Re: Bound unhappiness below (was Re: What if there's an expiration date?)

From: Stuart Armstrong (
Date: Sat May 10 2008 - 02:09:42 MDT

> You originally proposed giving greater (perhaps infinite) weight to
> negative utility than positive utility. By this reasoning, you could
> never test any new drugs because of the possibility they may cause harm.
> You could not engage in trade because the negative utility of the payer
> exceeds the positive utility of the recipient. I know you could make
> exceptions in these cases, but there are many other examples.

I grant the point about the new drug tests (holding out the hope that
my design of utility function will encourage non-human tests to be
developed. In the meantimes, I'd be in favour of paying people above
the market rate to take part in them - and I already know the moral
and practical objection to that position). I don't get the trade
argument - trade only happens if both parties get positive utility out
of it.

Maybe I should have emphasised that I was focusing on actual pain, not
just negative utility. If losing a million pounds will make little
difference to your happiness beyond some initial anguish, then I see
nothing wrong with that happening (my research into the happiness is a
bit rusty, but what I read a few years back when I was engaged in it,
was that for most people, as long as you draw the salary of at least a
medical doctor, your income is uncorrelated with your happiness). It
is the really damaging suffering and death that I think should be
over-emphasised, and the risk of those.

And yes, there are problems with my approach (though I don't count
preference reversal as a problem). But it still seems, to me, to be
advantageous over the alternatives.

I've cost a post on "Rights" that I'll post soon; it will have a more
general case of non-linear utility.

If you want to continue the discussion, maybe better to take it off
the mailing list? And return with the conclusions?


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