Philosophical Disquisitions #2
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Thanks for subscribing. Welcome to the second edition of my newsletter. Here's some stuff that happened over the past month. I'm trying to grow the audience for this newsletter so if you like it, please spread the word and encourage others to sign up...

Thought Experiment of the Month

Suppose that the human race is collectively infertile. No more offspring will be born. The current generation is going to be the last. What effect would this have on our lives? In his book Death and the Afterlife, Samuel Scheffler argues that such a scenario -- which was depicted in the book/film The Children of Men -- would lead to profound existential disquiet. In short, he thinks it would rob our lives of some of their meaning. He uses this thought experiment to argue that the collective afterlife plays an important role in the value we attach to our own lives. Do you agree? The graphic is something I created to go along with the post 'Meaning, Value and the Collective Afterlife: Must others survive for our lives to have meaning?'.

Will life be worth living in a world without work? Technological Unemployment and the Meaning of Life

This is a paper I published earlier in the year in the journal Science and Engineering Ethics. 

Abstract:  Suppose we are about to enter an era of increasing technological unemployment. What implications does this have for society? Two distinct ethical/social issues would seem to arise. The first is one of distributive justice: how will the (presumed) efficiency gains from automated labour be distributed through society? The second is one of personal fulfillment and meaning: if people no longer have to work, what will they do with their lives? In this article, I set aside the first issue and focus on the second. In doing so, I make three arguments. First, I argue that there are good reasons to embrace non-work and that these reasons become more compelling in an era of technological unemployment. Second, I argue that the technological advances that make widespread technological unemployment possible could still threaten or undermine human flourishing and meaning, especially if (as is to be expected) they do not remain confined to the economic sphere. And third, I argue that this threat could be contained if we adopt an integrative approach to our relationship with technology. In advancing these arguments, I draw on three distinct literatures: (i) the literature on technological unemployment and workplace automation; (ii) the antiwork critique — which I argue gives reasons to embrace technological unemployment; and (iii) the philosophical debate about the conditions for meaning in life — which I argue gives reasons for concern.

Read it for free on Philpapers or If you want the official version, drop me an email. I have just noticed that it is the 49th most downloaded paper on the Philpapers archive. With your help we could get it to 48...(It's also, I think, somewhat interesting).

Best of the Blog

  • Competitive Cognitive Artifacts and the Demise of Humanity - What's the difference between an abacus and a calculator? According to David Krakauer the difference is that the former complements human intelligence while the latter competes with it. He thinks we should worry about this because we are creating more competitive cognitive artifacts. I take a more sceptical stance on this issue.


I am doing a podcast as part of my Algocracy and Transhumanism Project. Did you know? You can subscribe here and here. Here are the episodes that came out this month:

  • Episode #11 - Sabina Leonelli on Whether Big Data will Revolutionise Science: In this episode I talk to Sabina Leonelli. Sabina is an Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology at the University of Exeter. She is the Co-Director of the Exeter Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences (Egenis), where she leads the Data Studies research strand. Her research focuses primarily on the philosophy of science and in particular on the philosophy of data intensive science. Her work is currently supported by the ERC Starting Grant DATA_SCIENCE. I talk to Sabina about the impact of big data on the scientific method and how large databases get constructed and used in scientific inquiry.
  • Episode #12 - Rick Searle on the Dark Side of Transhumanism: In this episode I interview Rick Searle. Rick is an author living in Amish country in Pennsylvania. He is a prolific writer and commentator on all things technological. I get Rick to educate me about the darker aspects of the transhumanist philosophy. In particular, what Rick finds disturbing in the writings of Zoltan Istvan, Steve Fuller and the Neoreactionaries.

Recommended Reading 


  • Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari: Like his last book (Sapiens) I would say that this is a flawed but very interesting book. It covers a lot of ground. Much of it will be familiar to anyone who has written or read about technology and culture but Harari does have a real gift for expressing those familiar ideas in new and exciting ways. The last third is particularly good (I'm still working my way through it).
  • The World Beyond Your Head by Matthew Crawford - This one was recommended to me by a friend. I wasn't expecting a whole lot, but it turned out to be a very thoughtful and well-written book about situated cognition, the extended mind and our relationship to technology. 
  • Embassytown by China Mieville - An excellent sci-fi novel about alien cultures and language. The plot revolves around an unusual alien language that requires two words to be spoken at the same time by one mind. I discussed it in my blog post on human enhancement and interpersonal communication.


Here are some papers I have recently enjoyed:
If anyone knows of other papers looking at Hayek's knowledge argument in light of new technologies (like Uber's pricing algorithm or high frequency trading) please let me know.

Video Interview about Algocracy

Algocracy - Opportunities and Risks with John Danaher - Part 1
An interview I did with Adam Ford earlier in the year about Algocracy: Risks and Opportunities. There's a part two as well.

Talks in November

I am doing some talks in Canada, Germany and Scotland in November. If you happen to be in any of those locations and are able to attend the events, you might be interested. I don't have all the details yet, but some of them are closed to the public (e.g. the W-Jax event is, I presume, open only to conference attendees).
  • Should we be grateful for death? The Desirability of Life Extension - November 3rd at 7:30 pm in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Details here.
  • The Quantified Relationship: An Ethical Analysis - November 4th Philosophical Fridays series @University of Manitoba Department of Philosophy.
  • Technological Unemployment and the Search for Meaning - November 8th W-JAX Conference in Berlin, Germany. Details here.
  • 'The Threat of Algocracy' with the Anthrobotics Reading Group at University of Edinburgh - November 25th at 9 a.m. Details here.
  • The Logical Space of Algocracy - November 25th @ Edinburgh School of Law at 4pm as part of the IP/IT/Media Law Discussion Group. Details here.

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