The Moral Evil of Aging to Death

The author quoted here has written a number of interesting posts on aspects of philosophical thinking pertinent to rejuvenation biotechnology and the goal of bringing an end to the pain and suffering caused by aging. While from my position I see that no more justification is needed for working to greatly lengthen healthy life spans than the fact that some of us want to do it, and that it will make the world a better place for all if successful, there are always those who want more of a story than that. There is of course a small mountain of literature that does indeed go far beyond my brief motivations, but I suspect that this is the case because writing and thinking is easy. Building new technology is much harder, and so, inevitably, there is far more discussion than action for rejuvenation research, just as is the case for every challenging form of human endeavor.

A friend recently recommended a paper by Davide Sisto entitled "Moral Evil or Sculptor of the Living? Death and the Identity of the Subject". Unfortunately I was slightly underwhelmed. While it does contain an interesting metaphor - namely: that we should view death as a valuable 'sculptor' of our identities - it presents this metaphor in a way that bothers me. It presents it as part of critique of the contemporary (transhumanist) view of death as a biological problem that can be solved with the right the technological fix. Indeed, it tries to suggest that those who favour radical life extension are beholden to an absurd metaphysics of death. Now, to the extent that certain transhumanists believe we can achieve a genuine immortality - i.e. an existence free from all prospect of death - I might be inclined to agree that there is something absurd in their views. But I'm not convinced that this fairly represents the views of anti-ageing gurus like Aubrey de Grey. I think they have a much more modest, and I would suggest sensible, view: that human life can be prolonged far beyond the current limits without thereby causing us to lose something of tremendous value to our sense of self.

Ostensibly, Sisto's paper attempts to contrast two views of death. The first view of death is the one that has now started to dominate in the secular, medicalised world. It is the view of death as something that is part of the current natural order. When Christianity dominated the western world, death was viewed as a consequence of original sin. As the Christian view slowly receded into the background, it was replaced by a biological and medical view of death. Death was a consequence of the current natural order - an unfortunate result of biological decay. Our cells slowly degrade and denature themselves. The degradation eventually reaches a critical point at which our metabolically maintained homeostasis breaks down. This results in our deaths (though the precise markers of biological death are somewhat disputed - 'brain death' is the currently preferred view). This naturalised view of death is very different from the old Christian ideal, closely joined to something that the bioethicist Daniel Callahan calls 'technological monism', the belief that everything in the world is, in principle if not in fact, within the reach of our technology. Technological monism suggests that death is not a fixed and immutable feature of our existence. It is something we can - with the right kind of intervention - prevent. We can slow down and reverse our biological ageing. We can preserve our identities for longer than we previously hoped. This 'technologised' view of the world lends support to the belief that death is a moral evil: it is something within our power to fix, and hence we are, morally speaking, on the hook for allowing it to continue.

There is much more in Sisto's discussion of the 'death as moral evil' view, but I think the preceding summary captures the gist. The main argumentative thrust of Sisto's paper comes from the contrast he draws between this view and his own preferred view of 'death as a sculptor'. The essence of this view is that death is not separable from life contrary to what the technological monists want to believe. They want to have a life without death. But this is not possible. Death is a necessary part of life as a whole. It is what gives shape, direction and, above all else, a sense of identity to life. Sisto explains this symbolic idea by reference to the biological process of apoptosis, or programmed cell death. This is a highly regulated biological process whereby cells within an organisms body will kill themselves off when they are no longer necessary for some particular tissue. Sisto makes this example do a lot of work. He argues that the apoptotic process is essential to biological life; that it is what gives the organism its unique identity. He believes that this supports his contention that life and death are inseparable. Death is built into the biological process of being alive. Once you die, your life becomes characterised by the path you took through the space of possible choices. This path contains all your accomplishments and failures, all your loves and losses, all your aspirations and fears. It effectively constitutes your identity. Without death, this lifeline would lose its unique identity. If you had infinite time to play around in, you could travel back down some other paths; take routes through life that you hadn't taken before. Death - the end of choice-making - is what sculpts you from the void of possibilities. I find this metaphor to be very evocative. It really does give you an interesting perspective on the nature of death. But I don't think it is as interesting and useful as Sisto supposes.

