the idea of God knowingly bringing beings doomed to such a fate into existence)?

2.) And wouldn't there be no logical or moral reason for a materialist (or even for most Christians, who believe that death is total extinction for an animal) to put a suffering animal out of it's misery?

Aren't those the unavoidable consequences of the proposition that no state of existence is any better or worse than non-existence?
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Chrisguy90 » Tue Aug 27, 2013 1:13 pm

Michael,

This question requires a distinction I don't see being made: namely, the difference between my existence as I experience it as a good and my existence as another experiences it as a good.

No one, I don't think, would say that his conscious experience of existing is "better" than a certain state of existence if his consciousness didn't exist to begin with. To HIM, he would not know anything at all and so be incapable of valuing one thing over another. But in another persons eyes, surely it makes sense to say that being is better than non being regarding person x?
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby AllanS » Tue Aug 27, 2013 1:48 pm

Chrisguy90 wrote:surely it makes sense to say that being is better than non being regarding person x?


Thousands of my children don't exist, and I don't miss them at all. Does that make me callous?

Of course, if multiverse theories are correct, then every one of my potential children will exist somewhere. Every possible arrangement of particles will exist. Because God is eternally creative, I think it perfectly sensible to argue that everything that can logically exist, does exist. Except for square circles etc, non-existence is non-existent.
Warning! Amateur at work. Usual disclaimers apply. Author accepts no responsibility for injuries sustained while reading this post.
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Tue Aug 27, 2013 4:21 pm

Chrisguy90 wrote:No one, I don't think, would say that his conscious experience of existing is "better" than a certain state of existence if his consciousness didn't exist to begin with. To HIM, he would not know anything at all and so be incapable of valuing one thing over another. But in another persons eyes, surely it makes sense to say that being is better than non being regarding person x?


If God is omniscient, every proposition He holds to be true must actually be true, right?

So if God holds it to be true that it would be better for Chris to exist in a conscious state of unending happiness, than to exist in a conscious state of unending exquisite pain, that must actually be true, right?

And I don't see why you think you'd have to exist, and be consciously aware of that truth to make it so.

If you read the paper (even if you only read the abstract), you should realize that Prof. Nils is saying that merely possible people can be benefited or harmed by being brought into existence, and I'm still not sure why you would disagree with this?

To HIM, he would not know anything


Isn't that the point?

That it's better to know things like happiness, love, joy, pleasure, and ecstasy, than it is to know nothing; and that it's better to know nothing than it is to know only meaningless, purposeless, unending, exquisite pain.

And better not just in the eyes of those of us who are here to see that it's better, but in the sense of ultimate reality.

Now let's get back to horses.

Assuming (for the sake of this discussion) that animals can really suffer, and that death is the end for them, are you really saying that it wouldn't be better for a horse to know nothing, than it would for him to know only exquisite pain?

That no matter how extreme the suffering, or how hopeless the condition, you would be doing the poor animal himself no kindness by putting him out of his misery?

Is that logical?
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Chrisguy90 » Tue Aug 27, 2013 5:56 pm

Michael wrote:
If God is omniscient, every proposition He holds to be true must actually be true, right?

So if God holds it to be true that it would be better for Chris to exist in a conscious state of unending happiness, than to exist in a conscious state of unending exquisite pain, that must actually be true, right?

And I don't see why you think you'd have to exist, and be consciously aware of that truth to make it so.


If God were to hold that proposition true, and if he was omniscient, then yes it would have to really be true. But that doesn't imply that everything imaginable can possibly be true. It may not be possible for God to think the proposition true, in other words. And I don't believe I'd have to exist to make the thought "If Chris exists in conditions x he will be better off than conditions y." I would only have to possibly exist, since the statement itself implies nothing about whether or not I actually exist but only, supposing I do, etc.

Perhaps I am missing something in your above quote, but I fail to see the implication you are trying to draw.

If you read the paper (even if you only read the abstract), you should realize that Prof. Nils is saying that merely possible people can be benefited or harmed by being brought into existence, and I'm still not sure why you would disagree with this?


"Merely possible people can be benefited or harmed by being brought into existence" seems to put the cart before the horse if you are trying to compare their state of being pre-creation to post-creation from their own subjective viewpoint. But that is an inherent incoherency, in my opinion. I don't think God compares those two states at all in that way.

Assuming (for the sake of this discussion) that animals can really suffer, and that death is the end for them, are you really saying that it wouldn't be better for a horse to know nothing, than it would for him to know only exquisite pain?

That no matter how extreme the suffering, or how hopeless the condition, you would be doing the poor animal himself no kindness by putting him out of his misery?

Is that logical?


I'm not sure how you extrapolated that from me. If I saw an animal in pain and I deemed its suffering had no corrective purpose for its life, I would end its life.

What, if you don't mind me asking, are you really asking in your example?
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Tue Aug 27, 2013 6:22 pm

Chrisguy90 wrote:I'm not sure how you extrapolated that from me. If I saw an animal in pain and I deemed its suffering had no corrective purpose for its life, I would end its life.

What, if you don't mind me asking, are you really asking in your example?


What I'm trying to get at is whether you see any states of existence (earthly happiness, heavenly bliss, unending joy in the presence of God, earthly horrors such as Auschwitz, or eternal conscious torment in hell) as objectively better or worse than non-existence?

