Monthly Archives: November 2011

On the Existence of Private Sensations

This is a first draft of a paper I’m writing this semester for Gillian Russell’s proseminar on analytic philosophy. Feedback is welcome.


I think it is uncontroversial that most philosophers believe mental events like sensations are private. In this paper I will investigate the extent to which this claim is true. Borrowing from Wittgenstein, I will show by way of thought experiment that sensations are not private in the sense usually reserved for the term by philosophers. If the thought experiment is conceivable and my interpretation of it is plausible, then the concept of absolute privacy will have to be rejected and replaced with the concept of practical privacy. Moreover, it is not just our folk concept of privacy which will be under scrutiny, but rather, the very existence of absolutely private sensations will come into question. It is my view that the thought experiment establishes, not just that the concept of absolutely private sensations is problematic, but that there actually are no such things as absolutely private sensations. The reason the concept of absolute privacy is problematic is because it doesn’t correspond to anything in reality. This does not mean that laypersons will stop believing in the concept of privacy after hearing these arguments. Many generations will have to pass before our lay concepts of privacy will implicitly and explicitly reflect my debunking of absolute privacy. But by showing that absolutely privacy does not exist, I will argue that it is best if we try to reject the idea of absolute privacy. However, it is undeniable that we will, as a matter of convenience and habit, often slip back into familiar ways of thinking in terms of absolute privacy.

Absolute privacy: what is it?

Although it is ultimately an empirical question whether laypersons really believe this, I take it for granted that something like the concept of absolute privacy concerning sensations is well entrenched in how the folk think about their own mental lives, as well as reinforced by most philosophers. Absolute privacy is the idea that only I have access to my sensations and it is impossible that someone else could share my sensations. When I burn my finger and feel the throbbing sensations of pain, the thesis of absolute privacy states that only I have access to the phenomenal content of painfulness. Although it is possible for other people to infer that I am in pain on the basis of the observation of publically available data (such as taking an aspirin or saying “Ouch!”), I do not have to infer that I am in pain, I simply know it noninferentially. The essential idea behind the concept of absolute privacy is that what-it-is-like for a subject to feel sensations can only be known by the individual subject, and no one else. As Hilary Putnam as argued [reference], there could be a race of Spartans who privately feel the sensation of pain while exercising great willpower in inhibiting all external behavioral indications that they are in pain.

The thought experiment

Now I will demonstrate why there are no absolutely private sensations. Imagine the human race has continued evolving at its current rate of technological acceleration for the next million years. Above all these future humans have developed their techniques of robotic neurosurgery to the point of utter sophistication. One of the most popular recreational pursuits in this far-future society is neurosplicing. The basic idea can be illustrated as follows. Take Subject A and B and place them side-by-side on operating tables. The robotic surgeons then take Subject A’s wrist and open it up such that all the nerves are exposed. The surgeons then take specially designed wires and place splitters on each of A’s nerves such that the nerve signals going from wrist to brain are perfectly copied and sent down the wires. The wires are now attached to B’s nervous system in such a way as to mimic the input pattern of A’s hand nerves into A’s central nervous system. Now that the operation is complete, the robots begin to stroke A’s hand with a feather. Here’s the crux: what does B feel when A’s hand is stroked? Is A’s sensation of being stroked shared by B? If so, what does this show about the nature of absolute privacy?

There are multiple ways to interpret the thought experiment. One way is to continue to insist that what A feels can only be felt by A and that A’s privacy has not been violated despite the neurosplicing. This interpretation is supported by the claim that in order for it to be the exact same sensation there would not just have to be an identical input pattern, but an identical way of processing that input. So it might be said that although B had a very similar input to his central nervous system, B doesn’t know what A actually felt because they don’t have similar central nervous systems. Accordingly, A and B bring all the weight of their differing neural histories to bear on their interpretation of the input of the feather stroke. So the mere fact of being spliced into A’s nerve inputs is not enough for B to know what-it-is-like for A to be tickled.

Another interpretation is to say that the thought experiment shows that sensations cannot be absolutely private. This is the interpretation I prefer. In order to show that A’s sensations are not absolutely private, we only need to tweak the parameters of the thought experiment. The wrist-nerve splicing case is rather simple compared to what the far-future robotic surgeons are really capable of. So whereas it might be thought that simple mental events like tickling sensations could be shared, more complex, global mental states like having a headache must be absolutely private. To show why this is not necessarily true, now consider that the robots are capable of not just mimicking peripheral nervous system patterns, but cortical activity itself. Assuming a weak modularity of the mind, it should be trivial for the robotic surgeons to implant artificial cortical modules that are capable of replicating the precise input-output activity of the real biological cortical modules. Now assume the module is a perceptual module. Stroking A’s hand now generates an identical cortical pattern in B’s head that corresponds to the module-activity in A’s head.

