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This house believes we should strive for immortality
This house believes we should strive for immortality
Immortality, living forever, has always been an ambition and goal for human beings throughout history. The concept is an inescapable part of the human condition – we are intelligent, mortal beings, for the present, and this fact of life has shaped everything we have created. Everything in human thought is shaped by the knowledge that we will die: our political systems, both at home and in government; our religious teachings; our moral codes, and our punishments for breaking them; our familial practices; our stories, our memories; the way we love and the things we love; the way we view our place in the universe and the way we relate to an infinite cosmos. The human perspective is a mortal perspective, but what if that changed?
At least in so far as beating ageing is concerned, modern science seems to be bringing us closer and closer to the situation where immortality is a possibility. If we reach this stage, if mankind reaches the position where immortality is within her grasp, should we reach out and take it? Would it be right to do this, morally? Of course there would be immense consequences if a stage of implementation were reached where some human beings simply didn't die: the problems, politically and economically such a large population would bring; perhaps great expense for some and inequality for all, as only some would be able to take advantage of the new technology. Of course, at the moment, the ethics of immortality are fairly fantastical and full of assumptions but this is only due to it being unlikely that anyone who is presently alive would be affected by the debate and the debated issue. But perhaps we should get the debate rolling to help our children’s children decide, or even in the unlikely event that modern science makes a sudden great leap forward and propels us all towards immortality.
|Points For||Points Against|
|Any decision whatsoever on how long someone should be allowed to live is completely arbitrary.||The old will outnumber the young.|
|We would be failing humanity not to work towards immortality.||Immortality without task, or reason behind it, is meaningless.|
|Life extension is a science like any other.||It will increase inequality|
|If immortality becomes a possibility, it would perfectly ethical to work towards it and achieve it, for humanity.||The world will become even more crowded, with a greater strain on resources.|
|All major religions promise immortality in an afterlife.||Mental health problems will be exacerbated.|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
Any decision whatsoever on how long someone should be allowed to live is completely arbitrary.
A thousand years ago we would have been dead by the time we were forty. Now, it is considered strange for someone to die at that age. Setting aside religion, we will find that any decision, mark or setting, any limit or law - moral or legal - on when we should die, is always going to be wholly arbitrary.
And so how can any justification be placed behind a possible limit to how long someone could live? Providing the science is there to allow people to live forever, how could any decision, as arbitrary as it would be, on setting an age someone would have to die at be justified? Admittedly there is no precedent in which to decide such an age, but this rules all the more in favour of foregoing the decision altogether. It seems that the arbitrariness of dealing with the issue can only yield one option: to forgo the issue at hand and let the march of science carry on.Improve this
Just because we would have to make an arbitrary decision does not mean that it would be the wrong decision. There are thousands of arbitrary rules that govern our lives and yet we do not question them. The proposition argument is fallacious. Just because something is arbitrary does not mean it is wrong.
What is wrong is the arbitrariness that would result from the propositions motion being held. The feature of these arbitrary results would be that some people and not others would be immortal. This is something that is wrong because it is arbitrary AND because we regard equality as a desired ideal, especially when it comes to mortality issues.Improve this
We would be failing humanity not to work towards immortality.
Every species seeks to adapt, to enable itself to survive better. What would be a better way to improve the human species than to make us unable to die?
Why is selfishness always unethical? If I am a member of a minority group and 'everyone else' around me is a member of the majority group who oppresses us, my honour will allow me to ignore them or even act to their detriment.
If the offspring will not be stronger than me (because I am already immortal and can replenish my cells to avoid illness and old age) why would my offspring be more important to the species than I am?Improve this
This does not fit into a logical argument. Yes, every species does seek to adapt to suit its environment, but species do not seek immortality of the individual. They want their young to survive, and their young following that. This is entirely selfless. However, to seek immortality of the individual, or of the self: that is selfish and therefore unethical. By seeking immortality of the self we are taking away from the cycle of life. We should die knowing that we have left behind something to help, not continue living to make resources hard to come by.
