- Ethics: The Problem of Evil
- Ethics: Problem of Evil, Part 1
- Ethics: Problem of Evil, Part 2
- Ethics: Problem of Evil, Part 3
- Ethics: God and Morality, Part 1
- Ethics: God and Morality, Part 2
- Ethics: Moral Status
- Ethics: Killing Animals for Food
- Ethics: Hedonism and The Experience Machine
- Ethics: Consequentialism
- Ethics: Utilitarianism, Part 1
- Ethics: Utilitarianism, Part 2
- Ethics: Utilitarianism, Part 3
- Ethics: The Problem of Moral Luck
- Ethics: The Nonidentity Problem
- Ethics: The Nonidentity Problem, Part 2
- Ethics: Symmetry Argument Against the Badness of Death
- Ethics: Promising Against the Evidence #1
- Ethics: Promising Against the Evidence #2
- Ethics: Know Thyself #1 (The Examined Life)
- Ethics: Consent #1 (What is Consent?)
- Ethics: Consent #2 (Consent and Rights)
Ethics: The Nonidentity Problem
In this video, Molly introduces the nonidentity problem. This problem arises in cases where an individual appears to be wronged by the very action upon which his or her own existence depends. We’ll see why this problem has implications for reproductive choices, genetic engineering, and whether we should take care of the environment for the sake of future generations.
Speaker: Dr. Molly Gardner, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Bowling Green State University.
Speaker: Dr. Molly Gardner, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Bowling Green State University.
Want to join the conversation?
- At6:38Molly says that having a diseased life is better than having no life at all. Isn't the argument related to assisted suicide opposed to that statement? This shows that many people actually disagree to the statement made. So isn't that just an opinion and not a fact?(6 votes)
- You're ignoring the conditional she applies: "As long as it's still worth living." Which means, as long as you believe there is one diseased person whose live is worth living, there is no disagreement.(4 votes)
- Shouldn't Barbara's actions be considered morally objectionable simply because, like Alice, she intends to look like a "caring parent" at the expense of her child? Barbara consciously plans and designs that her child will suffer.(3 votes)
- The problem is that doing so cannot actually be considered harming Billy, because that very same action caused Billy to exist in the first place. If she had not done so, then the child that Barbara bore would not be the same Billy.(2 votes)
- At5:59, she starts using the argument that different people would meet and have different kids, thus it's unjustifiable to not choose the pollution. This doesn't seem right to me, because if you do choose the pollution, all the people who would've been born had you chosen the clean option don't ever exist. Either way has the exact same problem, hence canceling each other out and meaning that non-pollution is the best way to go.(2 votes)
- Playing devil's advocate here (I haven't yet formed my own opinion on this): Can you really say it "cancels out"?(1 vote)
- Why does the identity of the person harmed matter rather than the simple fact that harm was done at all?(2 votes)
- At2:00, it implies having one child (Billy) is better than having none, does it follow that you should have the maximum number of children?(1 vote)
- I can't see the nonidentity problem at all, at least not here.
If we assume Barbara can give up with in vitro before Billy exists, we should also assume Alice can give up before Alex exists. Alex's existence depended on Alice's ability to wrong him later.(1 vote)
- At about 6.30, Molly said that some people will not exist without polluting the environment. How is that possible? (sorry, I'm an environmentalist. I'm just really fussy about that bit.)(1 vote)
- Human waste products pollute the earth. These things are guaranteed to come with life.(1 vote)
- At6:25, Dr. Gardner says that if we don't pollute our environment, some people would not exist. How is that possible? And wouldn't it be better to not exist than to live a life full of pain and things?(1 vote)
- Great question!
Something to consider on this point might be the difference of 'our' environment and 'the' environment. For example, deforestation may be necessary to provide housing space to improve 'our' environment (possibly to reduce overcrowding or increase available space for agriculture), but deforestation comes at a cost of reducing utilizable resources in 'the' environment.
A way to picture this distinction might be a concentric circle. Everything in our environment is also a part of the total environment (the inner of the two circles). To maintain or grow our environment we use resources we draw from the total environment. While pollution is usually defined by harmful addition to the environment, another form of environmental damage is the removal of something beneficial (I think the word for this would either be purging or purification, but I'm not sure.)
