Sunday, September 28, 2014

Utilitarian Infighting: The Eight Levels

The inspiration for this post is the dismal state of utilitarian-themed discourse that I spot every so often in my YouTube subscription feed. Scattered insertion of this unspecific 'utilitarianism' type of stuff has to go. Pronto.

To get an idea of some basic oversights, here are the three cornerstones of disputation within utilitarian ethics, in chronological order:

Total Utilitarianism vs. Average Utilitarianism

Positive Utilitarianism vs. Negative Utilitarianism

Classical Utilitarianism vs. Preference Utilitarianism

The oft-neglected implications of these internal frictions are as follows:

When someone says they're a 'Utilitarian' they've only revealed 25% of where they stand insofar as the multi-layered disputation is concerned.

When someone says they're a 'Classical Utilitarian' they've only revealed 50% of where they stand insofar as the multi-layered disputation is concerned.

When someone says they're a 'Classical Negative Utilitarian' they've still only revealed 75% of where they stand insofar as the multi-layered disputation is concerned.

I can go on with the labels’ intersections, but I'm sure you've gotten the gist of it by now. The patterns showcase how unavailing all blanket invocations of 'utilitarianism' can be and have been for centuries. To say that the full scope of utilitarianism is scarcely ever taken into account –– even among professed utilitarians –– would be an understatement.

By drawing attention to the above cornerstones of internal dispute, you’ll find that identifying the types of utilitarianism that must always remain disjointed becomes a walk in the park. More importantly, you’ll be afforded insight as to the versions of utilitarianism that can be consolidated. In the first case, we have 'Total Utilitarianism' and 'Average Utilitarianism' listed as rivalrous. Accordingly, we’ll never see a title like “Total Average Utilitarian”. TU and AU have been ousted as antithetical and must remain compartmentalized at all times. Titles like “Classical Preference Utilitarian” are equally as oxymoronic because 'Classical Utilitarianism' and 'Preference Utilitarianism' are also pitted against each other from the outset. These recognitions are useful to judicious value theorists who see the pressing need to take the mutually compatible forms of utilitarianism and assimilate them for perspicuity.

This in mind, I figure it’s beyond time for someone to dedicate a very special post to the eight subsumed modes of utilitarian thought. Given the major ethics binge I've been on as of late, I'll go ahead and assign the task to myself. The numeration below lists the eight markers divulging 100% of where one stands in the overall disputation picture. Every single amalgamated utility formula is represented underneath, kicking off with the genesis of Classic Utilitarianism and following the progression over the centuries; or at least what I consider to be progress.

I’ll be assessing the strengths and follies of every level in accordance to Freelance Ethics. Each benchmark has been described in italics to the best of my abilities, the intent being to avoid longwinded definitions:

1. Classical Positive Total Utilitarianism

Applies aggregative metrics to sentience, embraces value monism in the form of non-colloquial hedonism; striving to maximize pleasures and minimize pains.

2. Classical Positive Average Utilitarianism

Applies “per capita” metrics to sentience, embraces value monism in the form of non-colloquial hedonism; striving to maximize pleasures and minimize pains.

3. Classical Negative Total Utilitarianism

Applies aggregative metrics to sentience but only concerns itself with minimizing pain, readily disregarding the maximization of pleasure/happiness as an imperative. Embraces value monism in the form of qualia-welfarism.

4. Classical Negative Average Utilitarianism

Applies “per capita” metrics to sentience but only concerns itself with minimizing pain, readily disregarding the maximization of pleasure/happiness as an imperative. Embraces value monism in the form of qualia-welfarism.

5. Positive Total Preference Utilitarianism

Rejects value monism, tolerates value pluralism. Aims to maximize preference fulfillment, setting aside elemental “pain and pleasure” standards of measurement in recognition of each person’s sense of satisfaction and dissatisfaction being unique and idiosyncratic. Applies aggregative metrics to preference maximization.

6. Positive Average Preference Utilitarianism

Rejects value monism, tolerates value pluralism. Aims to maximize preference fulfillment, setting aside elemental “pain and pleasure” standards of measurement in recognition of each person’s sense of satisfaction and dissatisfaction being unique and idiosyncratic. Applies “per capita” metrics to preference maximization.

7. Negative Total Preference Utilitarianism

Rejects value monism, makes room for value pluralism. Safeguards the negative preferences of the subject, setting aside elemental “pain and pleasure” standards of measurement in recognition of each person’s sense of dissatisfaction being unique and idiosyncratic. Some restrictions are in place however, ideally to keep positive preferences distinct from negative preferences. Applies aggregative metrics to the safeguarding of negative preferences.

8. Negative Average Preference Utilitarianism

Rejects value monism, makes room for value pluralism. Safeguards the negative preferences of the subject, setting aside elemental “pain and pleasure” standards of measurement in recognition of each person’s sense of dissatisfaction being unique and idiosyncratic. Some restrictions are in place however, ideally to keep positive preferences distinct from negative preferences. Applies “per capita” metrics to the safeguarding of negative preferences.

Of the above eight, let’s imagine a scenario that sees you being called on to pick one level’s blueprint that goes on to shape the outcome of every forthcoming (or every fathomable, if you wish) ethical dilemma involving human beings. Which level’s trajectory would you choose?

Having given this task considerable thought, I’d opt for level # 8’s Negative Average Preference Utilitarianism (NAPU) as the best option. That is; if we’re discussing humanity in exclusivity and if I had to be pinned down to just one utility formula at all times, without caveats allowing for non-utilitarian consequentialist formulas like prioritarianism or sufficientarianism, and without non-consequentialist exceptions every now and then.