The notion that immortality would give one the courage to make ethical stands, even to the point of violence, is frightening. What this brings home is the impact 'immortality' would have on human conflict. If one identifies oneself with a single, permanent identity, one can become a monster.
One might also recall the story of the Sibyl. She wished for a life as many as the grains of sand before her, but forgot to ask for eternal youth as well. She lived forever, but in torment, longing for death. What this myth portrays in terms of the physical body appears to be true in psychic or psychological terms. A human being would very likely find life an agony after two centuries or more.
Life extension is a science like any other.
Just like the medical technology we already have to enhance and prolong our lives, whatever technique we use to become immortal will be another tool. Tools by themselves are ethically neutral. If humans decide to hoard the technology or only sell it at an extortionately high price, it will be unethical behaviour, but it won't make the technology itself unethical. Debating what the dangers of immortality are is vital - to bring immortality into the world in a rash, ignorant way would itself be unethical - but calling immortality, as a concept, 'unethical' is false.
Kyodo (possibly the oldest man living today) expressed that he is tired but doesn't want to die1. It is unethical to doom everyone to an unavoidable death when the possibility of immortality exists.
1 Gerontology Research Group,Improve this
It is unethical since the science will not be freely and equally distributed when/if it is practised.
There is a strong religious argument, seeking physical immortality could mean averting God's judgement or attempting to be at an equal standing with God. In this sense it is arrogant, at odds with God-given morality and unethical.
Putting religion aside:
Taking into account Lord Acton's principle: "Power corrupts; absolute power, corrupts absolutely". Human beings who reach immortality will be moral filth as a direct consequence of immortality. Power is a relative concept; if everyone is immortal then there is no issue. However, in the likely scenario where only a select few acquire the trait, Immortals, like the Gods in Greek mythology, will bully and abuse the mortals; playing games with them; this would be completely immoral1. Nip it in the bud they say; a cause of evil is evil itself.Improve this
If immortality becomes a possibility, it would perfectly ethical to work towards it and achieve it, for humanity.
Aging is the greatest killer, as Nick Bostrom argues aging “is a tyrant that kills us by the cartload – and what do we do to stop it?” It is a moral imperative that we should attempt to stop this killer. Yet many argue that immortality is unethical. It seems people have dismissed the point at hand because they have simply not thought long enough about it. We measure and judge ourselves in relation to life and death all the time, and we act accordingly: Life a positive; death a negative. We work constantly to keep ourselves alive, by eating by staying safe; everything we do is aimed at preserving life. But we don't carry that principle into the specific study of immortality and the ethics of trans-humanism in general. To dismiss immortality as unethical is equivalent to dismissing our most basic of human instincts, that of survival, and the primacy of human life in morality and science.
Immortality with superlative health; for each and every one of us; is arguably ethical. Albeit if a means to achieve immortality was invented; it would be patented not freely distributed. Immortality is not the same as being disease-free. Suffering and ageing would in all probability continue, just in different ways. The age-gene is not the death-gene; there is no death gene; so to speak.
The ethics of euthanasia and the accounts of women with the longest recorded lives point to a desire to give up, being tired and that there comes a point when people do not want to suffer, live or work anymore.
There is no ethics to immortality because the concept is misunderstood. It is not a drink from the fountain of youth, it is the goal of a frontier science that does has confused attitudes and objectives. Immortality, as a goal of science, will be subject to the same weaknesses as other applied sciences; there will be confusion with final objectives, disease will persist and the mind and consciousness, still not fully explained physically, will continue to deny sound mental capabilities to the immortals of the future.
Finally, it is inconsiderate towards humanity and its collective goals because it is a universal statement of the rejection of the old human condition of life and death and a firm embrace, without the globe's consent, of putting the value of human life above everything.Improve this
All major religions promise immortality in an afterlife.