Are we still warranted in claiming that A’s tickling sensation is private? I believe that the similarity is enough to overcome absolute privacy because the question of whether B’s sensation is identical to A’s sensation is irrelevant to the question of whether A’s sensation is absolutely private. It could be the case that precisely what-it-is-like to be A is different from precisely what-it-is-like to be B in virtue of idiosyncrasies in their central nervous system. If A and B’s central nervous system were exactly alike except for the difference of a single neuron, would what-it-is-like to be A be different from what-it-is-like to be B? If what-it-is-likeness supervenes on the physical components, then it seems like there is a difference in what-it-is-likeness despite there being a difference of only one neuron.

But is this difference enough to show that A’s sensation is absolutely private? I don’t think this follows. The concept of privacy is often discussed in terms of informational access. The idea is that if I have a headache, only I have direct access to that headache. Other people might be able to infer that I have a headache on the basis of me taking an aspirin or saying something like “I have a headache”. But if in the nerve-splicing scenario A’s cortex becomes wired into B’s cortex, it seems plausible that B could directly know whether A is having a headache without having to make an explicit inference. So the question of whether B’s experience of A’s headache is identical to the A’s experience of their headache is irrelevant to the question of whether B has to explicitly infer that A is having a headache. I think it is plausible that given enough time to adapt to A’s cortical patterns, B could noninferentially know that A is having a headache simply in virtue of being wired into A’s cortex in the right way.

Wittgenstein’s thought experiment

I propose that this anti-absolute privacy interpretation of the thought experiment is a good way of understanding some of the remarks Wittgenstein made in regards to sensory privacy. In fact, a simpler version of the thought experiment can be found in the Blue Book:

One might in this case argue that the pains are mine because they are felt in my head; but suppose I and someone else had a part of our bodies in common, say a hand. Imagine the nerves and tendons of my arm and A’s connected to this hand by an operation. Now imagine the hand stung by a wasp. Both of us cry, contort our faces, give the same description of the pain, etc. Now are we to say we have the same pain or different ones? If in such a case you say: “We feel pain in the same place, in the same body, our descriptions tally, but still my pain can’t be his”, I suppose as a reason you will be inclined to say: “because my pain is my pain and his pain is his pain”. And here you are making a grammatical statement about the use of such a phrase as “the same pain”. You say that you don’t wish to apply the phrase, “he has got my pain” or “we both have the same pain”, and instead, perhaps, you will apply such a phrase as “his pain is exactly like mine”. (It would be no argument to say that the two couldn’t have the same pain because one might anaesthetize or kill one of them while the other still felt pain.) Of course, if we exclude the phrase “I have his toothache” from our language, we thereby also exclude “I have (or feel) my toothache”. Another form of our metaphysical statement is this: “A man’s sense data are private to himself”. And this way of expressing it is even more misleading because it looks still more like an experiential proposition; the philosopher who says this may well think that he is expressing a kind of scientific truth. (Wittgenstein, 1958, p. 54-55)

When Wittgenstein suggests that this thought experiment undermines the metaphysical statement “A man’s sense data are private to himself”, I suggest that Wittgenstein is talking about absolute privacy, not practical privacy. This interpretation also helps to make sense out of some cryptic remarks in the Philosophical Investigations. Consider ¶253:

In so far as it makes sense to say that my pain is the same as his, it is also possible for us both to have the same pain. (And it would also be imaginable for two people to feel pain in the same – not just the corresponding – place. That might be the case with Siamese twins, for instance.)

It is important that we distinguish two different interpretations of Wittgenstein’s remark about privacy “making sense”. On the stronger reading, we might see Wittgenstein as arguing that there actually isn’t any such phenomena as a private sensation. On the weaker reading, we might see Wittgenstein as arguing that the concept of sensory privacy is somehow problematic or confused. I suggest that Wittgenstein makes the weaker claim about concepts because there is no such thing as absolute privacy, as established by considerations such as the nerve-splicing thought experiment. If the thought experiment shows that there is no such thing as absolute privacy, then it is reasonable to ask us to update our concept of privacy to account for this. The concept of absolute privacy needs to be rejected precisely because it does not latch onto any corresponding fact.