My reasons for rallying behind # 8's NAPU boil down to it being the only version of Negative Utilitarianism that steers clear of paternalistic autonomy violations (in the manner of unsolicited painless killings) while remaining true to its hybrid premise. Additionally, NAPU avoids falling prey to tired criticisms misinforming us about how "Lying is permissible under Utilitarianism as long as there's no undesirable fallout". Lastly, there’s the recurring “pinprick” bickering to which NAPU is invulnerable as well.

If all Utilitarians suddenly aligned themselves with # 8’s NAPU and made some serious noise about it, the mantras fretting over lying or murder or pinpricks would come to a halt. The mantras prevail due to the lamentable fact that only a microscopically small percentage of Utilitarians have hitherto supported or even expressed interest in NAPU. Ever since I can remember, these concerns over painless murder or pinpricks or inconsequential lying have formed the senselessly antagonistic grand narratives that stifle conversational progress on utilitarian ethics. Negative Preference Utilitarians (# 7 and # 8) are simply not chargeable here.

Conversely, had I been called on to pick one utility formula I’d least like to see implemented as a shaper of all upcoming dilemmas' outcomes, I’d cite level # 1’s Classical Positive Total Utilitarianism as the worst, with level # 2’s Classical Positive Average Utilitarianism coming in as the unambiguous runner-up.

The range of pitfalls within # 1’s CPTU and # 2’s CPAU is vast on account of positive utility deeming it permissible to crack innumerable eggs so long as the resulting omelet is rewarding enough to compensate for the losses. Such scenarios are feasible with minimal effort, and history is certainly not in short supply of them. The same scenarios are, of course, patently impermissible the moment we turn our attention to a singularly negative aim, which concerns itself with the minimization of disutility and pays no mind to the maximization of anything. Considering that cracking eggs to make omelets maximizes utility by directly failing to minimize disutility, any Negative Utilitarian worth her salt will outright refuse to comply with the maximization imperative. The only conditions under which the NU may resort to cracking eggs are those where doing so guarantees the prevention of more eggs being cracked down the line. Whether classical or preferential based, the positive utility catalogue runs afoul of this aim in its willingness to blur crucial demarcations between utility and disutility. Maximizing utility denotes focusing partly on those who are at a neutral or above-neutral state and benefiting them further. Minimizing disutility denotes focusing exclusively on those who are at a below-neutral state and inching them closer to a neutral state, either optimally or suboptimally. Positive Utilitarianism (# 1, # 2, # 5, # 6) opens itself to prioritizing the maximization of benefits over the minimization of harms based on interpersonal harm-to-benefit magnitude ratios, and is thus jam-packed with potential for injustice. I would even go so far as to deem select forms of non-consequentialism as superior to it.

# 1’s CPTU and # 2’s CPAU are particularly rife with horrifying prospects –– consistently tolerable within the premise of the respective level –– that the Mere Addition Paradox would be the least of CPTU’s worries. CPAU is stuck with slightly tamer variations of this obstacle –– The Reverse Repugnant Conclusion –– as it is still a type of positive utilitarianism that fixates on maximizing; only difference being its immersion in average (per capita) utility measurements and animus against total (aggregative) utility measurements, making it somewhat less distressing than CPTU.

Point is, every textbook criticism of 'utilitarianism' you can think of is actually bang-on when levied against the relished trajectories of these two unsavory levels. Notwithstanding low-hanging fruit like Divine Command Theory, I really can’t think of much else in the way of systematized ethics that’s worthy of being ranked below CPTU and CPAU.

I am comfortable siding with # 8’s NAPU because its aspiring trajectory is to be limited to the safeguarding of human sentience and is meant to exclude all non-human sentience (as stipulated near the top). To be sure, this is not to imply that our evaluation of sentience should ever sidestep the predicaments surrounding animal suffering, all too prevalent in the wilderness. I’m narrowing in on human sentience at the moment, but for illustrative purposes only, and not out of any humancentric delusion. In fact, the moment we shift our attention exclusively towards non-human sentience, all forms of Preference Utilitarianism (# 5, # 6, # 7, # 8) automatically become null and void. I consider this a truism because any concern over preference fulfillment in the context of wildlife is plainly absurd (what with animals running purely on instincts).

An animal cannot be wronged unless it is harmed in some way, but this is not the case with human beings. Consider how the average human prefers not to be deceived, and generally maintains this preference even in the face of hypotheticals where remaining forever ignorant of said deceit would have benefited the human emotionally (or even physically) in a long-term capacity. The human hears the hedonic allure of such alternative scenarios and typically responds with "No thanks, I'd rather just not be deceived".

This is why we prefer others be frank with us instead of expecting them to benevolently walk on eggshells while in our company, irrespective of the potentially beneficial consequences of their deceitful coddling; long-term or short-term. These “Frankness > Prevarication” components of ethics should never be thought of as mere anomalies that one can brush aside in everyday settings. The negative preference ordinary people have to not be deceived should be upheld as a rule of thumb in ethics, regardless of whether the intent behind a given deception is malevolent or benevolent. Once this is established, we can conclude that, for most humans, being wronged and being harmed is not an everlasting entanglement. A human can be wronged without being harmed (via deceit) and a human can be harmed without being wronged (via consensual harm).