Link: http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.ca/2016/07/is-death-sculptor-of-life-or-evil-to-be.html

Comments

One can contrast two views of rape. The first view of rape is the one that has now started to dominate in the world. It is the view of rape as something that is part of the current social order. If you live in society, you will be sometime raped. Rape is a consequence of the current social order - an unfortunate result of sexual desire.

This socialized view of rape is very different from the old ideal, closely joined to something that the someone calls 'policial monism', the belief that everything in the society is, in principle if not in fact, within the reach of our police. Policial monism suggests that rape is not a fixed and immutable feature of our existence. It is something we can - with the right kind of intervention - prevent. We can slow down and reverse the rape statistics. We can preserve our sexual integrity for longer than we previously hoped. This 'policized' view of the world lends support to the belief that rape is a moral evil: it is something within our power to fix, and hence we are, morally speaking, on the hook for allowing it to continue.

There is much more in the pro-rape discussion of the 'rape as moral evil' view, but I think the preceding summary captures the gist. The main argumentative thrust of the pro-rape paper comes from the contrast he draws between this view and his own preferred view of 'rape as a sculptor'. The essence of this view is that rape is not separable from life contrary to what the policial monists want to believe. They want to have a life without rape. But this is not possible. Rape is a necessary part of life as a whole. It is what gives shape, direction and, above all else, a sense of identity to life. He explains this symbolic idea by reference to the biological process of infection, when a virus forcedly procreates using a host cell. This is a highly regulated biological process whereby viruses enter an organisms body and will rape all the cells in some particular tissue. The author makes this example do a lot of work. He argues that the infection process is essential to biological life; that it is what gives the organism its unique adaptavility, through horizontal gene transfer. He believes that this supports his contention that life and rape are inseparable. Rape is built into the biological process of evolution. Once you are infected, you have the posibility to evolve into a new species.

I find this metaphor to be very evocative. It really does give you an interesting perspective on the nature of rape. But I don't think it is as interesting and useful as he supposes.

Posted by: Antonio at August 29th, 2016 9:26 AM

Your example works even better given that Anglo feminists who have been under forcible amorous intents call themselves « rape 'survivors' ».

If for argument's sake you re-use their self-decribed lingo, it means that whilst rape is a necessary part of life as a whole, it is indeed possible to survive it.

Thus, the multiple microrapes happening daily within our body are not meant to threaten our lives - they only serve our sustainance. Rape is built into the biological process of survival. And we are not to accept rape in any other context, for it would be a malignant deviation of its sole commendable purpose.

Posted by: Spede at August 29th, 2016 11:04 AM

I'm always amazed at the number of otherwise intelligent, well-educated people who think a metaphor is an argument.

Posted by: gwood at August 29th, 2016 11:30 AM

"Once you die, your life becomes characterised by the path you took through the space of possible choices. This path contains all your accomplishments and failures, all your loves and losses, all your aspirations and fears. It effectively constitutes your identity. Without death, this lifeline would lose its unique identity."

What do they mean by "identity," and how does it affect how much I enjoy my life now if I'm a nobody? In my experience, ice cream tastes the same regardless if I feel worthy of living or not. I still enjoy ice cream, so I'd like to continue living for as long as possible please.

"The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic, as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves." -Alan Watts

Posted by: Eric at August 29th, 2016 1:32 PM

Davide Sisto seems to be quite the cheery fellow.
20 papers on a deathist thematic penned by him at this point and counting.

You have to wonder what kind of person sits down to write 20 papers glorifying death. And whether his mental well-being is intact or not.

