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Longtermism Contra Schwitzgebel

In 'Against Longtermism', Eric Schwitzgebel writes: "I accept much of Ord's practical advice. I object only to justifying this caution by appeal to expectations about events a million years from now."  He offers four objections, which are interesting and well worth considering, but I think ultimately unpersuasive.  Let's consider them in turn.(1) There's no chance humanity will survive long-term:All or most or at least many future generations with technological capabilities matching or exceeding our own will face substantial existential risk -- perhaps 1/100 per century or more. If so, that risk will eventually catch up with us. Humanity can't survive existential risks of 1/100 per century for a million years.If this reasoning is correct, it's very unlikely that there will be a million-plus year future for humanity that is worth worrying about and sacrificing for.This seems excessively pessimistic.  Granted, there's certainly some risk that we will never acquire resilience against x-risk.  But it's hardly certain.  Two possible routes to resilience include: (i) fragmentation, e.g. via interstellar diaspora, so that different pockets of humanity could be expected to escape any given threat; or (ii) universal surveillance and control, e.g. via a "friendly AI" with effectively god-like powers relative to humans, to prevent us from doing grave harm.Maybe there are other possibilities.  At any rate, I think it's clear that we should not be too [More]

Puzzling Conditional Obligations

If you make a promise (and haven't been released from it), then you're obliged to keep your promise.  The obligation is, in a sense, conditional. Note that you've no moral reason to go around making extra promises just so that you can keep them.  Keeping promises isn't a good to be promoted in this way.  (We might instead think that keeping a promise is neutral, while breaking one is bad.)It's natural to think that obligations that are in this way "conditional" should mimic this axiological structure: being bad to violate, but neutral between complying and cancelling. For if they were positively good to comply with, that reason would seem to transmit up the conditional and yield us an unconditional reason to get yourself into a position where the obligation (applies and) can be met.With this in mind, the following putatively conditional obligations begin to look puzzling:(1) The obligation of the rich to donate significant amounts of money to charity.Giving to charity is straightforwardly good.  So there's just as much reason to become rich in order to give more to charity, as there is to give to charity once already rich. (I think Peter Unger was the first to make this point?)  For a concrete illustration, suppose a talented young person is choosing between two life paths: (i) a struggling artist earning $40k and donating 10% of it, or (ii) a financial trader earning $500k per year and donating just 1% of it.  People in [More]

Companies, Cities, and Carbon

This is terrible journalism:While [donating $1 billion to protect forests] is certainly notable, Bezos’s commitment to protecting the environment serves as a stark reminder that much of his legacy and largely untaxed fortune was built by companies that have staggering carbon footprints. Amazon’s carbon emissions have grown every year since 2018, and last year alone, when global carbon emissions fell roughly 7 percent, Amazon’s carbon emissions grew 19 percent.Economic activity is (for the time being) carbon-intensive. Amazon constitutes a huge and (especially during the pandemic) growing portion of the US economy. There's nothing said here to suggest that Amazon is unusually inefficient (from an environmental perspective); the author is really just complaining that Amazon is a large and growing part of the economy. (Horrors! They even had the gall to keep the economy going during the pandemic, when other companies did the green thing and shut down, bless their empty coffers...)Obviously there are all kinds of climate policies that should've been passed long ago that would help to reduce the carbon intensity of the economy (carbon taxes, more investment in green energy & research, etc.). Our lack of those needed policies is the fault of politicians, voters, and the companies that lobbied against them. Blaming other companies that are simply involved in ordinary economic activity, by contrast, makes little sense.I think we all realize it'd be silly to blame, say, New York [More]

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