Source: Benatar, David. Better Never to Have Been (2008 1 edn). pp. 135-136.

I don't understand 1 and 2 beneath. Please LMK if 2 ought be asked as a separate question.

Philosophers have offered varying interpretations of what interests are, and what sorts of entities can have them. I shall discern four incremental senses of ‘interest’, before showing how the taxonomies of others relate to mine. Then I shall consider which kinds of interests are morally relevant.

  1. Functional interests: The first sort of interest is that which an artefact, such as a car or a computer, is sometimes said to have. Because artefacts have functions, some things can promote and others impede those functions. Those things that facilitate an artefact’s functioning are said to be good for the artefact, or to be in its interests, and those things that compromise its functioning are said to be bad for it, or against its interests. Thus, rust is bad for a car and having wheels is good

  2. Biotic interests: Plants have a different kind of interest. Like artefacts, they function, and their functioning can be fostered or impaired. However, unlike artefacts, plants are alive. Their functions and associated interests are biotic.

  3. Conscious interest: Conscious animals also function, and as with plants, their functions are biological. But there is something that it feels like to be a conscious being. The associated interests I shall call conscious interests. But this

term requires clarification. By conscious interest I do not mean an interest that one consciously has—that one is explicitly aware of having—but rather an interest that can only be had by those who are conscious. [1.] One may, for instance, have an interest in avoiding pain, without being aware that one has such an interest.

  1. Reflective interests: Some animals—typically most humans— are not only conscious, but are also characterized by various higher-order cognitive capacities, including self-awareness, language, symbolization, and abstract reasoning. Such animals are not only conscious, but are also ‘reflective’. [2.] They have interests in the reflective sense that they can be explicitly interested in their interests.

      I have stated above that these four senses of interest are incremental. I can now explain what I meant by that. The interests have been listed in ascending order. The higher sorts of interests incorporate the lower ones. Thus, artefacts have ‘mere’ (functional) interests. Living things have biotic interests. Conscious beings have conscious biotic interests, and ‘reflective’ beings have self-conscious biotic interests.³

     ³  As a counter-example, some might want to point to the prospect of conscious or even self-conscious artefacts—Artificial Intelligence. Although this case obviously requires considerable discussion, I suggest here that any artefact that were genuinely conscious would qualify in virtue of this as being alive in the relevant sense, even though it may be somebody’s artefact rather than somebody’s offspring. I have the same concerns about bringing conscious machines into existence as I do with bringing conscious humans or animals into existence.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.