The human being does not have full control over their life. In extreme cases, life can turn into pure happiness or unbearable suffering. Moreover, humans can end up in a situation, where escape from the current state is impossible (e.g. strong drugs, or full body paralysis).

The issue is that a person that has been tortured past their limits is completely beyond rescue. There are no psychotropic drugs, no therapy nor heaven for such a person. In the opposite case, a happy person still can be tormented to the point where death is a blessing. In other words, happiness is always limited, but suffering can be infinite.

Therefore if there is a 1 in a billion chance that tomorrow I will be tortured, is it worth taking the risk and not killing myself today?

  • 2
    If the 1 in a billion chance of torture is for tomorrow why not postpone an irreversible action until tomorrow? Then it becomes certain one way or the other, so there is no point to a probabilistic calculation. And just as one can make up low probability scenarios with highly negative payoffs one can also make up low probability scenarios with highly positive payoffs ("infinite joy", etc.), as Pascal did in his wager. So these payoff tables, if done comprehensively, end up juggling infinities with opposite signs and are simply undefined. Taken to its logical conclusion, this goes nowhere.
    – Conifold
    Sep 1, 2021 at 22:42
  • Have you seen The Diving Bell And The Butterfly? youtu.be/eawGsbRLzHQ "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven." -Milton
    – CriglCragl
    Sep 1, 2021 at 23:08
  • @Conifold The reason I see is that performing the action tomorrow could be impossible (body paralysis, kidnapped by the political police, that knows well how to prevent suicide). I also see a similarity with the Pascal's wager. However, I've kept my thought close to the David Benatar's logic: "There’s such a thing as chronic pain, but there’s no such thing as chronic pleasure". The issue is that even a person is fully happy, he or she can be completely destroyed with tortures, but a broken person cannot be recovered even with infinite happiness.
    – Konrad
    Sep 1, 2021 at 23:45
  • Why not? God can even raise the dead and redeem the irredeemable, and there surely is a non-zero probability that he exists. This is why religious people insist that life and death must be left in his hands, and suicide encroaches on the divine prerogative and is hubris. And even without God, there is a low probability that advanced space aliens will visit Earth and wipe out effects of torture, or prevent it altogether. Like Pascal, Benatar simply picks scenarios he favors and discards others. And the result of this cherry picking is neither here nor there.
    – Conifold
    Sep 2, 2021 at 0:02
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    "but suffering can be infinite" where does that come from ? Whatever happens to you your suffering will always be finite in both duration and intensity (insofar as a subjective sensation can be quantified. But 1: the same could be said of pleasure 2: what we can measure of it, like the activity of your neurons will definitely be finite). Problem is your reasoning relies on pain to be potentially infinite to justify that whatever its probability it overcomes any happiness expectation we may have.
    – armand
    Sep 2, 2021 at 7:17

2 Answers 2


Let's take a cold, hard (quasi-Kantian) look at what you're suggesting. So, if there is a one-in-a-billion chance that one might end up in unbearable suffering, that means that in a world of seven billion people, seven people (give or take) will end up in unbearable suffering. So your question is whether all seven billion people on the planet should kill themselves out of fear that they might end up as one of those seven. Does that seem reasonable?

We can play with these numbers all we like, but unless we invoke an absurdly terrifying world we'd still be asking billions of people who would otherwise lead long, happy, healthy, wonderful lives to kill themselves out of fear they'll end up in the wrong group. And no, I'm not trying to appeal to numerical absurdity here; I'm merely following this down to two deeper questions:

  1. Why would we focus on the risk of terrible suffering when we could instead focus on the risk of joy, comfort, and ease? A risk is a risk is a risk...: statistics doesn't care, so why do we?
  2. Are we thinking universally or collapsing into selfishness? I mean, some people go into terrible spirals of suffering when they get a hangnail or fail to get a promotion at work; others face starvation, wounds, diseases, etc with composure and grace, experiencing the pain without suffering from it. Which are we?

There's a sense to this question as though we are saying: "It's ok if other people suffer, because someone has to draw the short straw, but I won't take the risk for myself." But why is that? Is there something they have which we lack, like composure and grace? Or is there something we have that they lack, like meaningfulness or a soul? The latter seems sociopathic or narcissistic, while the former seems self-defeatist, assuming that composure and grace are out of our reach. But what is the basis for this distinction?

As Abraham Lincoln once said: "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." If we stop making up our minds to be miserable, suffering wretches, that's half the battle.


Buddhism directly addresses suffering, considering it intrinsic to being experiencers - but not because it is 'out there' but, in our relationship to things. It is desire, grasping, and either not getting, or getting and still not feeling satisfied, which is suffering.

The film Arrival, puts the case beautifully that it's better to have loved and lost, than not to love. Something truly worth doing gives a reward that is independent of failure, or loss.

We expect the universe to end, leaving no residue or record, so we all face this issue. Forward-directed concerns always hit a wall. But what about the concerns of, now?

You seem to assume some kind of utilitarianism, that can quantify and weigh pains and pleasures, in something like Bentham's hedonic calculus. But a life of pleasure, is not necessarily a happy life. We orient ourselves by, and prioritise, meaning. And there is a curious property of meaning, that it can elude us until some insight, perspective, framing, makes sense of seemingly irreconcilable things, and imbues what previously seemed meaningless with meaning. I'd suggest Godel Incompleteness forces this. The truths that can be said in a system, cannot be limited to an algorithm, that can compute them completely. A meta-system, a step out, is required when we recognise a truth not yet part of our algorithm.

I would not presume to make anyone else's calculation of when life is not worth living, the pain too much. But I'd suggest there is always the possibility as long as things are changing, for a redeeming of events up to the point, of reframing. The impact of psilocybin therapy on end-of-life care gives a fascinating insight, into how that can help not only someone facing a painful death, but also their relatives and friends.

Buddhism takes the middle way, between picturing an unchanging eternal soul, and nothing of us continuing after death. Rebirth isn't seen as a salvation, or somewhere better, but as likely worse - animal or demon or ghost habits dominate most people's lives, & will be what is reborn from their lives. In that perspective, there is no running from suffering, in this life, or the next. Only waking up, and finding that reframing, that change of perspective, can end it.

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    Thank you, I also considered Buddhism as an accurate approach for such dilemma. However the issue I saw is that the change will eventually come, yet it may take far longer than the human lifespan. While being tortured it is quite impossible to actually focus on a peace of mind. I don't want to discard the point of live. What I'd like to highlight is only a possibility of moving into an absolutely unacceptable state. Maybe I've wrote too much on "pain calculation". In this topic I'd like to accept any life that doesn't include suffering, that exceeds that person limits.
    – Konrad
    Sep 3, 2021 at 21:25

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