Accordingly, it would be wrong to interpret Wittgenstein as arguing that we don’t actually have a concept of absolute privacy. I believe Wittgenstein thinks we do have such a concept. What I think Wittgenstein is doing in Philosophical Investigations is trying to show that this concept is not based on any kind of corresponding metaphysical fact about the absolute privacy of sensations, but rather, is only a product of a language game based on the realities of practical privacy. The story then goes like this: because of practical privacy, humans developed the language game of absolute privacy. Once the language game got going and sufficiently established in our ways of speaking, philosophers became convinced of the truth of absolute privacy as a metaphysical statement. But once we realize that all we possess is practical privacy, we should no longer affirm the truth of metaphysical statements about absolute privacy.

It is an empirical question as to whether humans will ever be able to implicitly give up belief in the truth of absolute privacy. It might be a contingent fact that humans, in virtue of their cognitive machinery, are unable to stop implicitly believing in the truth of something like absolute privacy. But humans are capable of modifying their explicit, consciously held beliefs about absolute privacy. So although right now I have a conscious belief that if surgical nerve-splicing technology ever advanced my sensations could be shared with others, I also have the conscious belief that since we don’t have such technology, my sensations are in fact private. As a matter of fact, I could walk up to my friends in great pain and they would never know it if I sufficiently suppressed my external pain behaviors. And my implicit beliefs reflect this knowledge of how and to what extent my sensations are private. But on the conscious level I also recognize that absolute privacy is an illusion fostered by the depth of practical privacy.

Thus, when Wittgenstein talks about sensory privacy as a grammatical fiction (¶307), what is fictional is absolute privacy. But the cognitive depth of practical privacy lent itself to the construction of myths of absolute privacy (“It’s impossible that my sensations could ever be experienced by someone else”). This interpretation also suggests a way to make sense of Wittgenstein’s famous remarks about the beetle in the box:

Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a “beetle”. No one can look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle. – Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing [or empty]. (¶293)

I suggest it’s plausible to interpret the “beetle” as a stand-in for an “absolutely private sensation”. The point then is that we could all coherently and intelligibly talk about absolutely private sensations without there actually being any absolutely private sensations (the box could be empty). The key is to realize that just because we have a concept of absolutely private sensations does not mean that absolutely private sensations actually exist.

But it’s also important to realize how our beliefs in absolute privacy are not quite delusions. The reason they aren’t delusional or irrational is that the real existence of practical privacy is enough to underwrite the rationality of believing in absolute privacy. So although the concept of absolute privacy does not track metaphysical truth, it would be strange to say that someone is irrational because they assent to the truth of the statement “My sensations can only be experienced by me”.

The technological relativity of publically observable behavior

Many philosophers are impressed enough with practical privacy that they assent to the truth of absolute privacy. The possibility of Spartans seems enough to conclusively demonstrate that there is more to pain than just pain behavior. In addition to publically observable behavior, the Spartan case seems to suggest that there are also private sensations. What I suggest is that the concept of “publically observable behavior” is relative to the technological sophistication of the society. What’s publically observable for far-future societies is different than what’s publically observable for us today, or for our ancient ancestors. With the invention of better brain imaging and surgical techniques, what becomes publically observable changes. And if it were the case that the precise patterns of our central nervous system were publically available in the sense of anyone else being capable of “splicing” in, then the very data out of which our own brains generate sensations would be available for other brains to digest.

Coming back to the issue of whether B’s experience of A’s headache is identical to A’s headache, we can now see that the question of “direct vs indirect” access is also relative to the way in which B observes A. If B judged that A is having a headache simply by observing A take an aspirin, then we could say that B did not have direct access. If B judged that A is having a headache because scientists correlated headaches with certain kinds of neural activity and B is looking at a brain scanner of A, then we would also say that B’s access is indirect. But if B’s cortex was directly wired into A’s cortex, is the judgment about A’s headache direct or indirect? It seems intuitive to me to say that B’s judgment is direct. But in this case what is the real difference between direct and indirect knowledge? It seems like the directness cannot simply be a matter of direct causal linkage because in the case of looking at A’s brain scan, there is a direct causal link between A’s brain activity, the image displayed on the computer, and B’s looking at the computer display of A’s brain activity. The question of direct or indirect seems then to be a matter of whether the judgment happens explicitly or tacitly. In the case of looking at A’s brain scan, the judgment is indirect because has to be made on the basis of explicit scientific knowledge of various correlations between brain activity and headaches. But surely there is a difference between a novice interpreter of brain scanning images and an expert. Whereas the novice might make a slow explicit judgment, the expert could directly know A is having a headache based on years of experience of looking at headache-brain correlations. It seems then that the nerve-splicing case is more similar to the case of the expert than the novice, because once B’s cortical module has been exposed to A’s cortical activity for long enough, B’s cortical module would start to automatically make judgment’s about A’s activity in the same automatic way B’s cortical module would make judgments about other cortical modules in B’s brain.