Chrisguy90 wrote:If I saw an animal in pain and I deemed its suffering had no corrective purpose for its life, I would end its life.


But why (if no state of existence can be any better or worse than non-existence)?

If that were really true, it would mean that extinguishing the animals life was doing it no service, and letting it go on suffering was doing it no dis-service (because conscious suffering is no worse than non-existence, and non-existence is no better than conscious suffering.)

So (if that were true, and that's really what you believe) why would you go out of your way to put the suffering animal out of it's misery, unless it was just to make yourself feel better?

And if you believe that God is the one necessary being, who brought all derivative beings into existence, why do you suppose He would have done that (if no state of existence is any better r worse than non-existence)?

Do you think He just did it to make Himself feel better?

To me, the proposition that no state of existence is better or worse than non-existence argues against the existence of the God proposed by classic Christian Theism, against a loving purpose for creation, and against UR.

So if you believe that no state of conscious existence is any better or worse than non-existence, why would you put a suffering animal out of it's misery, and why do you suppose God created us?

If I understand you correctly, you disagree with Prof Holtug's thesis that being brought into existence can be a benefit, so you don't really see creation as benefiting anyone (except maybe God, who already existed)?

Is that right Chris?
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Chrisguy90 » Tue Aug 27, 2013 6:32 pm

Michael wrote:
What I'm trying to get at is whether you see any states of existence (earthly happiness, heavenly bliss, unending joy in the presence of God, earthly horrors such as Auschwitz, or eternal conscious torment in hell) as objectively better or worse than non-existence?


I would distinguish. In God's mind, certain comparative states of existence are far better than others. But comparing it in the creature's mind who would not exist, I find such a comparison meaningless.

But why, if no state of existence can be any better or worse than non-existence?


Because of the impact the suffering would have on me, I would imagine.

If that were really true, it would mean that extinguishing the animals life was doing it no service, and letting it go on suffering was doing it no dis-service (because conscious suffering is no worse than non-existence, and non-existence is no better than conscious suffering.)


Well if that's the case then your criticism would apply to any possible act I could ever do to the animal. A criticism that admits of no exception is a meaningless one. If you try to compare the subjective experience of "non-existence" to "existence" you are comparing two states of affairs that are not parallel, and if you criticism is based on such a comparison, then it is meaningless, regardless of the scenario you apply it to.

So (if that were true, and that's really what you believe) why would you go out of your way to put the suffering animal out of it's misery, unless it was just to make yourself feel better?


I would do it just to make me feel better. That is my point.

As a matter of fact, I don't believe it possible to do an act for any other reason.

And if you believe that God is the one necessary being, who brought all derivative beings into existence, why do you suppose He would have done that (if no state of existence is any better r worse than non-existence)?

Do you think He just did it to make Himself feel better.


In an anthropomorphic way, yes, I suppose I would agree with that.

why do you suppose God created us?


Because creating us fulfills a desire which God has, I would imagine.
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Tue Aug 27, 2013 6:37 pm

I would do it just to make me feel better. That is my point.

As a matter of fact, I don't believe it possible to do an act for any other reason.


Than you don't really believe there is such a thing as unselfish love, do you?

Silly me, I thought it was out of unselfish love that God brought us into existence, and I thought it was this quality of unselfish love that we were meant to learn from a life of sorrow and joy here, and it turns out (given your reasoning about no state of existence being any better or worse than non-existence) that there's no such thing.

I thought He brought us into existence to enjoy all the good things He knew we could never enjoy if we didn't exist, but (according to you) He only did it to make Himself feel better.

Is that what you really believe Chris?
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Chrisguy90 » Tue Aug 27, 2013 6:42 pm

Michael wrote:
I would do it just to make me feel better. That is my point.

As a matter of fact, I don't believe it possible to do an act for any other reason.


Than you don't really believe there is such a thing as unselfish love, do you?

Silly me, I thought it was out of unselfish love that God brought us into existence, and I thought that was what we were here to learn.


If God's being is fulfilled in doing all he can for an "other," then his desire is simply to express himself in such a way. If it "makes God feel better" to give himself to his creation -- to die, maybe, on a cross -- then is it not true he is acting in order to make himself feel better and also loving you as much as he can?
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Tue Aug 27, 2013 6:46 pm

But his existence, and ours, is really no better than non-existence?

If He had the choice, He might not be here?

And we're only here to make Him feel better?

Is that right?

That is what you said, isn't it?
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Chrisguy90 » Tue Aug 27, 2013 6:49 pm

Michael wrote:But his existence, and ours, is really no better than non-existence?


Could you explain how you reasoned that God's existence is no better than his non-existence?
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Chrisguy90 » Tue Aug 27, 2013 6:52 pm

At the very most, what I said would imply that one could not make any value statements at all comparing a being's consciousness of existence and non-existence. Therefore it would make no sense to say "God's existing is no better than his non, etc." Because that would imply the opposite -- i.e. it is better for state of affairs x than y, etc.

