This question has bothered me for a long time but I decided not to share it with anyone because I find that someone else might actually live by it. Personally I subscribe to some form of utilitarianism as my moral Philosophy and its been quite obvious to me that moral behavior should be the default position anyone should take.

The only flaw which I've clearly seen in that the evidence that other people are actually real people capable of suffering is nowhere to be seen. I say this because when I dream I am convinced it is real world yet I know people in my dream did not really suffer like I thought they did. And just like many other philosophers claim the only thing you can be certain of is your own existence. Based on my own experience I also learned that certain actions bring certain results which I like (but others appear not to). In my life I however run across no evidence that the people around me are real or that they feel emotions like I do and are capable of suffering.

Just like in dreams Im not able to tell if its a dream Im not really capable of saying that this is not a dream. I know there are differences in dreams and realities just that in my dream state Im not capable of noticing them. This is also touched upon in this question.

My other problem is that I don't really see a reason for consciousness at all. I have reasoned with myself for a long time but when it comes down to it I dont see why certain basic functions all the sudden should give rise to an actual conciseness rather then fake consciousness. In other words why dont things behave like they feel when they dont actually feel. Just like a program thats design to act like an ant if you cut off this droid-ant leg it can go running around in the circle like a real ant but it feels no pain. (and do real ants feel pain? I surely dont think so) And why should humans? No consensus on this point is needed for me to drive my point home.

Bottom line is this things are either real or they are not real. There is no way for us to tell either way or the other. If this is true then people in the world are either real or not. Either could be true.

If we follow this logic then why not choose a moral code which says that whatever is best or us is the best choice. Of course other people could be real but they might as well not be real. Why choose a morality that benefits groups rather then a morality that benefits the individual self. If we choose the wrong morality we do end up causing a lot of harm. (If i waste my time on other humans to make them happy when they aren't real that is horrible, If I however sacrifice them for my own utility and they are real then its immoral as well)

And just like in dreams our actions still have an effect but our dreams are completely made up realities.

Where do I make the error in my logic.

-There are many times that I had a regret about not doing something in my dream because of my moral code which stopped me.

  • 1
    Could you clarify your question? If it's "how do we define 'ethical'?" it's probably too big in scope for this site.
    – Xodarap
    Oct 25, 2012 at 16:48
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    The question is: since we cant know if other people exist why morality shouldn't revolve only around myself.
    – Xitcod13
    Oct 25, 2012 at 19:22
  • Well you could assume no one exists, but then you could be wrong, and that would be bad. Plus, any individual person is in no position to live only as if he or she exists. You would not make it in human society under that pretense...
    – stoicfury
    Oct 26, 2012 at 6:59
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    yes but you sacrifice a lot of you assume other people exist and they dont as well. And yes you would still need to include other people in your decisions but it doesnt mean you would need to treat them well if the doors are closed.
    – Xitcod13
    Oct 26, 2012 at 8:16
  • I think what you describe then is already the status quo (roughly). See The Selfish Gene...
    – stoicfury
    Oct 26, 2012 at 16:32

3 Answers 3


I see an assumption in your question. The assumption that moral code, that orders us to avoid harming other people is against the interest of the person. However, the definition, what is the interest of the person, what is the aim and the sence, is very hard to answer.

Why would restricting yourself because of other people be against your interest? What is the benefit? In cybernetics this is the question about the aim function. But what is this aim function for human being? Money? definetely no, because money is something artificial. Procreation, sex? They are in the interest of the species, not the single being. This is the aim of the genes. To live forever? Impossible. To live as long as possible? In poverty and suffering?

There are numerous people who have found happiness in restricting themselves, in ascese. Isn't the happines the great candidate for aim function? Doesn't making people happy make you happy too? What is the difference, if those people are real or not? If you can take pleasure from having friends and being loved, what is the difference if those friends and love are real, when the happines you gain IS real?


The question is: since we cant know if other people exist why morality shouldn't revolve only around myself.

If there is a non-zero probability that others exist, then you should give their preferences a non-zero weighting.

Since you said you broadly embrace utilitarianism, I will point out that this will maximize expected utility.

  • well all your answer suggests is that because there is a probability of other peoples existence than you should follow the morality which includes that probability. which means optimal morality would average the moralities out.
    – Xitcod13
    Nov 30, 2012 at 2:03
  • I don't think probability theory can be applied to non-random events. How does one assign a probability to whether other individuals exist or not?
    – Kenshin
    Aug 11, 2018 at 12:33
  • @Kenshin you could, for example, interpret it as subjective probability
    – Xodarap
    Sep 3, 2018 at 22:54

Xodarap and volkerjaan already made some good points in their answers, however I am not convinced yet. My suggestion: You don't necessarily need the others to be 'real humans' to make a moral choice. But let's not forget Xodarap's argument that there is at least a chance that they are.

You said you practice some kind of utilitarianism. That would not make any sense if there were no other interests but yours, there would be no calculus then. Now the preference utilitarianism suggests an "equal consideration of interests" of all beings, not only humans, because pain and suffering are bad, regardless of your species etc. The calculus computes the optimal fulfilment of all these preferences. This would be reason enough not to run around and shoot the un-real humans in the head.

But this might not suffice, because how do we know that the empty human shells have preferences, and even if they do, it might be preferences as "not getting my system stopped, e.g. by getting shot in the head", but not "I want to be considered an equal being". This might be an indication that the consequentialist standpoint can't help solve this problem. To solve the utilitarian calculus, you have to know the facts (and pretty much all of them, which is in itself problematic). If you don't know what is going on in the humans around you, how can you evaluate their right to having their preferences considered? I'd say: utilitarianism can't solve this problem. No matter how you'd act in relation to your fellow humans, it would be a wager. We have to make the assumption that they are like us before we decide to consider their interests at all.

We should maybe try another concept. My assumption is that the question "since we cant know if other people exist why should morality not revolve only around myself?" is easily answered with Kant. Why? Because what "good" and "moral" is does not depend on your or anybody's interests. Because we don't even have to consider other human beings but ourself to be bound to do justice. You don't have to act morally in regard to these others because they may or may not be real humans, or because even if they aren't, they might be sad if you don't, but because this is the only way for you to be just. This is the point I already saw in volkerjaan's answer. You don't to good for others, but for yourself. This is not constraint, but freedom. That's the answer - what's best is best for you!

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