In this paper I have argued that when it comes to investigations concerning whether or not sensations are private, it is crucial to distinguish between absolute and practical privacy. Based on the nerve-splicing thought experiment, I have tried to show that absolute privacy does not exist. In normal situations, what we have instead is practical privacy. It’s merely practical rather than absolute because the inability of other people to know what I am feeling is only a matter of those people not having access to the right technology. If we lived in a far-future society where nerve-splicing had become incredibly sophisticated, we would better understand why statements about absolute privacy are false. Because of the depth of practical privacy, we feel justified talking about absolute privacy as if it corresponds to some metaphysical fact. But I have tried to argue that any facts of privacy are merely practical, not absolute. Accordingly, this suggests that we should revise our concepts of privacy to be about practical privacy. Although this conceptual revision can happen on the explicit, conscious level, the extensiveness of practical privacy suggests that it will take a long time before our implicit beliefs can catch up with any explicit denial of absolute privacy. And because we know that practically speaking our sensations will be private until the distant future, absolute privacy will always seems like an attractive thesis. But as the thought experiment suggests, this conviction of absolute privacy is mistaken.


Filed under Consciousness, Philosophy

Why You Can't Be Harmed by Your Own Death

This is a draft of a short paper I am working on for Roy Sorensen’s Advanced Metaphysics class. The final version will obviously have proper citations and a full conclusion, but I’m at the writing stage where I’d like to get some feedback.  Let me know what you think!


Imagine a girl named Susie dies in a car accident at a young age. Although it is undoubtedly tragic for someone to die so young, a question arises: if death is the final end of existence, is there a sense in which Susie herself, and not just her grieving relatives, was harmed by her death? That is, besides the pains associated with the dying process, was it bad for her to die? One standard response that has been given is that Susie’s death is bad for her because it deprived her of goods that she might have had if she led a longer, more fulfilling life. Call this the “Deprivation Thesis”. The Deprivation Thesis states that Susie’s death was not just bad for her grieving relatives, but bad for her. According to one version of the Deprivation Thesis, we can determine that Susie’s death was bad for her by making a simple comparison between what happened in her actual life (early death) and what happened in a near possible world (long life). Since she might have experienced 50 more years of well-being in the near possible world, Susie’s early death is bad for her because it deprived her of all that well-being.

In this paper, I will argue that there is at least one sense in which Susie’s death was not bad for her for the simple reason that once she died, there was no subject around to, so to speak, “soak up” the badness associated with death. Call this the “Harmless Thesis”, which could also be called the “No Subject Thesis”. Perhaps the most famous defender of the Harmless Thesis is Epicurus, who said

So death, the most terrifying of ills, is nothing to us, since so long as we exist, death is not with us; but when death comes, then we do not exist. It does not then concern either the living or the dead, since for the former it is not, and the latter are no more.

According to the Harmless Thesis, the finality of death is never subjectively bad for the person who dies because once you are dead, there is no one around to be subjectively affected by the state of being dead. According to the version of the Harmless Thesis I will be defending, the only agents subjectively affected by death itself (and not just the dying process) are friends and family members who are in grief because they lost a loved one, as well as any other sentient being whose well-being was directly or indirectly affected by the death. In my own case, I don’t want to die young because, in part, my significant other would likely be devastated, and if I have a child, I don’t want to leave that child fatherless before he or she is an autonomous adult. But since I believe the Harmless Thesis to be true, I have no good reason to fear or be worried by the state of death itself for death cannot possibly affect me because “me” is no longer around to be affected.

