Thanks for such a detailed and insightful response Gregory.
Your archetypal classical utilitarian is also committed to the OC as ‘large increase in suffering for one individual’ can be outweighed by a large enough number of smaller decreases in suffering for others—aggregation still applies to negative numbers for classical utilitarians. So the negative view fares better as the classical one has to bite one extra bullet.
Thanks for pointing this out. I think I realised this extra bullet biting after making the post.
There’s also the worry in a pairwise comparison one might inadvertently pick a counterexample for one ‘side’ that turns the screws less than the counterexample for the other one.
This makes a lot of sense, and not something I’d considered at all and seems pretty important when playing counterxample-intuition-tennis.
By my lights, it seems better to have some procedure for picking and comparing cases which isolates the principle being evaluated. Ideally, the putative counterexamples share counterintuitive features both theories endorse, but differ in one is trying to explore the worst case that can be constructed which the principle would avoid, whilst the other the worst case that can be constructed with its inclusion.
Again, this feels really useful and something I want to think about further.
The typical worry of the (absolute) negative view itself is it fails to price happiness at all—yet often we’re inclined to say enduring some suffering (or accepting some risk of suffering) is a good deal at least at some extreme of ‘upside’.
I think my slight negative intuition comes from that fact that although I may be willing to endure some suffering for some upside, I wouldn’t endorse inflicting suffering (or risk or suffering) on person A for some upside for person B. I don’t know how much work the differences of fairness personal identity (i.e. the being that suffered gets the upside) between the examples are doing, and it what direction my intuition is ‘less’ biased.
Yet with this procedure, we can construct a much worse counterexample to the negative view than the OC—by my lights, far more intuitively toxic than the already costly vRC. (Owed to Carl Shulman). Suppose A is a vast but trivially-imperfect utopia—Trillions (or googleplexes, or TREE(TREE(3))) lives lives of all-but-perfect bliss, but for each enduring an episode of trivial discomfort or suffering (e.g. a pin-prick, waiting a queue for an hour). Suppose Z is a world with a (relatively) much smaller number of people (e.g. a billion) living like the child in Omelas
I like this example a lot! and definitely lean A > Z.
Reframing the situation, and my intuition becomes less clear: considering A’, in which TREE(TREE(3))) lives are in perfect bliss, but there are also TREE(TREE(3))) beings that monetarily experience a single pinprick before ceasing to to exist. This is clearly equivalent to A in the axiology but my intuition is less clear (if at all) that A’ > Z. As above, I’m unsure how much work personal identity is doing. In my mind, I find population ethics easier to think about by considering ‘experienced moments’ rather than individuals.
(This axiology is also anti-egalitarian (consider replacing half the people in A with half the people in Z) …
Thanks for pointing out the error. I think think I’m right in saying that the ‘welfare capped by 0’ axiology is non-anti-egalitarian, which I conflated with absolute NU in my post (which is anti-egalitarian as you say). The axiologies are much more distinct than I originally thought.