This article argues that the creation of artificial offspring could make our lives more meaningful (i.e. satisfy more meaning-relevant conditions of value). By ‘artificial offspring’ I mean beings that we construct, with a mix of human and non-human-like qualities. Robotic artificial intelligences are paradigmatic examples of the form. There are two reasons for thinking that the creation of such beings could make our lives more meaningful and valuable. The first is that the existence of a collective afterlife—i.e. a set of human-like lives that continue after we die—is likely to be an important source and sustainer of meaning in our present lives (Scheffler in Death and the afterlife, OUP, Oxford, 2013). The second is that the creation of artificial offspring provides a plausible and potentially better pathway to a collective afterlife than the traditional biological pathway (i.e. there are reasons to favour this pathway and there are no good defeaters to trying it out). Both of these arguments are defended from a variety of objections and misunderstandings.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Throughout this article, the view that meaningfulness is not an either/or property is adopted. The meaningfulness of one’s life is determined by certain conditions of value that one’s life does, or does not satisfy. The more such conditions that are satisfied, the more meaningful one’s life is. Consequently meaningfulness can vary both across and within lives. It is accepted, however, that a certain threshold of such conditions may need to satisfied in order to make one’s life worthwhile, but that is taken to be a distinct concept from meaningfulness. This take on meaningfulness as a variable property is adopted by others in the literature (e.g. Metz 2013). It is also accepted that meaningfulness has something to do with the flourishing and survival of creatures like us, but that it is not limited in its application to the members of Homo Sapiens (i.e. that non-human creatures can have meaningful lives). This is a view that is defended, gradually, over the course of article, particularly in “The Superiority of Artificial Offspring” section where it is argued that phenotypic and not genotypic properties are what count when it comes to meaning.
The term ‘natural’ is open to broad and narrow interpretations. A broad interpretation would hold that the natural is everything that exists in the natural (non-supernatural) world. This would encompass artificial, manufactured entities. A narrower interpretation would hold that the natural is anything that exists apart from human creation and manufacturing. This would distinguish the natural from the artificial. It is this latter, narrower, interpretation of the term that is intended in the text.
This will be familiar to anyone who has debated the merits of natural law ethics, or who has entered into the nature-nurture debate.
Our own artificial creations could make artificial creations of their own. This would not move them out of the category of the artificial, even though the link to human agency is indirect. This is why Data’s creation of Lal falls within the scope of my definition of ‘artificial offspring’.
Or, at least, Data with his emotion chip installed since emotion may be essential to sharing a similar evaluative framework to ordinary human being.
To be clear: Scheffler initially defends a purely attitudinal version of the dependency thesis, but he later (2013, 51–52) suggests that the actual existence of a collective afterlife must be important to our conception of value. This is for the simple reason that taking a pill that induced false belief in the existence of a collective afterlife would not (prospectively) convince us that our lives retained the value we previously thought they possessed.
Similar to the case made by Nozick in the Experience Machine thought experiment. Nozick, R. Anarchy, State and Utopia (Harvard University Press 1974).
Though it should be noted that some of his original critics focused on these other conditions in their responses, e.g. Wolf and Frankfurt in Scheffler (2013).
These schools of thought are discussed and defended in many sources, e.g. Smuts (2013), Metz (2013) and Campbell and Nyholm (2015). The latter argue that there are four main theories of meaning: (1) simple subjective; (2) simple objective; (3) aim-achievement and (4) fitting fulfillment. The classification system adopted here is a simplified version of this one insofar as it collapses the last two theories into one hybridist category of theories.
‘Objective’ here does not, and should not, be understood to mean something like ‘true in a scientific sense’ or ‘capable of being verified by a third party. This is sometimes the meaning that attaches to the term when people refer to ‘objective’ facts and the need for ‘objectivity’. Here, ‘objective’ simply means that the conditions in question are not dependent on the mental states of the individual whose life they render more meaningful.
Metz identifies these three things as the major sources of meaning in life, but does not defend a purely objectivist theory of meaning.
I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer for drawing this objection to my attention.
It is not being assumed that they will have super-enhanced minds (i.e. be superintelligent). In fact, it is very important for the argument that they are not drastically different from us. Their abilities should be within or slightly beyond the normal human range. That way they can continue, sustain and improve upon our projects, without being so different that they no longer care about those project.