An immediate objection to the Harmless Thesis is that I am assuming something like hedonism to be true, where hedonism is the idea that in order for something to be bad for me, it has to have some affect on my intrinsic mental states. Some thinkers have argued against hedonism on the following grounds: if pleasure is the only thing that matters, then I should have no objection to being lobotomized so as to be in a permanently infantile state of pleasure. Since most people would not want to revert to such a state, then intrinsic pleasure cannot be all that matters for living a good life. Likewise, since (apparently) most people wouldn’t want to be put into an experience machine where “fake” pleasure is generated by stimulating the brain in particular ways, experienced pleasure cannot be all that matters. These objections to hedonism all rest on the idea that there is more to well-being than just intrinsic mental states. What matters, according to these anti-hedonic theories of well-being, is that we achieve things, that we have our preferences fulfilled, etc. According to this brand of anti-hedonism, we should be horrified by the prospect of a life of infantile pleasure. So pleasure is not all that matters to living a good life. Accordingly, it doesn’t matter that Susie is no longer capable of experiencing displeasure once dead. Her life “went bad” because of the fact that she was deprived of a full life insofar as her preferences were never satisfied and she was unable to achieve lifelong goals. Therefore, her death harmed her, despite her not being around to be subjectively affected by her death. Call the thesis that well-being is tied into intrinsic mental states Internalism, and call the opposing view Externalism.

The internalist can respond to the infantile pleasure case by distinguishing between simple pleasure and complex pleasure. It is not just brute, infantile sensory pleasure that matters to adults. Take the pleasure of playing and studying chess. The pleasure of winning a chess game against a tough opponent is not the same as infantile pleasure. The adult chess player who reverted to an infant would be missing out on the capacity for complex pleasure, and would thus be harmed. But wait a second. If adults can be harmed by being deprived of well-being in virtue of losing the capacity for complex pleasure, can we not say, in contrast to the Harmless Thesis, that people are harmed when they are deprived of the capacity to feel any pleasure, simple or complex, as in the case of death?

I do not think the analogy works, because in the case of death, there is no subject around to experience simple or complex pleasure, whereas in the case of the infantile adult, we can point out the subject who is currently being harmed. The Deprivation Theorist might respond that I am contradicting myself, since from the perspective of the infantile adult, everything is peachy. Therefore, if I am committed to hedonism and Internalism, I have to say that the adult’s life is going pretty well. But I don’t think I am committed to that if there is a legitimate distinction to be made between simple and complex pleasure. Being deprived of complex pleasure would be a bad thing if prior to losing the capacity you really enjoyed complex pleasure and wanted to continue experiencing complex pleasures. But in the case of death, there is no subject around who is being deprived of anything, which is not the case for the infantile adult. The only adult who wouldn’t be harmed by lobotomy would be the adult who wants to only experience simple pleasures, but I imagine this is rare.

The key here is to realize that for sophisticated versions of Internalism, intrinsic mental states can be as complex as you wish. And so long as you are around to be deprived of complex pleasures, you can be harmed by lobotomies. But once you cease to exist, you can no longer be harmed, for there is no “you” around anymore to be harmed. Therefore, deprivation only works if there is a subject who is being deprived. But once there is no longer a subject, there can no longer be any harms. Death is therefore not harmful to the person who dies. It is only the process of dying which is harmful, for the dying process affects the intrinsic mental states of the organism. And death also affects the intrinsic mental states of family and friends and others whose lives will be affected by the death. So it is no objection to the Harmless Thesis that death is a bad thing. But once we ask the question, “Yes, but bad for whom?” it becomes clear that it cannot be bad for the person who died, but only for the people who are left in the wake of the tragedy. The loss of potential life is therefore not experienced by the person who dies, but by those still alive.

It might be objected that death is a harm because it can be an appropriate object of worry, thus leading to suffering. According to versions of four-dimensionalism, posthumous events really do exist. And since posthumous events exist, and can therefore be objects of genuine mental reference, it would be intelligible for someone to have a mental state of fear in regards to their posthumous state of nonexistence. Accordingly, the view that death is a harm is intelligible even if we hold Internalism to be true, since the intrinsic mental states of suffering are intentionally directed at posthumous nonexistence. My response to this is simply to claim that yes, it is possible to be harmed by thoughts of death, but this is, strictly speaking, irrational if you accept the Harmless Thesis to be true. So although in practice death harms humans because we have negative intrinsic mental states directed at our posthumous nonexistence, this is irrational if we hold the Harmless Thesis to be true. And we know humans are irrational in regards to all sorts of things. But this is no objection to the truth of the Harmless Thesis. All humans could, as a matter of contingent fact, suffer enormously from thoughts of death, but this would not be enough to show that death actually harms us. Moreover, since it is perfectly rational to fear death out of concern for the grief of those who love you, one could still think death is an evil while believing the Harmless Thesis to be true, but not because you think you are going to be personally harmed by death.

