Is Existential Risk a Useless Category? Could the Concept Be Dangerous?

by philosophytorres 1 min read31st Mar 202025 comments


Please don't just downvote this. I welcome comments, criticisms, feedback, and so on. Where am I wrong? Do you disagree that utopianism has, historically, led to bad outcomes? Do you think that S2 really is as bad as S1? Is Olle Häggström's scenario or Pinker's statement off-base?

This paper offers a number of reasons for why the Bostromian notion of existential risk is useless. On the one hand, it is predicated on a highly idiosyncratic techno-utopian vision of the future that few would find appealing. On the other, the “worst-case outcomes” for humanity group together the atrocious to the benign. What matters, on Bostrom’s view, is not human extinction per se, but any event that would permanently prevent current or future people from attaining technological Utopia. I then consider the question of whether the Bostromian paradigm could be dangerous. My answer is affirmative: this perspective combines utopianism and utilitarianism. Historically, this has proven to be a highly combustible mix. When the ends justify the means, and when the end is paradise, then groups or individuals may feel justified in contravening any number of moral constraints on human behavior, including those that proscribe violent actions. Although I believe that studying low-probability, high-impact risks is extremely important, I urge scholars to abandon the Bostromian concept of existential risk.