But you wouldn't be able to attach any predicates containing value judgments at all. That is my point. You can't even compare the two. The only thing you can say is that they're not comparable. Once you start inferring that this therefore means "state x is better than y" you've left the realm of coherent comparison.
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Tue Aug 27, 2013 6:59 pm

Chrisguy90 wrote:
Michael wrote:But his existence, and ours, is really no better than non-existence?


Could you explain how you reasoned that God's existence is no better than his non-existence?


I thought you said that existence is no better than non-existence?

As a necessary being, God would have no choice but to exist (and I guess no choice but to create us, if He needs us to fulfill Himself, as you say He does), but if existence is no better or worse than non-existence, it follows that He'd lose nothing if He could choose not to exist.

At the very most, what I said would imply that one could not make any value statements at all comparing a being's consciousness of existence and non-existence.


Any value statements, as in "better or worse," right?

Therefore it would make no sense to say "God's existing is no better than his non, etc."


Yes it would, because "better than" is a value statement!

To say that you can't make any "value statements" about God's existence means that you can't say His existence is any better or worse than His non-existence.

Because that would imply the opposite -- i.e. it is better for state of affairs x than y, etc.


I find that statement completely incoherent.

How would your saying that existence is no better or worse than non-existence imply "it is better for state of affairs x than y, etc."?

Once you start inferring that this therefore means "state x is better than y" you've left the realm of coherent comparison.


So if I attempt to say that God's existence (x) is better than His non-existence (y), I've left the realm of coherent comparison, right?

Chrisguy90 wrote:Could you explain how you reasoned that God's existence is no better than his non-existence?


Using your logic.
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Wed Aug 28, 2013 10:26 am

If it's possible to start over here:

I don't know if Prof. Holtug is a Theist, but for a Theist (who believes that one loving, necessary being brought all other derivative beings into existence), his thesis would seem to make more sense than saying (as some do) that existence has no value when compared to non-existence.

And I would really like some thoughts on this paper (which was presented at the Oxford-Copenhagen Summit on Ethics in 1999, and at the International Society for Utilitarian Studies conference in North Carolina in 2000.)

ABSTRACT:
In this paper I argue that coming into existence can benefit (or harm) a person. My argument incorporates the comparative claim that existence can be better (or worse) for a person than never existing. Since these claims are highly controversial, I consider and reject a number of objections which threaten them. These objections raise various semantic, logical, metaphysical and value-theoretical issues. I then suggest that there is an important sense in which it can harm (or benefit) a person not to come into existence. Again, I consider and reject some objections...I have argued for the Value of Existence View by making the comparative claim that existence can be better (or worse) for a person than non-existence. However, some philosophers suggest that it is incoherent to defend the Value of Existence View in this way. Here are representative observations, made by Derek Parfit and John Broome, respectively:

Causing someone to exist is a special case because the alternative would not have been worse for this person. We may admit that, for this reason, causing someone to exist cannot be better for this person. At least, it cannot ever be true that it is better for a person that she lives than that she should never have lived at all. If it were better for a person that she lives than that she should never have lived at all, then if she had never lived at all, that would have been worse for her than if she had lived. But if she had never lived at all, there would have been no her for it to be worse for, so it could not have been worse for her.

The argument set out by Parfit and Broome seems to have two premises. According to the first, the judgement that it is better (or worse) to exist than never to exist entails that it is worse (or better) never to exist than to exist. According to the second, it cannot be worse (or better) never to exist. Presumably, the first premise is based on a claim about the logic of “betterness” relation; and presumably, the second premise is based on the following metaphysical principle:

The No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle: An individual cannot have any properties if it does not exist. It is because a person who does not exist cannot have any properties that she cannot be worse (or better) off.

The claim that Parfit and Broome are committed to the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle can be disputed, but their argument is best explained by invoking this principle. After all, what reason could there be for denying that it is worse (or better) never to exist, if not because, in general, a person cannot have properties if she does not exist? This interpretation is also suggested by Broome’s remark that “if she had never lived at all, there would have been no her for it to be worse for, so it could not have been worse for her” (my emphasis). Broome’s point would seem to be that, if a person does not exist, her absence makes it impossible for properties to “stick” to her.

Let us call this argument against the view that existence can be better (worse) than non-existence the “Metaphysical Argument.” Besides being pressed into service by Broome and Parfit, it also seems to be endorsed by David Heyd, who claims it make no sense to regret having been born: For if regret means in this case “being better off not born,” who is the subject of this better state?

...Let us now examine more closely the second premise in the Metaphysical Argument – the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. What exactly is it that this principle rules out regarding the properties of non-existent individuals? Consider what we may call a positive property such as having black hair. This property is instantiated in any object that has black hair. Certainly, the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle rules out that individuals can have positive properties if they do not exist.

Now, according to the Metaphysical Argument, we cannot claim that existence is better (or worse) for a person than non-existence, because this implies that non-existence is worse (or better) for her than existence, and this is ruled out by the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. Let us now re-assess this argument. Consider the following (allegedly dubious) proposition:

P: Non-existence is worse for Jeremy than existence.

