Daily Effort: Open Lifespan, a political aim with impersonal and personal standpoints in sync; applying Thomas Nagel

This is a Daily Effort, which is a quicker, shorter piece, grown out of usually a same-day thought, reading, see earlier efforts.

According to Thomas Nagel the central ethical question of political theory is to work out and then synchronise together the impersonal standpoint human individuals are capable of and the personal standpoints they actually have.

In Chapter 4 of his Equality and Partiality, called The Problem of Utopianism Nagel concludes that

Justification in political theory must address itself to people twice: first as occupants of the impersonal standpoint and second as occupants of particular roles within an impersonally acceptable system. This is not capitulation of human badness or weakness, but a necessary acknowledgement of human complexity. To ignore the second task is to risk utopianism in the bad sense.

p30, Equality and Partiality, Thomas Nagel

Let’s apply this method and principle to Open Lifespan.

Quick reminder: Here we consider Open Life as a possible world (or society to be closer to the lingo of political theory), where people can choose Open Lifespan, an open-ended, indefinitely long healthy lifespan. Open Lifespan is achieved via Open Healthspan Technologies developed and accessible enough that all people can choose to go through continuous interventions to counteract the biological aging process and have a fixed, small but nonzero mortality rate due to external causes of death.

My claim is that an Open Life society as a political aim is already a strong candidate to pass the Nagel test cited above. 

The main reason for this is that Open Lifespan emerges from the particular motives and interests of the people and then it gets generalised to all people leading to a moral and political commitment making Open Lifespan possible to all people within the same society. Let’s go step by step with the argument:

  1. Wanting to live much longer healthier lives (upper limit of which is Open Lifespan) is something that typically emerges due to individuals reflecting their own motives and plans in life. This is an empirical statement, am not going to cite any particular study though as I assume this is not something people will contest a lot. 
  2. Assumption basically states that the personal standpoint is not something that needs be modified radically to achieve Open Life as a political aim, so Nagel’s second justification is already done. Curiously this is something Nagel worries about more than the first one.
  3. People wanting to live Open Lives want other people to live Open Lives as well, due to personal reasons, family, friends, people nearby ….
  4. Generalising assumption 1, the personal motivation to achieve Open Lifespan means that these OL committed people want to live in societies where this option is given to everybody, in short they want an Open Life world. There are different reasons, scenarios to make the case for this generalisation, see 4A and 4B.

4A. There’s no point where assumption 3 can be reasonably restricted. When committed people think about Open Lifespan it makes no sense to only guarantee it to a restricted circle of people. Life’s default positivity, the fundamental belief that starts with the particular belief to live as long as possible gives rise to the impersonal standpoint principle that it is simply good to be alive. This leads to an impersonally acceptable system that can be framed as a political aim thereby meeting the first justification of Nagel’s test above, from the impersonal standpoint.

4B. Let’s assume that some people would like to restrict the scope of an Open Healthspan technology and develop it in secret so accessibility to it is only guaranteed to given few. This is only a viable scenario assuming that Open Healthspan technology can be developed with restricted resources with the work of a restricted set of technologists/scientists. However Open Healthspan as a technological development would require efforts, resources and clinical trials on a global scale. Even a modest amount of healthspan extension of say 2 decades would require efforts, resources much larger than the scale of the top 6 biggest US/China technology companies combined.

Conclusion: Open Life Society is wanted both as the core political aim of an impersonally acceptable system and as a particular human interest.

Discussion: I made several attempts so far to explain why Open Lifespan cannot be considered an utopia, please see here. Now we have one more reason added, since Nagel specially defines bad utopianism in the sense of forcing particular interests to change in the name of a higher impersonal ideal. In case of Open Life Society we have seen that the impersonal standpoint can organically grow out of the particular personal standpoint and act in sync.