There is indeed much 'harmed/wronged' overlap to speak of, but to dismiss the contradistinctions is intellectually dishonest. The gamut of Preference Utilitarianism (# 5, # 6, # 7, # 8) is the only utilitarian-friendly solution to this.

Readers should not misconstrue my bringing up consensual harm amid humans (global lives) for a case where the experiencer is willing to suffer for the greater good, nor for an appeal to straight-up masochism. Both jabs exemplify conversational derailment, as no foundational principle is placed under scrutiny in either case. Each derailment is nonetheless invoked as though it raises a point that vexes the interlocutor on the receiving end of it. Curveballs of this sort are played out and I'm steering clear of them.

Think of consensual harm, in the context of this post, as harm that (1) reduces no other harm at all, and (2) is every bit as physiologically unpleasant to the experiencer who is consenting to it, as it would be to the experiencer who never consents to it.

Stars of kitsch shows like 'Jackass' or 'Dirty Sanchez' are prime examples of what I'm getting at when I refer to consensual harm. The contracted talent on both programs enthusiastically serve as guinea pigs for laughs. Veteran viewers of these shows can attest to the fact that these daredevils don’t actually enjoy the pain that inevitably comes with such gigs. Tuning in for a brief minute should be enough to dissuade anyone from concluding that the adulated talent consists of masochists. Prohibiting the willing participant from being a cast member on the show –– in order to consistently and optimally minimize harm –– would be an unjustified violation of the willing participants' preferences, and would be impermissible under Negative Preference Utilitarianism (# 7 or # 8).

Classical Negative Utilitarianism (# 3 or # 4) would be a better fit for the safeguarding of animal welfare, though the theory would do well by also encompassing comatose humans who are incapable of forming preferences, unless their pre-coma preferences or pre-paralysis preferences had them specify what is to be done with them should they ever fall into a coma or get paralyzed, and assuming said persons are successful in finding committed caretakers eager to uphold those preferences, post-coma/post-paralysis. If a vegetated human has not laid out such plans heretofore, the subject will obviously not be able to pull this off henceforth. Unplugging the respirator cannot be dubbed an unjustified violation of autonomy because leaving it plugged in could just as easily result in an unjustified violation of autonomy, in the same way that legally prohibiting a suicidal individual from acquiring access to physician assisted suicide is a violation of autonomy. The sensible course of action would be to err on the side of caution rather than risk decades of torment for the septic or immobile subject, as well as the caretaker, by refusing to yank the plug.

At any rate, had I been put in charge of deciding which one of the eight formulas depicted above will shape the destiny of a 'preference-crippled' segment of sentience (i.e. all animals), I’d choose level # 4’s Classical Negative Average Utilitarianism (CNAU) as being tailor-made for the job. Should there ever come a time where a non-human sentient being conceives of preferences the way humans presently do, the layering would be adjusted to reflect the newfound preference of that specific organism; now privy to level # 8’s NAPU. In this day and age however, wronging an animal is wholeheartedly synonymous with harming it.

A principled aversion to value monism forms the groundwork behind these nomadic utility layers, and this is why I cringe a little whenever I hear fellow AntiNatalists self-identify simply as 'Negative Utilitarian'. This is common practice in TinyChat or in Google+ hangouts, and with each occurrence it is a safe bet that no one ever interjects to point out how the plain NU label only tells us 50% of where one stands as it relates to the overall utility compass. Plain NU merely clarifies that one is concerned with pain minimization instead of pleasure maximization, and that’s a wrap. This is all fine and dandy, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The alert moral theorist should always find herself wondering whether the person who has just self-identified as NU is a:

  • (A) Total Utilitarian or Average Utilitarian
  • (B) Classical Utilitarian or Preference Utilitarian

The option presented in 'A' is fully compatible with NU. The option presented in 'B' is circumstantially compatible with NU. I’d like to discuss B’s role in the formation of level # 8’s NAPU, which I ultimately endorse above all others.

Negative Utilitarianism and Preference Utilitarianism can pose oppositional value criterions in practice, but they can also form the hybrid NPU –– Negative Preference Utilitarianism –– in principle. Simply put, Negative Utilitarianism and Preference Utilitarianism are only mutually incompatible in the few cases where the NU adherent is a monist utilitarian who knowingly rejects value pluralism –– whereas those with an impetus to value pluralism will find themselves salivating at the thought of a NPU synthesis.

When I published this monster sized post last year, I omitted the feasibility of the NPU merger, having surmised that Negative Utilitarians and Preference Utilitarians are structurally prone to value clashes. This was a hasty move on my part. As a result of it, I cultivated quite the rigid “Negative Utilitarianism vs. Preference Utilitarianism” binary to my line of thinking. Not only is this binary inapposite, but it teeters on a false dilemma fallacy, as Negative Utilitarianism is squared against the scourge of Positive Utilitarianism, while the enemy of Preference Utilitarianism is Classical Utilitarianism. This means that Negative Utilitarianism and Preference Utilitarianism are themselves not principally at odds (much less sworn enemies). This alone is enough for justify the NPU fusion.

Remember, to integrate utilitarian ethics appropriately, simply heed the prism at the top that lists the three essential cornerstones of disputation. To do this is to be vigilant of the fertile ground for NPU type crossovers within utilitarianism. As such, I have updated last year's post to include the imperative NPU disclaimer (in Section B).