The phrase ‘at least’ is used because reproduction involving IVF and/or surrogacy can involve more than two parties.
Consent and competence in child-bearing and rearing being the two major ethical issues involved in these cases.
It is not denied that there are certain joys and values associated with human procreation (beyond mere sexual pleasure). It is important to remember this article is not claiming we should shut down the biological pathway to a collective afterlife; it is merely claiming that the artificial pathway could be superior.
The phrase ‘currently is’ is used because the prospect of universally available euthanising methods might reduce the harm for human beings.
This also highlights the flaw in thinking that simply because they are manufactured artificial beings cannot count as our ‘offspring’. If the manufactured nature of a being prevents it from being our offspring, then it would follow that children born through artificial selection or future genetic engineering are not our offspring (or are becoming less offspring-like all the time).
Agar, N. (2013). Truly human enhancement. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Agar, N. (2015). The sceptical optimist. Oxford: OUP.
Armstrong, S. (2014). Smarter than human. Berkeley, CA: Machine Intelligence Research Institute.
Benatar, D. (2006). Better never to have been: The harm of coming into existence. Oxford: OUP.
Bostrom, N. (2014). Superintelligence: Paths, strategies, dangers. Oxford: OUP.
Bostrom, N., & Sandberg, A. (2008). The wisdom of nature: An evolutionary heuristic for human enhancement. In N. Bostrom & J. Savulescu (Eds.), Human enhancement. Oxford: OUP.
Brighouse, H., & Swift, A. (2006). Parents’ rights and the value of the family. Ethics, 117, 80–108.
Campbell, S., & Nyholm, S. (2015). Anti-meaning and why it matters. Journal of the American Philosophical Association, 1(4), 694–711.
Craig, W. L. (2008). The absurdity of life without god. In W. L. Craig (Ed.), Reasonable faith (3rd ed.). Crossway: Wheaton.
DeGrazia, D. (2010). Is it wrong to impose the harms of human life? A reply to Benatar. Theoretical Medical Bioethics, 31(4), 317–331.
Di Muzio, G. (2006). Theism and the meaning of life. Ars Disputandi, 6, 128–139.
Guerrero, A. (2007). Don’t know, don’t kill: Moral ignorance, culpability, and caution. Philosophical Studies, 136, 59–97.
Harman, E. (2009). Critical study: David Benatar Better Never to Have Been. Nous, 43(4), 776–785.
Johnston, M. (2014). Is life a ponzi scheme? Boston Review, 39, 42–48.
Kauppinen, A. (2014). Why afterlifism isn’t a Ponzi scheme. PEA soup blog. http://peasoup.typepad.com/peasoup/2014/01/why-afterlifism-isnt-a-ponzi-scheme.html.
Kurzweil, R. (2006). The singularity is near: When humans transcend biology. London: Penguin.
Lockhart, T. (2000). Moral uncertainty and its consequences. Oxford: OUP.
Metz, T. (2010). The good, the true and the beautiful: Toward a unified account of great meaning in life. Religious Studies, 47(4), 389–409.
Metz, T. (2013). Meaning in life. Oxford: OUP.
Moller, D. (2011). Abortion and moral risk. Philosophy, 86, 425–443.
Nagel, T. (1971). The absurd. Journal of Philosophy, 68, 716–727.
Nozick, R. (1974). Anarchy, state and utopia. Harvard: Harvard University Press.
Overall, C. (2012). Why have children? The ethical debate. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Savulescu, J., ter Meulen, R., & Kahane, G. (2011). Enhancing human capacities. Oxford: OUP.
Scheffler, S. (2013). Death and the afterlife. Oxford: OUP.
Smuts, A. (2013). The good cause account of meaning in life. Southern Journal of Philosophy, 51(4), 536–562.
Warren, J. (2006). Facing death: Epicurus and his critics. Oxford: OUP.
Weijirs, D. (2013). Optimistic naturalism: Scientific advancement and the meaning of life. Sophia, 53(1), 1–18.
Wolf, S. (2010). Meaning in life and why it matters. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Funding was provided by Irish Research Council (New Horizons Grant).
About this article
Cite this article
Danaher, J. Why We Should Create Artificial Offspring: Meaning and the Collective Afterlife. Sci Eng Ethics 24, 1097–1118 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-017-9932-0
- Artificial offspring
- Collective afterlife
- Human enhancement