IEET > Directors > Mark Walker > HealthLongevity
Apologism, Prolongevistism and Utilitarianism


A number of technological developments on the horizon, for example, discoveries in genetics (Kenyon, 1996), stem cell research (Shostak, 2002), and the cessation of aging at the cellular level (de Grey, 2005), point toward the possibility that sometime this century the length of the human life span could be radically lengthened. Should utilitarians promote or discourage such research? Let us think of ‘apologism’ as the view that it is wrong to extend the human life span beyond its current limits, and ‘prolongevitism’ as the view that we should seek to extend human life span significantly beyond its current limits.[1] The term ‘significant’ is vague, so for our purposes let us understand it as meaning ‘superlongevity’: an average lifespan of at least 150 years.  A life of this length would mean a doubling of our current allotment, that is, approximately 75 “extra years”—years beyond the average human life span (in the developed world). So our question may be rephrased: should utilitarians be apologists or prolongevitists? I hope to show that a strong utilitarian case can be made for prolongevitism. We will use Peter Singer’s apologist paper as a foil: “Research into Aging: Should it be Guided by the Interests of Present Individuals, Future Individuals, or the Species?”[2] Singer argues that prolongevitism will lead to a lowering of aggregate utility. I will argue, to the contrary, that the empirical evidence available does not support Singer’s position; and furthermore, there is reason to suppose that aging populations will tend to become happier on average through a process of self-selection.

(Preprint here)

Mark Walker Ph.D. serves on the IEET Board of Directors, and is Associate Professor of Philosophy at New Mexico State University, where he occupies the Richard L. Hedden Endowed Chair.

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