In the case of deforestation, the purificatory removal of trees to make clearings also results in the reduced anchoring of soil, as roots work to anchor their surrounding soil. Reduced anchorage may result in greater soil runoff, which may then be carried into other local environments bringing potential contaminants as well as deprive that local environment from its own capacities, for example, for distributing clean rainwater from its surface into reservoirs.(1 vote)
- how would utilitarianist respond to the equality theory(1 vote)
- Why did Alice take the drug in the first place?(1 vote)
- Because she wanted Alex to have poor health. In this scenario, she has a mental disorder.(1 vote)
hi my name is Molly gardener and I am a research assistant professor in the philosophy department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in this video I will introduce you to the non identity problem to understand the problem let's begin with a thought experiment suppose that there are two women Alice and Barbara who want their children to have poor health this is of course a strange thing to want but suppose that they believe that if they have sick children they will get more attention from their friends and family now suppose that to get what she wants Alice takes a particular drug during her pregnancy the drug causes her child whom she name's Alex to experience poor health for his entire life nevertheless his life on the whole is worth living meanwhile Barbara uses in vitro fertilization and screens the embryos for a gene that causes poor health when she finds an embryo with that gene she implants it the selected embryo becomes a child named Billie Billie experiences the same degree of hardship and suffering that Alex experiences however like Alex Billie has a life worth living many people think that Alice and Barbara have both wronged their children the way in which Alice wronged alex is pretty straightforward by taking the drug during her pregnancy she harmed her child since Barbara performed an action that had similarly bad consequences for Billie it might be tempting to think that Barbara also harmed her child nevertheless there is an important difference between Alice's action and Barbara's action the difference is that although Alex would still have existed had his mother not taking the drug Billie is non identical to anyone who would have existed had his mother not selected for poor health after all if Barbara had not selected for poor health then either she would have not had a child at all or else she would have brought some other child into existence instead of Billie many philosophers appeal to a plausible theory of harming in order to argue that this difference in what would have and makes a moral difference according to their theory of harming an action harms you only if it makes you worse off and at least some respects than you would have been had the action not been performed Alice's action satisfies this condition alex is worse off in many respects than he would have been had Alice not taken the drug he has to go to the hospital more often he misses more school and social events and he feels more pain and discomfort than he otherwise would have however Barbara's action does not satisfy this condition even though Billy's life is also full of trips to the hospital missed school days pain and discomfort it is still worth living the alternative for Billy is non-existence and a life worth living does not seem to be worse in any respect than no life at all if so then when she selected for poor health Barbara did not harm Billy but if Barbara's action did not harm Billy then we seem to be at a loss to justify the intuition that in much the same way that Alice wronged Alex Barbara wronged Billy Billy situation is thus a non-identity case it is a case in which an individual appears to be wronged by an action that is the condition of his own worthwhile existence the problem of either justifying the appearance that the individual was wronged or explaining it away is the non-identity problem we can make the problem clearer by formulating it as a set of inconsistent claims one Barbara wronged Billy to the way she wronged him was by harming him three the only way she could have harmed him is by making him worse off than he otherwise would have been for Barbara did not make Billy worse off than he otherwise would have been when I say these claims are inconsistent I mean that they can't all be true together if you pick any three of the claims their conjunction will logically entail that the fourth claim is false to solve the non-identity problem we have to reject at least one of the claims we also need to identify the flaw in the reasoning or the intuition that originally seemed to support whatever claim we choose to reject notice that whatever solution we opted for will have wide-ranging implications for a number of other issues one issue is reproductive rights although a few parents want to select for poor health some parents might want to use new reproductive technologies to select for conditions that other people associate with poor health unhappiness or other bad consequences opponents of reproductive autonomy in these kinds of cases will need to grapple with the non-identity problem another issue is genetic engineering although scientists haven't yet produced any genetically engineered humans they have produced plenty of genetically engineered animals the non-identity problem raises the question of whether we are wronging such animals by bringing them into existence a third issue is the environment to see why the non-identity problem is particularly important here consider another thought experiment suppose that we as a community must decide between two policies one policy involves polluting the environment and the other involves protecting it if we opt for polluting the environment then the air and water quality will be much worse in 200 years than it would have been had we chosen the other policy however the polluting policy will also have other consequences the economy will be different and different people will take different jobs different couples will fall in love and have children if different couples have children then different people will be born in 200 years we might think that no one will exist in the polluted community who would have existed had we not polluted suppose the people who do exist 200 years from now in the polluted community suffer from health problems related to the air and water quality maybe they develop asthma heart disease or cancer even so the non-identity problem makes it difficult to justify the intuition that when we choose to pollute the environment we wronged them after all they are no worse off than they would have been have we decided to protect the environment for if we had decided to protect the environment those people would not have existed at all and for those future people a life with asthma heart disease or cancer if it is still worth living is not worse than having no life at all thus if we think we ought to worry about climate change nuclear waste or environmental degradation for the sake of future generations then we will need to find some kind of solution to the non-identity problem in the next video I will discuss some of the solutions that have been proposed thank you for listening