Monday, June 14, 2004

Your Counterpart is Going to Hell!

I was thinking of appending "P.S. Don't plagiarize or you'll go to Hell" to the post where I link to my essays. Alas, being an atheist, I'm not really allowed to make such fiery threats. A pity. Though I could always go with, say, "if you [enter damnable sin here], then in the closest possible world where Hell exists, your counterpart will be sent there!". But that threat doesn't have quite the same ring to it. What I'm wondering is: does it have any force at all?

Assume modal realism is true, so all possible worlds are real in just the same way as our actual world is. There was a recent post at FBC which suggested that we ought to care about real evils, even if they're non-actual ones - much like we intuitively feel that we ought to care about (some) fictional evils. Here I want to go one step further, and ask whether we ought to feel personally responsible for what happens to our counterparts in other possible worlds.

This probably seems like an absurd suggestion. After all, we're completely isolated from them spatio-temporally - it's not even logically possible for us to affect their world. So how could we be responsible?

Well, as a general rule we have a greater moral responsibility for those who are 'close' (in any sense of the term, not just spatially) to us, right? But our behaviour will affect which other possible worlds are 'closest' (conceptually, not spatially of course) to ours. That is, we have the power to affect whether the possible world closest to ours where heaven & hell exist, is one where our counterpart goes to heaven, or one where he goes to hell. Don't you feel powerful now? ;)

So, the thought goes, perhaps we have some (very faint) moral duty to try to ensure that our close counterparts are better off, rather than our distant ones?

Actually, no. That's a load of nonsense. Our actions there wouldn't make anyone "better off" (we can't affect other worlds, remember?). All we'd be doing is moving ourselves so that we were 'closer' to the well-off people rather than the suffering ones. And that hardly seems like a virtuous move (by my intuitions anyway).

So much for that idea. Still, who would've thought pursuing such a flippant thought would have any philosophical merit at all? ;)

1 comment:

  1. [Copied from old comments thread]

    It's even worse than your deflating comments suggested. If all possible worlds are considered real, then your actions don't change what happens in the future, they just alter which possible world you occupy. Even if you're capable of free choice, everything in the real set of possible worlds is predetermined besides what the one "you" personally experiences. So if you decide to give money to Oxfam in order to make some people better off, you're deluding yourself. You aren't really making anyone better off - you're just moving yourself from a possible world where they're worse off into a possible world where they are better off.

    That's my understanding, at least, of what it would mean for these artifacts of philosophical theory to be real.
    Dan | Email | 18th Jun 04 - 9:05 pm | #


    Yeah, true. It just sucks the merit right out of our choices, doesn't it!

    Oh well, just as well modal realism is so implausible, I suppose. (Hate to think how some people would behave if they came to really believe this stuff!)
    Richard Chappell | Email | Homepage | 19th Jun 04 - 12:35 am | #


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