In an earlier post I distinguished between strong and weak immortalism, where the former says one long life is better than many short lives and the latter merely says one long life is better than one short life.
A population ethics paper called “Life Extension versus Replacement” by Gustaf Arrhenius considers and rejects two bad arguments for the strong-immortalist position (three bad arguments if you count “average utilitarianism”). All of these bad arguments modify “standard” total-utilitarian population ethics.
I think there are some better arguments for strong immortalism within standard utilitarianism. Maybe:
- …having a greater amount of existing structure to build on (memories and the like) allows for more valuable future experiences
- …old minds are living monuments that make the lives of others more interesting, like the seven wonders of the world
- …leading a more or less unique life is a part of welfare, and 100-year lives will repeat to an extent because there are so many more of them
- …any mind gets “tangled up” with others and with its own preferences, so that its destruction creates anti-valuable grief and thwarted aspirations
- …older minds attain more virtue and competence so they are more extrinsically useful
Arguments could go the other way, too. Maybe there’s a limited number of especially valuable life events you can experience — this question is related to what Eliezer Yudkowsky calls fun theory.
But even if those arguments are stronger than the ones I listed, that may not mean we shouldn’t research life extension in practice. Here are a few reasons:
- Option value. If living is a mistake you can still die later, if dying is a mistake you can’t come back.
- We aren’t actually at Earth’s population limits, so it’s not the case that by living for 1000 years you deny ten other potential people a 100-year life. Arguing for life extension currently requires only what I called “weak immortalism”, not “strong immortalism”.
- None of the arguments for death (other than bad ones, like “nature knows best”) would seem to single out 100 years as the right lifespan.
- None of the arguments for death would seem to argue for the complete destruction of minds, rather than for starting over only partially.
In sum, I would be shocked if a complete understanding of population ethics caused us to favor unextended human lives into the indefinite future.