Judging by the videos, comments and general activity feeds of most YouTube Benatarians, the utility formula most fancied by this camp is either # 3’s CNTU or # 4’s CNAU. No doubt, these folks are big on Classical Utilitarianism. I must once again stress that value criterions pointing to either # 3 or # 4 are to be applied when the theorist is evaluating non-human sentience and human sentience. Keeping in mind that human sentience often finds itself in the business of enduring consensual harm as a direct or indirect consequence of innumerable acts, level # 3 and level # 4 are shown to be paternalistic, and warrant firm abandonment.

This tacit paternalism is, in a nutshell, the crux of my quarrel with the Benatarian Asymmetry. The points raised in “Better Never To Have Been” are often cited as the starting point from where AntiNatalists must operate in their criticisms of Natalism. I think this is a mistake, because this line of argumentation tolerates an inferential shaky ground allowing for paternalistic measures to be taken whenever push comes to shove. The all-too-plausible internal consistency behind such measures being taken (thwarting consensual harm) is never brought to the forefront in Benatarian spheres. This prompts the Benatarian to impulsively overlook aspects of Negative Preference Utilitarianism in the form of # 7 (NTPU) and # 8 (NAPU), neither of which are the least bit chummy to Natalism. Quite irritating, these oversights.

To recap: If our conception of NU is premised on monist utilitarian grounds, its end-result is naturally Classical Negative Utilitarianism, which is unapologetically anti-pluralist and inferentially hostile to Negative Preference Utilitarianism. Despite being moulded as only taking issue with the initiation of new lives and not the continuation of already existent lives, the offerings in “Better Never To Have Been” paper over the problem of internally consistent paternalism targeting human sentience; the new elephant in the room.

Now if you’re a Moral Constructivist who happens to be a Benatarian, this criticism doesn’t have to apply to you because you can construct ample breathing room around it by supplementing value pluralism to your position. The constructivist can achieve this by designating the pluralistic NPU (# 7 or # 8) formula to human sentience, and viewing the monistic CNU (# 3 or # 4) formula as felicitous to non-human sentience.

For the strict Benatarian who favours robust Moral Realism vis-à-vis value monism, these “Initiating lives =/= Continuing lives” disclaimers should ring hollow. I wouldn’t go so far as to dub them lip service, but still, they don’t exactly follow from a dour reading of a “pain = bad” axiom. Once "pain = bad" is the lone value template, the proverbial "unsolicited painless mercy killings!" kvetching naturally re-emerges and we're back to square one. Benatar himself has been succinct from the outset about his belief that pain is bad regardless of what the sufferer makes of it, which points to a predilection for # 3 (CNTU) or # 4 (CNAU), miles away from the coordinates of # 7 (NTPU) or # 8 (NAPU).

{Update 2014-10-03: It has been pointed out to me that Benatar's expressed views face no issues of  inconsistency nor of paternalism, and that a proper reading of BNTHB demonstrates as much. I have since reread much of BNTHB and now officially retract the above remarks about disclaimers ringing hollow. They are not mere disclaimers. In the comment section of this post I will quote a few crucial passages from BNTHB showing how its author didn't paper over anything. My initial false impression stemmed from pro-asymmetry blog posts, like the one I hyperlinked four paragraphs above, which includes statements like "The qualifications "good" and "bad" refer not to some intrinsic property of the things themselves, but to their status in ethical reasoning". This type of noise overshadowed whatever recollection I had of Benatar's arguments for shunning paternalism; arguments I've not revisited since 2011. That, coupled with years of exposure to Efilists and Anti-Frustrationists citing the asymmetry as a go-to appeal for their brand of Negative Utilitarianism; staunch CNU. There is, sadly, a bombardment of CNUs flaunting the asymmetry, deducing from it "nuke the world" fixes. This had me convinced that the glove fits, so much so that I never considered reacquainting myself with BNTHB while working on this post. Due diligence; better late than never. I won't delete or alter the above four paragraphs, given the constructivism clause I sagaciously included. The paragraphs in question are still applicable to the average YouTube Benatarian who in my experience hasn't grasped the subtlety of Benatar's position. I will point out, however, that anyone who has grasped this subtlety and still sees no issues with paternalism pertaining to human sentience, has no business calling himself a Benatarian in the first place. Efilists are especially ill-suited for this title, as most of them openly endorse the view that the instant an ouch emerges, the ought is automatic. I've made a small adjustment to the below paragraph reflecting this.}

This rejection of NPU in favour of CNU is the Benatarian’s Deprivationalist's downfall, and the only time I’ve seen this schism not swept under the rug is when I personally make it a point to intervene in the otherwise clichéd discourse, which I only do once in a blue moon, since I'm not fond of repeating myself. Issues encircling “CNU vs. NPU” are salient ones in my view, yet they never even seem to register under the radar of vested Benatarians.

As an ardent advocate of NAPU, I’m left with no alternative but to write off the building blocks behind the asymmetry deprivationalism, for no reason other than its paternalistic baggage. Had Benatar swapped the presumptuous "pain = bad" axiom for the more cautious "general pain = generally bad" axiom, this paragraph would not exist, as the stumbling block of sequential paternalism would have been averted from the get-go. Granted, this paternalistic baggage is just one component of an otherwise splendid theory. It’s more like a tidbit, really, and one that doesn’t even stand to factor into anything in practice. I totally get that, but as I've stated in the past, I'm not really interested in judging utilitarian theories based on how they stand to play out in practise. Practical concerns beg for agent-centered thought experiments which carry their own traditional baggage, as the agent is always foresight-deficient.

