Summary: Put this under the “History of Ideas” category more than a discussion of EA philosophy (although David Edmonds defends the view of the value of future lives). This podcast spend a lot of time discussing Derek Parfit and his ideas. In the sense that Parfit’s philosophy has been influential on Peter Singer and others in the EA community, this might be an interesting podcast for you. The biography on Parfit is worth reading.
David Edmonds is a philosopher, writer, podcaster and presenter. His most recent book is a biography of Derek Parfit.
“Derek was perhaps the most important philosopher of his era. This scintillating and insightful portrait of him is one of the best intellectual biographies I have read.” -Tyler Cowen
Other books include: The Murder of Professor Schlick, Would You Kill the Fat Man? and (with John Eidinow) the international best-seller Wittgenstein’s Poker. He’s a Distinguished Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. With Nigel Warburton he produces the popular podcast series Philosophy Bites which has had over 44 million downloads. For three decades, he was a multi-award winning presenter/producer at the BBC and the host of The Big Idea.
We start off discussing “Trolley problems” and the ethical implications of choosing between lives now and in the future. Edmonds provides a nuanced perspective, discussing the argument that while a life in the future is (almost) as valuable as a life today, the decision to kill five lives today could potentially reduce future life.
Would you kill five people today, or five people in 100 years?
I think I would choose five in a hundred years, but it would be a very marginal decision…on the whole, I agree with Parfit in I think that there should be no moral discounting in that I think a life in the future is as valuable as a life today. But presumably if you kill five lives today, you are affecting who gets born. So that's why I would kill five lives in the future because I might be also reducing future life as well if I take lives today.
We chat about if thought experiments are even useful at all (contra, Diane Coyle, who dislikes them).
I then ask about real life challenges such as NHS budgets and potentially choosing between saving pre-term babies or diabetics.
I ask David about his favorite paradox (think about God and a very large breakfast) and give him the St Petersburg paradox to answer.
"Can God cook a breakfast so big that He can't eat it?"
We discuss the life of Derek Parfit, his personality and obsessions. Whether he might have been a good historian (vs philosopher), the pros and cons of All Souls College and if an autistic cognitive profile mattered.
David gives his view on why Derek’s second book was (and is) considered inferior to his first.
We also touch on Effective Altruism (EA) and Derek’s influence here on longtermism and possible foundational philosophical roots to the EA movement.
We end on what chess opening David would use against Magnus Carlson, what countries David would like to visit, current projects and life advice David has.
Link to transcipt end episode (or wherever you listen to pods):
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