Posted by: Anonymoose at August 29th, 2016 6:23 PM

To be fair, Reason has spent more than a decade glorifying health... quite the (healthy) obsession :D

Posted by: Spede at August 29th, 2016 7:40 PM

Put a gun to the heads of these pro-death idiots(or their loved ones heads) and I bet almost all of them would collapse and beg for their lives. Give them (or their loved ones) cancer and I bet almost all of them would spend whatever necessary amounts of time, effort and money were required to cure the cancer. Many people who "merely" experience the imminent threat of death like this, but who survive it, are left with chronic trauma-related problems as a result. The reality is that most people who claim that death is good/desirable are just deluding themselves. When it comes to the crunch their delusions crumble.

Posted by: Anon at August 30th, 2016 5:50 AM

''We can slow down and reverse the rape statistics. We can preserve our sexual integrity for longer than we previously hoped. This 'policized' view of the world lends support to the belief that rape is a moral evil: it is something within our power to fix, and hence we are, morally speaking, on the hook for allowing it to continue.''

We have to 'differentiate/nuance' the sense of that term.

Sexual 'rape' : Not ok and is a moral utter evil. Animals continuously rape each other - because they are 'wild' animals with no human-like conscience caring to wether that raped victim conscented (moral conscience of repercussions/conséquences of the vile act, we distinguish good from bad, they don't, for them it's 'pure sexual survival - hence you see some lion rape a lioness wether she like's it or not - but that specie is surviving perfectly, ''thanks'' to that raping male lion). We, as human, Evolved 'away' from that with 'emotions' feelings', we Evolved 'self-control' laws/dignity for respect and equality, the famous 'eye-for-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth, a life for a life' law (murder and rapes, you kill you must die, you rape you must die or get raped), even those old laws we are getting away from them. As we don't believe anymore in commiting the ultimate sins (murder and rape).

Biological 'rape' : Is not the same thing at all, that is very 'symbolic' (and bad), yes it is a form of that, but there's not conscience whatsoever, it's just a godly 'program' in operation (though pretty ungodly for doing that), a 'raping' program if you will.
There is Nothing beautiful about it, it is a requirement for existence, but we can'T compare it to the senseless act of sexual rape; there is so much wrong in this. Nowawadays, human rapists (not talking about other animals) get away with wrist slaps; when rape is now considered equal to murder - you did not terminate the life of someone but you 'took away' their dignity/integrity, their very soul with that act - as such it is Worse than death/murder.
So rapists can face death/be killed just like murderers, equally. Humans, have the capacity to control sexual urge and make the libido inhibited (it's not about holding yourself, it's about controling yourself to respect someone if they conscented to sex or not, thus respect them and their Citizen law rights). It's extremely vile crapulous act, just like Killing (check in the bible, for people who believe, or check in law books people who believe (or not) in justice).

Posted by: CANanonymity at August 30th, 2016 2:30 PM

PS:

Rape : Competition (virus who infect, cancer cells fight and 'take over'), a lion who rapes a lioness, a man who fights and rapes a woman who refuses and fights him to the death. Society damage and suffering.

No rape : Cooperation (cells who work together to destroy virus and cancer) a man who as a law-abiding Citizen respects women and when they give consent to sexual act with them. Society harmony and prospering. That king lion (male) can continue to rape, but we don't work like that as homo sapiens, we can make it work - without that element (we are the proof, that species survival can survive with more cooperation than competition).

Posted by: CANanonymity at August 30th, 2016 2:42 PM

Let us realize why seemingly intelligent people can have opposing views on the same subject:
Perhaps, on the one hand, it has to do with a certain type of egocentric mindset favoring self-aggrandizement,as in 'I am oh so clever', versus the intellect that favors accomplishment. Philosophy may have a place; although it is usually practiced while sitting down. The only people who obviously have the courage of their convictions on the issue of the desirability of death- are those who have committed suicide. The rest will (as suggested in a previous post) go dragged while kicking and screaming. The doers will prevail in this life and death struggle, precisely because they are doers- and the naysayers will function as mere (hot air) obstacles along the way.

Posted by: Jack Magne at September 4th, 2016 11:29 AM

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