The question is whether the truth of P can be established without ascribing positive properties to Jeremy in a possible world in which he does not exist. In my main argument, I described different theories of well-being on the basis of which the Value of Existence View can be defended. Each of these theories involves distinctive ontological commitments. Invoking the object account of preferences, I argued that existence is better for Jeremy because he prefers existence to non-existence. And it may now be argued that, for the same reason, non-existence is worse for him. Here, the truth of P is established merely by appeal to a preference Jeremy has in a possible world – the actual world – in which he exists. In this world, then, he has the positive property of having a particular preference. More importantly, the truth of P is established without ascribing any positive properties to Jeremy in a possible world in which he does not exist.

The three other theories of well-being on the basis of which I argued for the Value of Existence View involved a two-step procedure. First, it was pointed out that Jeremy’s life includes a surplus of positive value (preference-satisfactions, positive mental states, or items on an objective list), and that his non-existence involves no such values. Both of these claims are, of course, compatible with the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. It was then pointed out that it seems to be better to have a surplus of positive value than to have no value. Contrariwise, it seems to be worse to have no value than it is to have a surplus of value. This judgement relies only on the nature of positive value and no value. Thus, assuming any of these other theories of well-being, once again, the truth of P is established without presupposing any dubious ontology.

http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=4446
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby pilgrim » Wed Aug 28, 2013 11:13 am

Interesting discussion Michael and you raise some good points. I really would encourage others to reply to your questions as well as raise questions/criticisms of their own. When they do not, then IMO it only emphasises the weakness of their position.
I also do not believe that any person kills a horse in order to make himself/herself feel better.
Whether the mlogic is sound or not, lets be thoughtful and admit that the killing is done because the killer believes the animal is better off not existing any longer.
God bless you
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Wed Aug 28, 2013 4:41 pm

pilgrim wrote:Interesting discussion Michael and you raise some good points. I really would encourage others to reply to your questions as well as raise questions/criticisms of their own. When they do not, then IMO it only emphasises the weakness of their position.
I also do not believe that any person kills a horse in order to make himself/herself feel better.
Whether the mlogic is sound or not, lets be thoughtful and admit that the killing is done because the killer believes the animal is better off not existing any longer.
God bless you


Thank you pilgrim.

And G-d bless you.
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Chrisguy90 » Wed Aug 28, 2013 7:59 pm

Michael wrote:

So if I attempt to say that God's existence (x) is better than His non-existence (y), I've left the realm of coherent comparison, right?

Chrisguy90 wrote:Could you explain how you reasoned that God's existence is no better than his non-existence?


Using your logic.


Michael, I don't think you're grasping my initial point. I'm saying that if you attempt to compare the subjective experience of existence between a person who exists and the same person when he doesn't exist, the comparison is incoherent. It would make not sense, from this standpoint, to say a state of being was better than non being. But from another's point of view, it would make perfect sense to say that it is better for person to exist than not exist. I really can't say it any simpler than that. This doesn't say anything about the ontological nature of God as a necessary being, whether he exists or if it is possible for him to, etc. it has no bearing on any of these questions.
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Wed Aug 28, 2013 8:50 pm

Chrisguy90 wrote:Michael, I don't think you're grasping my initial point.


I don't think you're grasping the real issues at all.

Chrisguy90 wrote:But from another's point of view, it would make perfect sense to say that it is better for person to exist than not exist.


If there's such a thing as objective reality, that point of view would have to be true or false.

And if there is a God, and He's a perfect Being, He couldn't have any false beliefs.

So if He believes it's better for a person to exist than not exist, that would have to be true.

It's not just a matter of His point of view.

And if "God is Love," and He doesn't believe it's better for any of us to exist than it would be for us not to exist, than why are we here?

And if you say that it's no better to exist in any state of consciousness than it is not to exist, you're saying that "The Existing One" is no better than nothing, and His creation has no real value.

On the other hand, it is logically possible to say that there are states of existence that are better than non-existence on the basis of what Prof. Holtug calls "surplus of value."

my main argument, I described different theories of well-being on the basis of which the Value of Existence View can be defended. Each of these theories involves distinctive ontological commitments. Invoking the object account of preferences, I argued that existence is better for Jeremy because he prefers existence to non-existence. And it may now be argued that, for the same reason, non-existence is worse for him. Here, the truth of P is established merely by appeal to a preference Jeremy has in a possible world – the actual world – in which he exists. In this world, then, he has the positive property of having a particular preference. More importantly, the truth of P is established without ascribing any positive properties to Jeremy in a possible world in which he does not exist.

The three other theories of well-being on the basis of which I argued for the Value of Existence View involved a two-step procedure. First, it was pointed out that Jeremy’s life includes a surplus of positive value (preference-satisfactions, positive mental states, or items on an objective list), and that his non-existence involves no such values. Both of these claims are, of course, compatible with the No Properties of the Non-Existent Principle. It was then pointed out that it seems to be better to have a surplus of positive value than to have no value. Contrariwise, it seems to be worse to have no value than it is to have a surplus of value. This judgement relies only on the nature of positive value and no value. Thus, assuming any of these other theories of well-being, once again, the truth of P is established without presupposing any dubious ontology.

http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=4446

From this it follows (if you're a Theist) that if God's existence has a surplus of value, it's better for Him to exist than it would be (if it were possible) for Him not to exist.

And it follows that if He knows (in His Omniscience) that a creature's existence will have a surplus of value, He knows that it would be better for that creature to exist than it would be for him not to exist.