But would it not be bad if the entire human race was obliterated by a comet? Even though there would be no one around to feel grief, it seems like everyone would be harmed by being killed by the comet because the comet deprived everyone of future pleasures. This seems to be a counter-example to the Harmless Thesis but here I am willing to bite the bullet. If we thought that it would be bad for the human species to suddenly end, we could always ask, “Bad for whom?” It is only from a detached, objective perspective that we can think it tragic the human race ended because we are capable of thinking “What a waste of potential”. We could even imagine an alien utilitarian observing the event from a distance also thinking “What a waste of potential”. But I hold to the Harmless Principle in that it would not be harmful to the humans for everyone to die. In order for the cataclysmic event to be harmful, there would have to be some subject capable of having their intrinsic mental states changed in response to the event, such as the alien utilitarian.

Nevertheless, there is a distinct sense in which our imagination allows us to think of the “wasted potential” of the human race such that we can also imagine the wasted potential of Susie’s early death. But I think that there is a distinction to be made between harms as imagined and harms as experienced. It is because of the human power of imagination that we think it tragic that Susie died so young, because we can imagine how her life might have went if she had not been killed in the car crash. But I do not believe that imagination alone is enough to support the claim that Susie herself was harmed by her death. It was everyone around her after her death that was actually harmed, just like it was the alien utilitarian who was harmed by the death of all humans on account of feeling the anguish of observing such a tragic event.

I thus think that the tragedy of death can be distinguished between the experienced reality of death. It is no objection to the Harmless Thesis that we unanimously think Susie’s early death was tragic, just like we would think it tragic if the human species suddenly ended. The tragedy comes from the fact that we can imagine how Susie’s life might have gone if she didn’t die. If we are utilitarians who value pleasure, we might think it would have been objectively better had Susie not been killed, for she would have spent the next 50 years experiencing simple and complex pleasures, as well as giving pleasure to all her friends and family (and maybe even pleasure to millions if she was planning on being a cancer scientist). But this question of being “objectively better” is entirely distinct from the question of “Who is harmed by death?”

In asking the question, “Is Susie’s death bad?” we can thus distinguish between two different ways to ask “Bad in what sense?” Objectively, we can hold it was bad for Susie to die because her death had an affect on the overall well-being of the universe in virtue of affecting the total calculus of intrinsic mental states. Subjectively, we can hold it that her death was not bad for her, but bad for everyone who loved her, or was affected by her death. It is only on the objective sense that the Deprivation Thesis makes sense, since it is sensible to imagine how Susie’s death deprived her of well-being. But subjectively, it does not make sense at all to think Susie’s death was bad for her, for there was no subject to be harmed by nonexistence.

We thus have two different senses of “bad”. From a God’s eye utilitarian view, Susie’s death certainly led to a deprivation of universal well-being in terms of there being one less subject capable of experiencing simple and complex pleasure, as well as changes in the well-being of her friends and family. But from Susie’s own perspective, she was not harmed by her death, because once dead, she is no longer capable of having her intrinsic mental states changed.

This might sound like I have conceded the main point to the Deprivation theorist in holding that there is at least one sense in which Susie’s death was bad. But I think that it is the subjective sense which is important for the development of a “therapeutic philosophy”. One should want to avoid early death because it would be a tragedy from a utilitarian perspective. But one should not fear early death on account of some worry about being personally harmed by death. One might fear early death on account of worrying about the painfulness of the dying process, or worrying about the wake left behind in your family. But death itself, as seen from the “inside”? Sweet nothingness.

Accordingly, we can now interpret the “badness” of the infantile adult in two ways: objectively and subjectively. Objectively, we can see that it is a tragedy because there is a deprivation of complex pleasure and this affects the universal calculus assuming we value complex pleasures. Subjectively, we can see that the infantile adult doesn’t mind from their internal perspective. Objectively, we can imagine that the pre-infantile adult is deprived of complex pleasures; subjectively, the infantile adult doesn’t know what they are missing, and hence, are content. However, there is a sense in which the subjective realm tracks the objective deprivation since we could track the shift in subjectivity from the ability to experience both simple and complex pleasures to the ability to only experience simple pleasures. So there is a deprivation on the subjective level too, although the infantile adult doesn’t complain.

But as I mentioned before, subjective deprivation only works so long as there is a subject capable of being deprived of something. But once you are dead, there can be no subjective deprivation, only objective deprivation. But objective deprivation does not harm the subject in question, but only harms those whose intrinsic mental states are affected by the imagination process. This is in keeping with the thesis that harms have to be realized in a subject capable of experiencing mental states.


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