Roger Crisp is a well-regarded philosopher and has written important books on ethical theory and its history with a concentration on the British utilitarians. But in an article that appeared in the New Statesman on August 10, he presents one of the strangest arguments I’ve ever read.
Crisp asks us to imagine that an asteroid is about to hit the earth. If it does so, it will wipe out all life. You can push a button that would deflect the asteroid. Should you do so? Most of us would say that you obviously should, but Crisp is uncertain of the correct answer. There is a great deal of suffering in the world, and bringing an end to sentient life may be a “good thing.” Even if your own life is going well, you may have a duty to the rest of sentient life to sacrifice yourself so that others may die.
You may think I am making this up, but I’m not. Crisp sets up his case in this way:
Imagine that some huge asteroid is heading to earth, which if it hits will remove any possibility of life on Earth. If you have the power to deflect it, should you do so, from a moral point of view? If extinction would be bad for all sentient beings, both now and in the future, the answer “yes” seems hard to argue with. But … that’s not the case.
Consider the huge amount of suffering that continuing existence will bring with it, not only for humans, and perhaps even for “post-humans”, but also for sentient non-humans, who vastly outnumber us and almost certainly would continue to do so. As far as humans alone are concerned, Hilary Greaves and Will MacAskill at the Universi
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