If all agents suddenly became convinced of NAPU and actively sought to suffuse its desired orbit, many of them would be under the impression that the optimal way of accomplishing this is by treating NAPU as a behavioural guide. The task, of course, can go awfully awry, so much so that it may even incur a polar opposite global outcome, permitting enough permutations. Because of its inapplicability in the guidance department –– given a world as precarious and as volatile as ours –– NAPU is not meant to enlighten the agent on how to act in any given circumstance. The more traditional moral theorists actually believe that admissions of such unintended consequences' feasibility suggest a fatal blow against NAPU itself, but this is a nonsensical conclusion to draw as it parts ways from scrutinizing the tenor of NAPU based on its actual aspirations. This is why our ruminations on ethics need to be grounded in theoretical matters, pure and simple. This may sound like a wholesale endorsement of non-consequentialism, but a reading of my last post supplies coherence as to why it isn't. Once this catches on, the crux of my beef with Benatar’s plausibly paternalistic offerings will be clearer.

[Side note: The grievance over paternalism is not the crux, not entirely anyway, because my underlying issue with Benatar is one I can't exactly fault him for. I'm sure that in 2006, Benatar could not have foreseen how his asymmetry would serve as fodder for natal-friendly red herrings.
If one starts out conceptualizing the discord as centering on “Natalism vs. AntiNatalism” (the way a genuinely neutral party should), the Benatarian Asymmetry is indeed a diversion, because it’s possible to critique the asymmetry without defending the Natalist position in the slightest. Even I am evidence of that. This post-2006 elasticity enables Natalists –– but more so their sympathizers who pose as neutralists –– to criticize “AntiNatalism” without feeling the least bit compelled to actually defend the penchant for procreation, to say nothing of the wider penchant for parenthood (which calls for Adultism). Instead, arguments censuring the position of AntiNatalism end up resembling textbook arguments against Classical Negative Utilitarianism (# 3 or # 4). Just imagine, for a moment, how puerile my arguments against Natalism would be if they marched in lockstep with standard arguments against Classical Positive Utilitarianism (# 1 or # 2). Such an approach is not even computable, as Natalism doesn’t carry any baggage in the form of CPU, while AntiNatalism presently enjoys the CNU association, among other lazy associations. The asymmetry is to blame for this superglue. That and “Efilism”.
The number of adroit AntiNatalists who are wise to these contorted narratives is staggeringly low. Even my own readers, who acknowledged these very points the last time around, failed to fortify them a few months down the road while directly engaging pseudo-neutralists. So it’s hardly any wonder why AntiNatalism manages to be the only anti (oppositional) position in history whose critics make sense of contriving absurdities like “Anti-Anti-Natalism” in order to pretend they’re on the attack. This way, the AntiNatalistic stance is intuitively perceived as having the burden of proof squarely on its shoulders, even though it is, by definition, nothing more than a counter-propositional stance.
Hide-and-seek antics of this nature went into high gear on YouTube in 2011, with the AntiNatalist relegated to playing defense like a good little sucker; never calling foul on the "Anti-AntiNatalist" foe and always failing to point out how the double antis are mutually cancelling, thus redundant. To insist that they aren’t is to goad the AntiNatalist into returning the favour by self-identifying as an Anti-Anti-Anti-Natalist, so as to regain rightful possession of offense. If this takes effect, the discord would absurdly center on “Anti-Anti-Natalism vs. Anti-Anti-Anti-Natalism” and the two camps can just continue petulantly one-upping each other with additional antis until the cows come home. Should a simple discord on the topic of procreation be deciphered this way? The answer is a resounding no. Not if I can help it.
Sure, I’ve gone over the crypto-natalism artifice before, but it bears repeating as plenty of AntiNatalists doltishly accept noxious narratives where they’re left arguing against phantoms instead of demanding overt opposition in the form of a Natalist or a natal-sympathizer who is open about it. The dreaded asymmetry, more than anything else, has made it difficult to call shenanigans on the pseudo-neutralist.]

In keeping with the 'preference-endowed' subset of sentience (i.e. the average human), I’ll reaffirm that level # 8 is decidedly the most sensible of the bunch. NAPU offers a calculus that’s attuned to the dignity of human preferences, and thus immunizes itself to recycled noise about how 'utilitarianism' fails; one hackneyed point at a time. It's possible to convince Classical Negative Utilitarians of this, but not until they intellectually abrogate the "sentience = zero-sum" principle (assuming a good number of CNUs even subscribe to it in the first place).
In any setting alien to YouTube, it's uncontroversial to believe that a Classical Utilitarian needn’t hold sentience as a 'zero-sum game' in order to side with Classical Negative Utilitarianism over Classical Positive Utilitarianism. Even so, YouTubers who discuss ethics the most tenaciously (and redundantly) have made the zero-sum theory seem as though it's a prerequisite for NU. It isn't. I don't subscribe to it, yet I somehow manage to be steadfastly supportive of NU in the form of level # 8.

Similarly, we can grasp that a Preference Utilitarian needn’t hold that the optimal flourishing of human preferences is but a 'zero-sum game' in order to ultimately side with Negative Preference Utilitarianism (# 7 or # 8) over Positive Preference Utilitarianism (# 5 or # 6), in principle.

Oddly enough, shunning the zero-sum theory as groundwork for NU may import some lucidness insofar as how one arrives at NU; be it Classical based NU or Preference based NU. This seems highly counterintuitive at first, but hear me out.

