Thursday, November 10, 2022

The interpersonal Satan's Apple

Consider a moral interpersonal version of Satan’s Apple: infinitely many people independently choose whether to give a yummy apple to a (different) hungry child, and if infinitely many choose to do so, some calamity happens to everyone, a calamity outweighing the hunger the child suffers. You’re one of the potential apple-givers and you’re not hungry yourself. The disaster strikes if and only if infinitely many people other than you give an apple. Your giving an apple makes no difference whatsoever. So it seems like you should give the apple to the child. After all, you relieve one child’s hunger, and that’s good whether or not the calamity happens.

Now, we deontologists are used to situations where a disaster happens because one did the right thing. That’s because consequences are not the only thing that counts morally, we say. But in the moral interpersonal Satan’s Apple, there seems to be no deontology in play. It seems weird to imagine that disaster could strike because everyone did what was consequentialistically right.

One way out is causal finitism: Satan’s Apple is impossible, because the disaster would have infinitely many causes.


SMatthewStolte said...

If causal finitism is the solution, then it is at least a little interesting that the domain of moral obligations is smaller than the logically possible even though it extends beyond the physically possible. (I’m taking it as given that causal finitism doesn’t just follow from the PNC.)

Actually, now that I think about it, is causal finitism a solution? Let's grant that it is impossible for one effect to have infinitely many causes. Assume I am ignorant about this fact. It surely isn’t impossible for me to intend to do something that I mistakenly believe to be such a cause. And won’t that mistaken belief generate a similar paradox?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Interesting. Mistaken belief can generate the belief that you are IN the paradox, but it doesn't seem to generate the paradox itself. For it's not going to be true that everyone doing the right thing (feeding hungry children) results in disaster, just that we think it will.

Kritsch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kritsch said...

"Your giving an apple makes no difference whatsoever."

And yet the previous proposition of that "interpersonal Satan's Apple" suggests otherwise to be the case, such that you giving an apple MIGHT make a difference WHATSOEVER.
Hm. I guess, that this nonsensical intuition comes from the false presupposition of "causal finitism".
So don't wonder if you giving an apple might make a difference whatsoever, such that you might find that apple of yours in the hands of a hungry child sitting behind bars alone or separated from his or her parents behind bars.

Besides that, one might change the past. Well, not the past of your own timeline. But if there are multiple similar timelines, then one might be able to jump from one to another one, such that a change in the other timeline doesn't alter anything in the previous timeline, like in Dragon Ball.
One might call this phenomenon of multiple timelines independent or branching timelines to be the "multiverse". Just a suggestion of mine.