He doesn't "think" it, or "believe" it, and it isn't true only from His "subjective point of view," because He doesn't have any false beliefs.

He knows that existence can be better than non-existence.

And that's why He, as a God of love, brings derivative beings into existence.

And that's why we, as creatures, owe Him a debt of gratitude.

All this follows from Prof. Holtug's thesis here (if you're a Theist), and your thesis (whether you realize it or not) would deny all of it.
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Wed Aug 28, 2013 9:56 pm

This doesn't say anything about the ontological nature of God


If no state of existence can be any better or worse than non-existence, wouldn't God (as a perfect Being, with no false beliefs) have to know that that's true, even of His own existence?

But if Prof. Holtug's theory of value surplus is true, wouldn't God (as a perfect Being, with no false beliefs) know that as long as His existence has a surplus of value, it is better for Him to exist than not exist?

And if He knows that existence can be better than non-existence, wouldn't He (as a God of love) want to share the value that existence has to offer by bringing derivative beings into existence?

How can you say that none of this has anything to do with the nature of God?
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby AllanS » Thu Aug 29, 2013 3:51 am

pilgrim wrote:I also do not believe that any person kills a horse in order to make himself/herself feel better.


If multiverse theory is true, when I kill a horse, there immediately appears another universe in which I do not kill the horse. Similarly, when I die, there immediately appears another universe in which I do not die.

Multiverse theory guarantees individual immortality. It also guarantees that everything that can exist must exist, and makes all talk of non-existence meaningless.
Warning! Amateur at work. Usual disclaimers apply. Author accepts no responsibility for injuries sustained while reading this post.
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Thu Aug 29, 2013 6:25 am

AllanS wrote:
pilgrim wrote:I also do not believe that any person kills a horse in order to make himself/herself feel better.


If multiverse theory is true, when I kill a horse, there immediately appears another universe in which I do not kill the horse. Similarly, when I die, there immediately appears another universe in which I do not die.

Multiverse theory guarantees individual immortality. It also guarantees that everything that can exist must exist, and makes all talk of non-existence meaningless.


Not true.

There are several different multiverse theories (some Theistic, and some non-theistic.)

Here's a paper on the topic by someone who teaches Theology, Mathematics, and Physics.

It is now a reasonably well acknowledged facti that our Universe is “finely-tuned” for life. In other words, small differences in its fundamental laws and their numerical constants and initial conditions would mean that, not only “life as we know it”, but any form of physical life would be impossible. This is because the kinds of natural parameters and structures friendly to life (“biophilic”) are very particular. Long-term physical life requires concentrations of energy extracted from the surroundings combined with deep local drops in entropy, multiple and diverse interacting components operating as one integrated whole, and an environment which is sufficiently stable to permit time for growth or development but sufficiently “flexible” or non-constrained to allow non-repetitive, non-uniform arrangements of matter to exist. We need an interplay of stability with spatio-temporal complexity, of overarching order with potential for great variability. Complex instability or simple stability are easier to achieve and thus the natural expectations a priori. For example, small variations from the constants that determine our Universe's properties would have meant nothing existed but a fairly uniform bath of radiation without matter or no elements except Hydrogen and Helium, or even a short-lived universe that only had time to “explode” and soon after collapse gravitationally.


Given that such “fine-tuning” is present, there are different inferences which can be made from this evidence. One is obviously the theist one which posits a supernatural and intelligent cause, God, who deliberately created Nature to be biophilic and, in particular, capable of producing &/or supporting intelligent life such as our own by “rigging” its laws and their constants. Then the suitability of the Universe for life is seen as due to the intention of God to create life and intelligence outside Himself, in the same way as the general and elegant mathematical ordering of the Universe is seen as due to the intention of God to create beauty and harmony outside Himself. The extraordinarily low probability of the biophilicity of Nature due to mere chance is also seen as evidence for the existence of such a God.


A second possible inference is that we are just extremely lucky and this biophilicity is a fluke, there being no need for a supernatural cause. However, given that calculations of the odds of biophilicity produce unimaginably small numbers, sometimes even when limiting consideration only to one “perfect” parameter at a time — numbers that are less than one in x, where x is much larger than the number of subatomic particles in the known universe (!) — atheists are becoming less inclined to pick this option. Instead, another two options are put forward, sometimes separately, sometimes together.


A third reaction notes that since we have not yet discovered the TOE (Theory of Everything), it may be that when we do so, the TOE actually sets the various constants or boundary conditions of nature at particular levels or within tightly constrained ranges. In this case, it is argued, the assumption that they could have taken on a much larger range of non-biophilic values is falsified and the previously calculated low probabilities become worthless. The problem with this is that even if it is true, it only moves the problem up one level, posing the question now as to why the TOE is so constructed that it automatically generates just the right numbers for life. Indeed, this whole escape route ignores the fact that it is the fundamental laws themselves that are already mysteriously biophilic, quite independently of the constants. Sometimes it is then argued that the TOE will be a mathematically “necessary” theory, as if a priori scientific or theoretical considerations can somehow rule out all or most other mathematically self-consistent alternatives. But this is clearly nonsense, since there are no mathematical reasons to exclude any self-consistent mathematical model, of which there are an infinite number, and there can be no empirical reasons either, since these are by definition a posteriori and thus irrelevant to any comparison with possible alternative universes. Given that on normal atheistic assumptions only mathematical and empirical propositions have any validity (following Hume and the later “logical positivists”), this leaves no room for justifying the “necessity” of a biophilic TOE.