The only way for # 8’s NAPU (or # 7’s NTPU) to pass muster is if we begin with the understanding that it is possible to categorically differentiate between positive preferences and negative preferences (dispreferences). I contend that this is doable. An example of this is the innate recognition that a preference to ride a rollercoaster on a periodic basis is different from a dispreference to not be brutally tortured in captivity on a periodic basis. Generally speaking, legalities and illegalities reinforce radiant dualities between the positive and the negative, and the segmentation poses grievous consistency woes for anyone who believes that chasing cheese is tantamount to climbing out of the dungeon; which is to say “The pursuit of the positive preference is merely a pursuit of the elimination of a pre-existing negative that cannot surpass zero”. This position is known as 'Anti-Frustrationism' in advanced circles, but I’ll refrain from calling it that in this entry due to some florid connotations overshadowing this facet of it. So I’ll just refer to it as the zero-sum theory.

In any event, consider the underdiscussed implications of the belief that optimally satisfying all preferences for several decades merely alleviates all dispreferences for several decades. A well-hidden implication is that once this is put forth, the advocate mustn’t toss the rhetoric by differentiating between positive preferences and negative preferences –– or between pleasures and pains –– even in a cavalier manner. The zero-sum apotheosis holds that all preferences belong in one pile; the deprivation pile (negative pile). You have, in effect, barred yourself off from fostering preference vs. dispreference categories, so you must hold that something as benign as a proclivity to go on a rollercoaster ride stands to bring about a smidgen of genuine “harm” if it goes unmet. But does it? It doesn’t, quite obviously. Negative Utilitarians can rebuke maxims asserting that it does, as I have done here, but by doing so the NU necessarily opens the door to the recognition that riding the rollercoaster would have resulted in an authentically positive experience; the manifestation of which isn’t predicated by sensorial deprivation. The only way around this is to explicitly take issue with the following claim:

  • Not riding rollercoasters causes no harm

Or the more general:

  • Adrenaline junkies not experiencing an adrenaline rush causes no harm

These are apodictic claims. Arguing against either of them would be unwise. Insistence to the contrary spits in the face of actual harm, flippantly promoting the sheer paradox of affirming the zero-sum theory while simultaneously belittling positive preferences.

I on the other hand can effortlessly belittle positive preferences and prioritize them below negative ones –– drawing a line in the sand between mere unmet desire and actual harm –– so long as I don’t saddle myself with contradictory “sentience = zero-sum game” starting points in the process. By welcoming those starting points one would, in turn, morph those very positive preferences (unmet desire) into negative ones (actual harm) by squeezing them all squarely “below zero”.

The only way to uniformly avoid conflating positive preferences with negative preferences is by grasping the invalidity of the zero-sum proposal. By validating such dictums, the zero-sum theorist inevitably ends up blurring the lines between oppositional preference categories, and in so doing concocts rationale for all sorts of heinous viewpoints. For instance, finding oneself at a crossroads between two viable rescue missions and choosing to rescue seven billion adrenaline-junkies from their "harmful" desire to ride rollercoasters, at the expense of not rescuing one measly person from being boiled alive, and pointing to the accumulated "harm" of the seven billion being greater than the accumulated harm of the one person, as the logic behind the decision. There is no getting around this unless one envisions a luminous barrier between the positive preference (for riding rollercoasters) and the negative preference (for not wanting to be boiled alive), and negating the former accordingly.

For my money, we can insert an infinite number of adrenaline-junkies on the positive preference side and deprive them of the rollercoaster ride. It wouldn't matter. Were I to ever find myself at such a crossroads, I'd move in the direction of the one person I can rescue from being boiled alive, rather than viewing her as a gambit in the name of a daft “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” preference-jumbled principle.

The numbers game is irrelevant under this ultimatum, because all frustration stemming from positive preferences having gone unmet doesn't constitute actual harm, and is therefore not the concern of anyone who favours # 8’s NAPU.

Regardless of how trivial or phantasmagorical a preference may be, once the zero-sum theorist denies that its fruition generates a genuinely positive (plus-sum) experience, the theorist concomitantly denies that the preference was itself of a positive format to begin with. If a preference cannot be positive, it must be negative, and is to be regarded as a fecund bringer of actual harm. Put bluntly, even the preferences of a would-be torturer who hungers for victims ought to be taken into account by the zero-sum theorist’s scaling, given the equal-opportunity indexing of harm.

Curveballs in the form of 'frustrated schadenfreude' or 'frustrated sadism' are not impediments for those of us who reject the zero-sum theory, because narcissistic cravings along these lines fall into the domain of positive preferences (# 5 or # 6) as the miscreant derives positive mental states by following through on them. The very definitions of 'schadenfreude' and 'sadism' support this. Negative Preference Utilitarians are not concerned with maximizing any such positive preferences. Our lone concern is the abatement of negative preferences.
I actually believe that this can be extended all the way to Classical Negative Utilitarianism (non-preference based utilitarianism). Suppose the points I just made are dreck and that sentience is in fact a zero-sum game. If this is true, there is no point in dividing up pains and pleasures, as pleasures are nothing but pains subsiding in a transitory manner. The word “pleasure” would itself be a linguistic non-starter, much in the way “free will” is a misnomer to hard determinists and hard incompatibilists. Ergo labelling oneself a 'Negative Utilitarian' would be superfluous as there can be no such thing as positive utilitarianism in the first place. There are only different strands of pain depletion, like saving one person from being boiled alive versus saving one person from her frustrated desire to ride a rollercoaster, and prioritizing the former above the latter based on the ensuing magnitude of harm.

