Utilitarianism is a double-edge sword for healthy longevity: apropos of de Grey’s ‘suffering’ argument, part 2: what’s wrong with negative hedonism?

In the first part of our study we’ve introduced Aubrey de Grey’s ‘suffering argument’ for making ‘defeating aging’ a top priority for humanity. After a brief analysis we’ve identified the philosophical core utilitarian premise of the argument:

Humanity’s foremost priority should be the goal that will most greatly reduce the totality of human suffering.

Then we have briefly mentioned that our study is going to demonstrate 4 problems related to this utilitarian premise in the context of healthy longevity that might be discouraging on the further highlighted use of this or similar kind of arguments in the hands of healthy longevity supporters to successfully appeal to the mainstream.

Today we are going to deal with Philosophical Problem 1:

  1. Utilitarianism is philosophically pretty outdated due to some serious counterarguments concerning the utilitarian framework. Here we mainly take a look at the particular flavour of utilitarianism Aubrey is using, which is hedonism and a negative variant of it that focuses on ‘avoiding suffering’. Then we show some problems with how these ‘sufferings’ are defined and re-frame the experience machine argument against hedonism.

The course of the argument today is going to be a mini-class on philosophical utilitarianism to the uninitiated. Our main source: Will Kymlicka: Contemporary Political Philosophy, chapter 2, Utilitarianism  p10-52. This ~40 page essay is something that can be studied over throughout a week of coffee breaks. I recommend doing so.

But before the deep dive into this bleeding theory we need to step back and briefly ask whether we are justified to use the term and concept of healthy longevity in the context to this argument while Aubrey is clearly only mentions ‘defeating aging’ in the framing of his argument? Aubrey himself mentions ‘longevity’ in his comment to Premise 2 as Regarding (2), we must remember that longevity is not the goal of defeating aging but merely a side-benefit. Continue reading “Utilitarianism is a double-edge sword for healthy longevity: apropos of de Grey’s ‘suffering’ argument, part 2: what’s wrong with negative hedonism?”

Utilitarianism is a double-edge sword for healthy longevity: apropos of de Grey’s ‘suffering’ argument , part 1: 4 problems

Last time I had a chance to have a longer in person chat with Aubrey de Grey was in 2018 in Cambridge in the Panton Arms Pub. Mostly we were talking science, translational geroscience as it is frequently been called lately in the context of foundational research into biological aging with the explicit purpose of translating it back to human to counteract/slow/stop/reverse the negative consequences of biological aging.

We also exchanged some thoughts on the relevance of the philosophy of healthy longevity in the context of the whole movement and emerging industry. I think I’ve understood Aubrey’s minimalist position while obviously readers of Open Lifespan can observe to me a well articulated philosophy is a crucial ingredient of the success of the whole movement and a super exciting new research topic in itself.

Aubrey, being one of the most visible faces of the longevity movement in the last 15 years or so, had been confronted many times with philosophical issues or counterarguments around this topic and he sort of worked out himself a ‘strongest’ argument during these years. I call this the ‘suffering’ argument. You can already read about this argument in my 2006 blogterview with Aubrey, and am going to comment on that later.

Now this argument has reached its more or less finalised form in a Pairagraph discourse between Aubrey and philosopher John K Davis and was published in August, 2020 under the moniker Should Defeating Aging Be Humanity’s Foremost Priority?

In it Aubrey writes that ‘arguments for or against utilitarianism far exceed my philosophical pay grade’. Although am certainly not paid for doing Open Lifespan, but my philosophical training and specialising on the philosophy of longevity since my MS thesis in 2005 puts me in a comfortable position to work out this very problem in this very context a bit. And am doing this cause working this out has a utility in this field. Honestly, it initially presented itself to me as quite a boring task, since I’ve mostly thought of utilitarianism as an intellectually unchallenging and outdated philosophical position, but my evaluation on this changed as I dug deeper and the process is still ongoing. Such is the nature of actual and active philosophical enquiry. And there’s more to it concerning longevity politics, but more on that later.

In this post I do 3 things. Continue reading “Utilitarianism is a double-edge sword for healthy longevity: apropos of de Grey’s ‘suffering’ argument , part 1: 4 problems”