The fourth possible inference, and a more apparently reasonable escape route from a theistic explanation, is to note that a number of plausible TOEs (albeit incomplete ones, as all are) are most naturally interpreted as predicting multiple universes, each varying somewhat from the others, and normally an infinite number. In the latter case the smallness of odds with regard to particular biophilic combinations of constants and boundary conditions is irrelevant, since no matter how unlikely these combinations, as long as they are not strictly impossible they are certain to occur and occur infinitely often. Given that, in such a situation, only biophilic universes (which are then inevitable) could possess rational living beings asking why their particular universe was biophilic, “observer selection” is said to answer their question: in other words, the reason our universe is biophilic is that it is a lucky exception to the norm made 100% probable by infinite “trials”, and we wouldn't exist to ask the question unless we were in such a universe. The attentive reader will perhaps have noticed already that such a response to the evidence still does not deal with why the fundamental mathematical “shape” of the TOE allows for any biophilic universes within its ensemble and then makes them inevitable by intrinsically infinite fecundity. Neither quality is by any means a necessary consequence of every possible TOE. Although the number of theoretically possible mathematical equations that could describe a TOE is incalculably or indefinably infinite, as is the number within that set that would be biophilic, such that normal probability measures are useless, the extreme sensitivity of biophilicity to small (structural or numerical) variations from our actually operative TOE along with the requirements considered in the first paragraph above are sufficient to indicate that no scientific “multiverse” theory can make biophilicity a priori anything but highly improbable. In other words, one aspect of the “unlikelyhood” of biophilicity has been dealt with, but the most fundamental aspect has been ignored, leaving the evidence for design intact.vi


Unfortunately, not only have atheists incorrectly seen multiverse models as a way of undermining evidence for the biophilic design of Nature, but a number of Christians have agreed with them and reacted in a knee-jerk and dogmatically negative fashion to multiverse theories. So have some non-religious scientists and philosophers for various reasons. What I aim to do in this essay is to examine the objections and show that none of them shows multiverse theories are either irrational and unscientific or theologically “threatening” and inadmissable. However, this is far from showing they are true. As yet there is no clear empirical evidence for or against any multiverse theory.


I have so far ignored the most outlandish multiverse alternatives to the theistic explanation for fine tuning. I will deal with them briefly here.


One is the Everett “many-worlds” interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (QM), which relates closely to the “environmental decoherence” interpretation at its most persuasive. It “solves” the mystery of why the infinite and continuous set of possible solutions to QM wave equations governing matter collapse to discrete and particular actual observed events by claiming that every possible solution is in fact made actual in a distinct version of our Universe. This theory has a number of problems, including the fact that it would seem, contrary to claims commonly made on its behalf, it cannot explain without begging the question why we are never conscious of weird superpositions of what we know from experience to be mutually incompatible events. For example, there is nothing in its mathematics that prevents us from seeing the famous Schrodinger's Cat as a mixture of the Dead and Alive state!


Another multiverse theory, that of Lee Smolin, posits that each black hole can create a new universe with somewhat different physical parameters from its source universe. Thus, since universes which encourage black hole formation will “reproduce” more, and do so with (limited) random variation in their laws and constants from generation to generation, a process analogous to biological evolution will ensure an infinite number of universes rather like ours will exist with every combination of physical parameters, and so biophilic universes become inevitable. However, this theory still needs an overarching TOE that is biophilic, and so does not really solve the problem. Also, there is no evidence that black holes can produce new universes at all, let alone of the right type, and entropy considerations would imply that anything they did produce would have very different and biophilically inferior initial configurations to our own universe.