The mere idea of "saving" someone from their unmet desire to ride rollercoasters would still be internally permissible though, despite it being paternalism overload. This is why the prudent Utilitarian should shun Classical Negative Utilitarianism (# 3 or # 4) in favour of Negative Preference Utilitarianism (# 7 or # 8).
(Note that the prototypical Classical Negative Utilitarian outside of YouTube should be given enough credit as understanding how a denied rollercoaster ride is not a form of actual harm. The zero-sum theory is not essential to arriving at CNU.)

The grounded ethicist should only promote rescuing people from actual harm or from exposure to potentially non-consensual harm via Natalism. Frustrated desire does not fall into this sensory bracket, otherwise the half-baked arguments made by Incels about their sexual 'oppression' would actually make sense, as sexual inactivity would indeed be considered an actual harm. This is ludicrous. Virginity does not beget what’s commonly and sensibly referred to as harm. If you’re itching to see the non-colloquial 'hedonist' label to go the way of the dodo (as I am), you can't go around portraying things like celibacy and sobriety as bringers of actual harm. You might beg to differ, but before you know it statements like "I've been plagued by the unforgiving sweet-tooth! Oh the horror!" will no longer smack of hyperbole. Such claims aren’t meant to be taken at face value because snacking on a chocolate bar amounts to actual pleasure. It’s crucial to parse the intricacy of this so as to recognize the core of plus-sum denialism.

[Side note: Proponents of # 3's CNTU or # 4's CNAU do see a tactical need to set boundaries between pains and pleasures, in an informal way, given the wavelength of a world filled with intrepid risk-junkies, adventurists, triumphalists, survivalists, familialists and other life-affirmers whose underlying goal is to perpetuate sentience at any cost. Point is, any terminological division of “pains vs. pleasures” is but a technicality for the mission-driven CNU who also believes that sentience at best only amounts to “zero”.
As with most everything else, devising a sound strategy for persuasion is their end-goal, even if the ransom for it ends up costing them whatever shred of epistemic clarity they had to start with. Enter “Theorist vs. Rhetorician” broils where the dispassionate theorist is always left in the dust, as the rhetorician inches closer to mass appeal; utilizing methods like infotainment.
We shouldn't expect anything nobler from people who believe that ethics are best discussed in an “off-the-cuff” oratorical manner rather than in cold hard text. One method places the arguer front and center (a recipe for tangential discursion and click-baity drama), the other method conceals as much about the arguer as humanly possible (making room for ratiocination). A quick way of verifying this is to glance at the titles of blog posts in the blogosphere, and compare them to the titles of YouTube videos dabbling in ethics/civics/politics/economics. The first bundle's titles will contain isms and technicalities, only seldomly invoking screen names of other users with contrasting ideologies. The YouTube bundle's titles will accentuate the username of the opponent spouting the disagreeable argument, and in doing so shifting our attentional energies away from the isms and technicalities.]

Persistent disputers of the entire utility compass may believe that # 8’s NAPU, while a few notches above its inferiors, is nevertheless still guilty of viewing the individual as "a means to an end" rather than an end onto himself/herself. This is ultimately a ruse as one can deduce roughly the same “means vs. ends” split with most non-utilitarian moral systems to date, with the exception of ethical egoism. Kantian Deontology springs to mind, as its desired trajectory superimposes fixed duties onto the individual without raising any fuss over individuals who aren’t peachy keen about it. In what way does The Categorical Imperative pass as not viewing disinclined egoists as “a means to an end” any more than the disinclined egoists under NAPU? Both systems’ aspiring trajectories demand certain things of the egoist that ethical egoism will not demand. These prima facie obligations aim to alter the egoist’s inclination to a lifetime of nothing but self-indulgent considerations, reducing all egoists to “a means” all the same. This can be corroborated regardless of whether we're discussing the motives or consequences of the egoist as a moral agent. Suggesting that a “motives-only” clause absolves deontology of “means” indictments is a cute form of special pleading. The only way for a moral system to get a full pass on the “means vs. ends” derailment, is by extolling selfishness full-throttle. Emphasis on "means vs. ends" targeting NAPU in exclusivity is just question-begging.

If you view Kantian Deontology as a moral system that has no interest in divesting the individual of comfy egocentricity, you’ve (1) not grasped Kantian Deontology, likely confusing it with Deontological Propertarianism, or (2) you’ve grasped it, were charmed by it, and are now trying to make it immune to criticism from all angles, likely because you’re a dogmatist on this issue.

As an aside, if we posit that gradating between trivial negative preferences and non-trivial negative preferences is doable, then my idiosyncratic formulation of NAPU would only aspire to have individuals used as a means to an end in select cases targeting the minimization of non-trivial negative preferences. Admittedly, this would be an ad hoc version of NAPU. It would still strive to minimize trivial negative preferences, just not under instances where the task interferes with individuals whose own agendas are inharmonious with it. I understand that the distinctions between what makes for a trivial negative preference versus a non-trivial negative preference will not always be clear cut. This paragraph is not intended to convince non-utilitarians to view formal NAPU as being less culpable of using individuals as "a means" in comparison to any other non-egoist ethical system. It's just something that I think warrants mentioning.

This leaves us with the "Total Utilitarianism vs. Average Utilitarianism" disputation cornerstone (TU vs. AU). I won't harp on this one too much, because it's the longest running one and because my reasons for why AU’s per capita tally is superior to TU’s net-equation tally have already been regurgitated in pretty much every post I’ve done over the last two years. That said, my antipathy towards TU has not simmered down by any stretch.