The holy books of all three Monotheist religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) claim that Prophets like Noah and Adam lived to be about a thousand years (far longer than the highest recorded lifespan of the modern human; less than 200 years).1 The claim that longevity is irreligious can be easily shirked off, taking into account these religious parables.
All religions promise the immortality of the soul; God or the Gods had no beginning nor end and we are promised immortality(either in the after-world or in a manifestation of a series of reincarnations). The pursuit of immortality by means of 'suicide' is usually discouraged and the antediluvian religions of yore that requested virgin sacrifices etc. are no longer relevant off the pages of history. A Hindu widow is expected to commit suicide or serve the gods till death; this custom (sutti) is fast disappearing because of Islamic and colonial influences in the subcontinent. Either way Hinduism promises a series of afterlives and therefore death is not the final death and therefore not really a move against immortality.2 However, as suicide is discouraged by texts of the Abrahamic beliefs and one is encouraged to do everything one can to live on (murder in self-defence is pressed in most religious texts); contrary to conventional thinking, seeking immortality within this life is not unethical but religiously egged on.Improve this
Death is mortality. Immortality in the afterlife requires mortality in this one, at least in the physical sense. We are encouraged to employ various strategies to bring us closer to heaven/a better-next-life.
Religion is deeply entrenched in the war context. If a soldier dies he is honoured for fighting bravely and serving his Lord: the Lord. This act of bravery is selfless and humble whereas not going to war to kill or be killed is thought to be cowardly. The pursuit of immortality/longevity in this life at all costs is thus discouraged as, in this context it is cowardly, selfish and unethical.
All purely selfish pursuits are put down by religion. If you do everything you can to be immortal while others die around you, you are not doing anything moral.
Fasting, an act required, by most religions is a process by which you deny food/sex (the ultimate luxury?) for yourself to experience the pain of the deprived or less-fortunate. Deprivation and sacrifice to feel deprivation is considered ethical in religion; thus.
Suicide motivated by the "One less mouth to feed" logic, is the ultimate act of selflessness/sacrifice, it cannot be unethical.Improve this
The old will outnumber the young.
In our society, adults already oppress and undermine the values of young people, because adults are generally in positions of power and young people aren't. Immortality will mean that there are far more old people than there are young, as people will be living to more advanced ages and not necessary wanting to have children. Age and experience would to an even greater extent mean dominance in a hierarchy; people wouldn't be able to empathise with youth. We would become a stagnant society with no fresh ideas, or newcomers might even die out altogether and we would be left with only the same people, like a dying Internet forum.
Our whole notion of progress would change; a conservative mind-set in every part of life would inhibit cultural change – something too often taken for granted in our liberal, modern age.Improve this
This depends on the form of immortality. Immortality could mean indefinite cell replenishment that, if taken at a young age, keeps one’s mind and body forever young. In this situation, would one have a 'young' mentality due to the young brain and active, lively body, or an 'old' brain because of the many years of experience? On the other hand, immortality may make age irrelevant – a form of existence as information on a computer. Or humanity may start to value youth more if it is seen to be rare - we already value standards of beauty that very few humans can actually live up to.Improve this
Immortality without task, or reason behind it, is meaningless.
In this mundane, restrictive consensus reality, there simply isn't anything interesting or satisfying worth doing for however many thousands of years we are expected to live. Our everyday goals – the pursuit of power, money etc. won't amuse us for that long. There won't be the need to protect family if they won't die either, relationships will soon become stale as people become bored of their routines with each other, nothing about life that was valuable because it was brief and fragile will be worth anything anymore. In a fantastical situation where someone becomes a God, or brought to life as the eternal guardian of some holy relic or the operator of the control systems that maintain the planet's atmosphere, this is different, but ours aren't the kinds of lives suited to immortality.Improve this
Human beings do not only have the function to avoid death. We have interests/pursuits/hobbies; there are a million things to discover about ourselves and the worlds around us.
The survival instinct has become softer as less effort is required to survive. If no effort is required to live, we can concentrate on other things(not carnal ephemeral ideas) . To claim that we'll be bored and therefore should die is presumptuous and human beings are naturally organized which makes us like repetitive patterns and readable logic.
