Philosophia 45 (2):637-646 (2017)

Jason Gray
Auburn University At Montgomery
Samuel Scheffler postulates that we derive more value and meaning from our lives because we have confidence in the indefinite continuation of humanity than we do from our own or our loved ones’ continued existence. Scheffler believes that this shows humans to be less egocentric than some believe. He offers two thought experiments to motivate this intuition. The first thought experiment depends on the second to control for certain intuitions that run counter to the intuitions Scheffler wants to elicit. So, Scheffler is committed to using both thought experiments. The second of the two, and the one on which the first depends, is a scenario in which people become infertile and humanity dies out over the course of a single generation. I argue that this scenario can be more reasonably taken to show that value and meaning in life does not depend on a collective afterlife. I argue that the particulars we value in such a scenario from both a normative and descriptive perspective may change, but that a robust notion of value, and consequently meaning, can exist despite the knowledge that humanity will not continue indefinitely into the future. I also address the reason we might find the slow extinction of humanity unsettling for reasons unrelated to the loss of a collective afterlife. I conclude by presenting a thought experiment challenging the idea that the afterlife conjecture deals any substantial blow to the supposed extent of human egocentrism.
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DOI 10.1007/s11406-016-9794-8
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