Given that we’ve already arrived at a type of Negative Utilitarianism in NPU –– in lieu of worrying about the maximization of positive preferences, pleasure, or happiness –– the orbit of AU's per capita metric will be conducive to eliminating individual bouts of non-trivial harm in tandem with non-trivial negative preferences. TU on the other hand is disturbingly content with gearing its plane of focus towards the minimization of uncountable dispersed cases of trivial harm, all of which fail to take into account the separateness of persons. Since AU’s measurement of wellbeing is person-oriented, it will be more swayed by the outliers compared to the aggregative measurements of TU. Thus the more egalitarian AU scaling is predicative of outcomes that tolerate fewer individuals being boiled alive (so as to thwart disutility in the aggregate) compared to its TU rival.

In other words, Total Utilitarians are willing to crack as many eggs as it takes in order to make the best possible omelet, whereas Average Utilitarians are less concerned with the omelet as an end product, and place more value on ensuring that the fewest number of eggs are cracked as possible, despite knowing that such a priority will undoubtedly deter the quality of the omelet. The analogy simply uses eggs as a placeholder for individual sentient beings, with the omelet representing net benefits. Enter Negative Average Utilitarians like myself, who do not accept sacrificing a single egg to the omelet making endeavour. If the outcome is an eggless omelet which tastes worse –– or no omelet at all –– so be it.

It can be argued that the last two sentences are somewhat of an overkill in that they resemble the aims of Negative Prioritarianism more so than the aims of Negative Average Utilitarianism. This rings true if we're boxed into judging the variance based solely on what might be extrapolated from unabridged applications of Negative Average Utilitarianism in 2014, in an uncontrolled environment on a planet with as many sentient beings as the one we inhabit. Be that as it may, I must stress that a Negative Prioritarian's unwillingness to crack a single egg, while not 100% congruent with Negative Average Utilitarianism in the here and now, is nonetheless plenty less congruent with Negative Total Utilitarianism. Whatever variables exist between Negative Prioritarianism and NAU are marginal in comparison to the substantial variables between NTU and NAU (to say nothing of the variables that exist between NTU and Negative Prioritarianism).

Some ethicists may be tempted to include "Act Utilitarianism vs. Rule Utilitarianism" as yet another cornerstone of dissention engulfed by the utilitarian spectrum. I see no point in adding "Act vs. Rule" because those issues only have relevance if we're forced to deal with agent-centered thought experiments as opposed to comparative 'global outcome' hypotheticals. As mentioned earlier in this post, posing dilemmas to individual moral agents misses the mark, as all schools of utilitarianism shouldn't be thought of as behavioural manuals to begin with. The moment we replace 'global outcome' hypotheticals for agent-centred predicaments, we’re fazed with endless pragmatic difficulties stemming from agents not being prognosticators. Every agent lacks the ability to foresee unintended consequences, in addition to being incapable of measuring differences in individuals’ pain thresholds (so as to apply them in deeply convoluted interpersonal harm-exchange contexts). This, while true, is a sly topic-changer in my book, about as relevant as the fact that we will never be able to figure out exactly how many grains of sand exist on this planet. Our perpetual inability to answer this question in no way suggests that a concrete numeric answer to “How many grains of sand are there on planet earth?” doesn’t exist.

Moreover, unlike the three disputation cornerstones listed at the top, "Act vs. Rule" can be dropped on account of the "Two-Level Utilitarianism" resolution, encapsulating its obsolescence even more in 2014.


By now it should be clear that a conscientious Utilitarian will have a hellacious love/hate relationship with the utilitarian landscape, eliciting rightful trepidation to ever self-identify as a non-layered 'Utilitarian' free of qualifications.

If held at gunpoint and forced to rely on just one system to resolve all incoming value-laced dilemmas, my vote goes to # 8’s NAPU. My decision remains unaltered even if the range of ethical systems to choose from is limitless, rather than confined to the 'utilitarian' diapason. So in that sense, I am friendlier to a single type of 'Utilitarianism' than I am to any other unitary system of ethics.

Going back to the three cornerstones of internal dissension, the NAPU culminations I’ve argued for can be envisioned as: 

Total Utilitarianism < Average Utilitarianism

Positive Utilitarianism < Negative Utilitarianism

Classical Utilitarianism < Preference Utilitarianism

This post targeted Total Utilitarians, Positive Utilitarians and Classic Utilitarians. These are the people I’d like to sway or be swayed by.

As things stand, the aggregative metrics of Total Utilitarianism can be disastrous for an unlucky few individuals in outlier scenarios where they conflict with and subvert the per capita metrics of Average Utilitarianism. 

I have no patience for Positive Utilitarianism whenever it interferes with Negative Utilitarianism, which is almost always seeing as we’re underscoring sentience-as-a-package-deal in the here and now. 

Finally, my issues with Classic Utilitarianism stem from its monism, which makes me side with the pluralism of Preference Utilitarianism once human sentience enters the fray.

By ascribing one set of NU (CNTU or CNAU) to all non-human species and another set of NU (NAPU or NTPU) to humanity, it may appear that the partitioning is intended to violate sentiocentrism. This is not so, as CNU varies from NPU only in its inability to safeguard negative preferences. All four NUs (# 3, # 4, # 7, # 8) are still sentiocentric, even in the face of this dissimilarity.

If you can think of any drawbacks to Negative Average Preference Utilitarianism that haven't been covered in this entry, let me know and I'll address them in future posts.