A voyage of discovery may end in a thousand years; creativity, design and consistent change as a result of boredom and recorded anguish could go on forever.Improve this
It will increase inequality
The difference in life expectancy is already massive between those who can afford a decent standard of living, quality of health care etc. and those who can't. In Japan, women now live to an average age of 86.41 whilst their counterparts in Somalia can expect just 50 years2. Immortality, however it is attained, will have a cost, some will be able to afford it and some won't. Death is the 'great leveller', it comes to everyone equally, and if there is such thing as immortality treatment, the difference between rich and poor will be so great we may even become two different species.
History has repeatedly shown us that when the differences between the haves and the have-nots become so great and politically salient, then uprising or conflict is sure to follow.Improve this
Death is not the greatest leveller ever. Because the rich can die and then pass on their wealth to their children, the gap between the rich and the poor becomes greater. It is for this reason that we have so many debates revolving around inheritance tax1. One way to resolve the inequality would be to raise the inheritance tax to 100% as suggested in this debate. But hypothetically, immortality is in fact another way of reducing the difference. If the rich lived forever, then their wealth would be needed to sustain their own life. Therefore the wealth would not be passed to their children. If their children failed to make their own money, the wealth would have to get divided. As they lived forever and the family got bigger via more children being born the wealth would have to be split amongst more people. This reduces the wealth divide and therefore is completely ethical.Improve this
The world will become even more crowded, with a greater strain on resources.
If everyone lived forever, there would be no way to reduce the population and eventually we would face massive overcrowding problems.
This 'overcrowding' would not just effect prices by the increase in demand and the over-strained resources we would have to use. The issue would stretch to property rights and how we would house people; social security would have to change; would we not see the development of a power-holding elite, those able to afford immortality, who would be able to cope with the economic situation whilst the rest of the population, the mortals, were left to starve. How can we not say that as power shifts to immortals, that they would not take advantage of the situation and create a two-tier society not dissimilar to the slavery-based economies of the ancients.Improve this
Longer-lived species do not have as many children. Without the motivation of desperation (needing to leave a legacy for when we die) we will also start having a lot less children, which will cancel out the effect of people not dying. If this does not happen then the choice of pursuing immortality could also be coupled with child bearing restrictions like China's or even something more stringent.
As for the shift in economic power being immortal would supposedly confer, that is a different issue to what is being debated. It is for the government and its people to decide democratically how to legislate for and regulate the trans-humanist advance. Of course, in a democracy we will see the majority, most likely mortals, want strict regulation on the technology, therefore we would see a heavily regulated industry gradually move towards a more liberal one once more and more people become immortal – a self-adjusting, just system based on the original ideas of those who originally advocated a modern representative democracy.Improve this
Mental health problems will be exacerbated.
Imagine if your problem was nothing to do with sickness or old age – if you had a non-organic mental health problem, for instance, or a long term problem with your life that you couldn't sort out, such as if your partner died before the immortality treatment became available and you were left without her – and it ended up lasting for thousands of years. You would go completely insane.
Such a situation would not exist without immortality, and so if we choose to create the situation by introducing immortality, we are responsible for the suffering it brings with it, and so it is an ethical consideration.Improve this
This does not touch upon any ethical considerations of immortality, but whether it is desirable or not. Of course if everyone were immortal, then they would always have the option of killing themselves, although that opens a new door of the ethics of suicide 1. But if people were immortal, then it would open the door to being ethical - killing yourself in order to prevent your mental disorder becoming a burden upon everyone else.
1. Cholbi, 2009, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/suicide/Improve this
Jeune, B., Robine, J.-M., Young, R., Desjardins, B., Skytthe, A., & Vaupel, J. W. (n.d.). Jeanne Calment and her successors. Biographical notes on the longest living humans. Retrieved August 8, 2011, from
Weiner, Jonathan. "Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality" Ecco Press. 2010
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