September 25, 2022

Should we eliminate all suffering in the world?

Many sci-fi novels consider what life would be like without suffering. Philosopher David Pearce believes we can have such a life – and indeed, that we have a moral imperative to pursue it.

Many sci-fi novels consider what life would be like without suffering. Philosopher David Pearce believes we can have such a life – and indeed, that we have a moral imperative to pursue it.

Pearce calls himself a negative utilitarian. Our moral calculus should be informed by a desire to limit as much as possible the suffering of all sentient beings. Pearce adopts a similar position to Peter Singer regarding the moral status of animals. Animals can suffer just like human beings, and this biological similarity gives them moral standing.

Pearce takes this hedonistic ethic to its extreme conclusions. In a recent interview with the futurist magazine IO8, Pearce spoke of our “headonistic imperative” to genetically alter all sentient life such that there is no suffering on earth. “Human and nonhuman animals are alike in an ethically critical respect…No sentient being wants to be harmed — to be asphyxiated, dismembered, or eaten alive.”

Pearce argues that we should “get rid of predation” through “genetically re-engineering” the biosphere. Pearce believes that technologies such as CRISPR will allow us to selectively edit out undesirable genes from the genetic code of all kinds of sentient life.

“Even sober-minded scientists describe the CRISPR revolution as “jaw-dropping”. Gene drives can spread genetic changes to the rest of the population.”

Pearce believes that we could get to a point where there was no suffering whatsover on the earth:

“there is nothing to stop intelligent agents from identifying the molecular signature of experience below hedonic zero and eliminating it altogether — even in insects…I tentatively predict that the world’s last unpleasant experience in our forward light-cone will be a precisely datable event — perhaps some micro-pain in an obscure marine invertebrate a few centuries hence.”

Pearce believes that such a life would be a near utopia:

“If we get things right, the future of life in the universe can be wonderful beyond the bounds of human imagination: a “triple S” civilisation of superlongevity, superintelligence and superhappiness.”

Pearce claims that we can create a more engaging world than the dull existence of the characters of Brave New World. Many are sceptical.

David Pearce on the hedonistic imperative
Xavier Symons
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Creative commons
genetic engineering
hedonistic imperative
utilitarianism