Finally, there are the astonishing theories of Tegmark and Lewis, which can be placed in the category of “modal realism”. The former, a scientist, suggests that all possible mathematical structures for the TOE are instantiated in some universe or multiverse. The latter, a philosopher, goes broader still and says all possible universes exist, without requiring a mathematical underpinning. Such propositions are a “solution” to the fundamental problem of necessity and contingency: why does this “state of affairs” obtain and not another one just as possible on a priori principles? Their answer is that no answer to this question is possible, so the question must have a false assumption: that is, it falsely assumes all the other contingencies do not in fact exist in reality. By thus collapsing the contingent and the necessary into one infinite category where all that is possible, is, they have taken the opposite path to Leibniz, who solved the aforementioned problem by saying that this Universe must be the best of all possible Universes, so God “had” to choose to create this one if He created at all, in order to be consistent with His perfect nature. Ironically, such modal realists appeal to Occam's Razor, the principle that the explanation that multiplies causal entities the most is the least likely to be true! They do this by arguing that, although their theories infer the existence of infinitely many unobservable Universes (or Multiverses), they rely on a singularly simple ontological premise, “all that could possibly exist does exist” and do not then need to complicate things by adding further premises or reasons which would limit reality to a very particular configuration with very particular properties and laws. The problems with this scenario, apart from offending against common-sense, are as follows. First, it completely ignores the ontologically and logically prior problem of why anything exists at all rather than nothing. So, its appearance of explaining why things exist in particular ways is an illusion, as it explains the existence per se of nothing whatever, instead asking us to accept multifarious, complex existence as a brute fact and then taking the easy route to explain why existent entities have certain essences or natures: they are this way because it is possible to be this way, and every way it is possible to exist does in fact exist. Second, without a supervening and particular law of reality, there is no way of determining what is “possible” and what is not, so we still end up with some separate, singular and contingent TOE-like principle which requires explanation of both its existence and its “potency”, that is, the reason it necessitates the existence of other things. In other words, extreme modal realism doesn't really solve the problem of contingency at all. Third, such ontological promiscuity includes an infinite number of universes almost exactly like our own except that their physical behaviour must diverge radically from ours at some point in time. This could be due to a constant that obeys something like a weird and extreme (but mathematically possible) function, such as x = x0 + e1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000(t-t0), where x0 is the “normal” value and t0 is the time at which it “takes off” absurdly. Or, if non-mathematically consistent possibilities are allowed, it could be due to pixies with a weird sense of humour making the Universe appear to follow mathematical laws until they decide to pull the rug from under our comfortable scientific sensibilities. After all, what is logically impossible about the latter? However, what this means is that our appeal to inductive reasoning, which generalises laws from consistent observations over time and is essential to science, would be seemingly unjustifiable rationally, since we would have no reason to think we do not inhabit one of these many “crazy” universes. And yet, inductive scientific reasoning works. Therefore, I think we can safely ignore these kinds of multiverse theories too.


Instead, I am here addressing Multiverse theories that are genuinely plausible and based on a single, overarching mathematical TOE as yet to be determined, in order to show they are compatible with Christian theism. It is not my intent to describe or analyse their specific physics, but to look at their significance metaphysically and theologically....

If you'd like to read the rest, see http://members.ozemail.com.au/~frmkirby/God%20design%20and%20the%20multiverse.html

But shouldn't we start another thread if you want to discuss Multiverse Theory?
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Tue Apr 29, 2014 1:53 pm

AllanS wrote:
Chrisguy90 wrote:surely it makes sense to say that being is better than non being regarding person x?


Thousands of my children don't exist, and I don't miss them at all. Does that make me callous?

Of course, if multiverse theories are correct, then every one of my potential children will exist somewhere. Every possible arrangement of particles will exist. Because God is eternally creative, I think it perfectly sensible to argue that everything that can logically exist, does exist. Except for square circles etc, non-existence is non-existent.


Hi Allan.

I thought you might be interested in this.


It’s hard not to react defensively to the nihilism of David Benatar’s book Better Never to Have Been (Oxford 2007). The title sums up his position nicely: it would be better never to have been. Not just for people born into extreme poverty or violence or disability, though such claims would be controversial enough, but better for everyone never to have been. It’s bad to be alive, and not just a little bad. Benatar thinks we all live lives that are quite, quite bad -- much worse than most of us realize.



Benatar doesn’t shrink from drawing practical conclusions: we shouldn’t have children, women should have early abortions. It is to be hoped that some day humans (and all other animals) go extinct. Is Benatar planning on shooting himself? He doesn’t say, but he does make a distinction between coming into existence and continuing to exist. It’s better not to come into existence, but once we’re around, it can be a drag to bow out. Now that you’re here, it could be you do have some fun to look forward to, and a bullet in the head can be unpleasant. Killing yourself might be bad for those around you as well.



All the bleakness proceeds from an argument that’s made in the second chapter of the book. The pivotal idea involves an intriguing asymmetry. The pleasure in a person’s life is something good, but if the person hadn’t existed, the missing pleasure wouldn’t have been a bad thing. That intuition seems to underlie the belief that nobody has a duty to have children, not even if the children would be perfectly happy. On the other hand, the pain in a person’s life seems different; if the pain hadn’t existed, the missing pain would have been a good thing.



Imagine a couple with a child named Charlie, a very happy boy with occasional miserable moments, like anyone else. He exists, but might not have. Which scenario is better? In No-Charlie, there’s the good of missing misery. Apart from that, there’s just the “not bad” of missing happiness. So No-Charlie is quite a good scenario. Yes-Charlie has the bad of the misery, and all the good of his happiness. But should we count that good as a point in favor of Yes-Charlie? How can we, considering that in No-Charlie, the missing happiness is not bad? This is the crux of Benatar’s argument: the claim that the happiness in Yes-Charlie doesn’t count. So what we have to go on is the misery in Yes-Charlie vs. the missing misery in No-Charlie. After careful comparison, No-Charlie turns out to be the better scenario. His parents should have thought of that and he should never have been born.



Now, I think this is an awfully fragile basis on which to build the idea that we should stop this whole business of human existence. The whole argument has a “now you see it, now you don’t” quality, at least for this reader. But then, I do like existing quite a bit, and I think it’s good, not bad, that I have brought two additional humans into existence, with the help of their father. So I might be guilty of “pro-natal” bias, as Benatar calls it. Let me see if I can overcome the bias and look at the argument objectively.



Here’s a train of thought a migraine-sufferer could have: “I really hate these headaches. I wish I had never been born…but no, of course I don’t really, because all the happiness in my life outweighs the headaches.” Part two of the train of thought is illegitimate, according to Benatar. The happiness doesn’t count, it can’t outweigh anything. This is an intriguing idea that’s worth some thought, but in the end I don’t find it persuasive. Happiness is good, and something good is better than something merely not bad. The good happiness in Yes-Charlie is better than the not bad missing happiness in No-Charlie. If Charlie is very happy, and not very miserable, then it’s better for him to exist than not exist.



Benatar offers an analogy to try to counter this reasoning. He says comparing Yes-Charlie and No-Charlie is like comparing two people, Sick and Healthy. Sick has both a disease (bad) and the power to quickly recover (good). Healthy, on the other hand, has no disease (good) and no power to quickly recover (not bad, since he doesn’t have the disease). Supposedly my reasoning, above, would have it that it’s better to be Sick, when we all know it’s better to be Healthy. Giving weight to the happiness in Yes-Charlie is as erroneous as giving weight to Sick’s powers of quick recovery.



But there are goods and then there are goods. Pleasure is a substantive good that can compensate for pain. We can think, coherently: it was worth suffering the headaches, because the pleasures of life compensated for them. But the power to recover is not a substantive good. It’s like the antidote to a poison. The antidote isn’t inherently good; it doesn’t compensate for the bad of the poison. It just undoes the poison. Of course it is better to be Healthy than Sick: that’s because the plusses Sick has aren’t compensatory, they’re just curative. But happiness is another matter. Charlie’s happiness, if it’s extensive enough, can compensate for his misery. (To anticipate a point Benatar makes in a later chapter: I don’t meant to say there’s a simple formula to determine the good in a life: pleasure minus pain, for example. The point is that pleasure can make pain worth suffering. We all know that, from personal experience.)



The good news is that the good parts of our lives do count when we ask ourselves whether coming into existence harmed us. The bad news is that Benatar goes on to argue in chapter three that there isn’t much good in our lives. Or rather, there’s a whole lot more bad than we usually realize. Whatever the framework for measuring the goodness of lives—the happiness theory, the desire theory, the objective list theory—he manages to find a preponderance of bad. Benatar vigorously defends the notion that the bad is what counts, when comparing existence with non-existence; but here his tendency to focus on the bad just comes across as a strange prejudice. We are not to overlook problems like feeling sleepy and feeling full, but he seems to overlook all the good stuff of every day life, not to mention the great stuff that happens once in a while: exploring Antarctica, writing a great song, falling in love, and (dare I say) looking into the face of a beautiful newborn baby.

.

If I’m right, and the Yes-Charlie scenario is better, does that show that there’s actually a duty to have children, contrary to contemporary assumptions? To begin with, No-Charlie is not a bad situation; in fact, it’s somewhat good, because of the missing misery. Yes-Charlie is better, narrowly considered, because of all the happiness, but his parents still might have decided not to have him, without doing anything immoral. They might have thought he’d stand in the way of his mother’s life-saving medical practice. They might have calculated that, in environmental terms, he and his progeny would wind up more a debit than an asset to overall good. All we are admitting if we see an existent Charlie as better than a non-existent Charlie is that there’s some good reason to bring him into existence, not that the reason is decisive. We can admit that people do some good when they have children, most of the time, without also saying they do the best thing they could have done, or that they are models for everyone else, or that they should have the largest number of kids they possibly can.



Since Benatar didn’t convince me that it’s bad to exist, I didn’t linger long in the chapters that unravel whether it should be illegal to have children (no), what it will be like for the last generation of humans (not pleasant), and how late in pregnancy it’s still doing a future child a favor to abort him (around the mid-point). Instead, I kept wondering about the author, the person behind the arguments.



Benatar is an extremely clear writer, but an invisible one. He observes one of the first principles of academic writing to a T: no self-disclosure. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of a life he lives. What’s it like thinking that existence, your own and everyone else’s, is regrettable?

http://faculty.smu.edu/jkazez/articles/Benatar.htm

I think the part I bolded and underlined answers your question about your non-existent children, but the reason I found this article interesting is because it seems to me that a Creator God would be very much in the position of "yes Charlie's" hypothetical parents, and those of us He decided to bring into existence are very much in the position of "yes Charlie."

If (given our ultimate salvation and eternal happiness) our existence is better than non-existence, we can thank Him for our creation (as Orthodox Jews and Anglicans do in their daily prayers), but if no state of existence is any better or worse than non-existence (as you've argued here) all such words of thanks become meaningless.
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Re: Prof. Nils Holtug on the Positive Value of Existence

Postby Michael » Tue Apr 29, 2014 2:42 pm

pilgrim wrote:...
I also do not believe that any person kills a horse in order to make himself/herself feel better.
Whether the logic is sound or not, lets be thoughtful and admit that the killing is done because the killer believes the animal is better off not existing any longer.
God bless you


And if there are states of existence that are worse than non-existence, there are also states of existence that are better than non-existence, which gives all of us who believe in a loving God (and especially those of us who believe in UR) a reason to hang in here (believing that any pain or suffering will ultimately be worth it.)

Thank you.
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