Another follow up Q to this series:

It's been established that I had/have the tendency to view the meaning of a human's life somewhat like this:

Agency -> Purpose that reaches beyond oneself -> Work towards that purpose -> Meaning

Therefore I viewed the possible rise of strong AIs with horror, because by being superior to humans at making things done they would remove the need for humans to work, they would remove meaningful purposes humans could strive to reach and by doing so they would remove all agency from humans and, in the end, make humans' lives meaningless.

I suspect this may be the error of treating work as if it was an intrinsic value, while in fact it always an instrumental value.

It seems the above model can be easily reduced ad absurdum. Let me attempt such a reduction:

  • Among police officers (and other related occupations) there are highly idealistic individuals who fight evil to protect the innocent; who feel they have a mission and who draw their meaning from this activity (hereinafter 'Knights in Shining Armor'); there may not be too many such people, but they do exist.
  • Should there be no murderers, sadists, rapists, other serious criminals, the work of Knights in Shining Armors would have no purpose.
  • Therefore, there must be plenty of murderers, so that Knights in Shining Armor have something to do.

This conclusion is as abhorrent as it seems and I suppose Knights in Shining Armor themselves would strongly disagree with it. They would want nothing more than to see their work finally completed and the world free of the evils they fight so passionately.

By rejecting the above we must conclude that it is truly the end of the work, rather than the work itself, that matters. Therefore it is always preferable to have the end already achieved, without having to work towards it.

For example, if it truly happens that all art (literature, pictures, movies, video games, etc) created by AIs will be so incomparably better to whatever a human could produce and therefore no one will be interested in humans' art any longer then it will be a preferable situation to what we have currently, namely that humans need to work to create art. All that will matter is that high quality art will become widely available for consumption. Lamenting that humans will no longer be able to reach self-fulfillment by creating art able to be appreciated by others actually boils down to only petty pride: It matters not that good art is produced, it only matters that I can produce it. This is, in fact, primitive envy. I cannot outperform AIs so I wish to remove the fruits of their work from existence so that no one can consume them. If I cannot have it, let no one can! Same for any other goal / purpose than art or fighting crime.

Is the above argumentation correct? That full automation of all work, if possible, will be a beneficial situation and the resultant removal Agency and worthy Purposes for humans to pursue does not harm them in the slightest.


EDIT: Two possible weaknesses I realized now:

  1. This is a non sequitur. It is possible that all work is purely an instrumental value as described above, yet humans still need to have something to do to function properly.
  2. Again, this is a non sequitur. It is possible that if we look at any single goal in isolation we will be forced to conclude that it is preferable to have this goal achieved rather than be working towards that goal. Nonetheless if we look at all possible goals the conclusion can be different, since - for example - it is preferable to have at least one goal incomplete.
  • Seems like a decent line of reasoning, but a bit ungrounded. Have you a broad value theory at work here?
    – Paul Ross
    Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 19:42
  • @PaulRoss I'm afraid any broad theory of anything is a bit above my level...
    – gaazkam
    Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 22:23
  • I don't think the words 'art' and 'consumption' belong together in the same sentence.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 1:57
  • 1
    The part about art is kinda strange. I happen to play guitar as a hobby. I'm not good, obviously a CD of Bob Dylan will always be a technically better interpretation of his songs than mine, like AI generated songs could one day surpass Dylan. So why take the pain to learn how to play? 1 Because the satisfaction of mastering a skill is its own merit. 2 because sharing a song played live is more enjoyable than a CD or an AI. I play at camp night, people sing along, there is a shared joy that wouldn't happen if I played the song on my smartphone instead. Art is done for its own sake.
    – armand
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 11:01
  • 1
    Work is a very complicated concept. It can be instrumental - done in order to achieve some value "beyond itself". But there are many activities that are not instrumental, such as art or sport or play. For those activities, the activity itself is its own reward. Some activities are sometimes one and sometimes the other. Walking can be done for its own sake, or for the sake of something else. Lucky people (artists, philosophers, etc.) combine work and reward for its own sake, but instrumental work can be satisfying if you value meeting the needs of other people.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 18:39

1 Answer 1


I think you are trying to force essentially grey and fuzzy issues into black or white boxes, with absurd results. Humans tend to enjoy having something to do, whether that is working, eating, procreating, travelling, sports, hobbies, politics, entertainment and so on. You cannot limit a sense of purpose to work. In any event, some types of work can be purposeful, but other types (as I know from personal experience) can be utterly tedious and unsatisfying. Indeed there are people whose main sense of purpose is to earn enough money never to have to work again.

The specific weaknesses in your argument are:

  1. You consider work to be necessary for humans to have a sense of purpose- that is clearly not true of all humans.
  2. You assume that if the need to work is eliminated by robots, AI etc, humans will not work, which again is nonsense. Humans will simply find other outlets for their desire to work. For example, some centuries ago in England it was common in workhouses to have humans powering machines- now there is no longer a need for humans to power machines in England, people instead pay to go to gyms to perform a similar function. Likewise, humans used to have to walk everywhere, but in richer countries humans no longer have to, but they chose to walk for recreation.
  3. You assume that the market for art is driven by the perceived quality of the art, so that if AI produces 'better' art there will be no demand for human art, which again is nonsense. The art market is driven by fads, exclusivity and so on. The fact that £100m might be paid for a painting is all about rarity, image and so on.
  4. You assume that the ubiquity of AI and automation will put an end to human opportunities to have a sense of purpose, which again is clearly incorrect. Take some trivial examples to illustrate the point. I do a cryptic crossword every day, and gain a degree of mental satisfaction from it. For at least 20 years it has been possible for me to complete the crossword by looking up the answers on websites- ie the mental work I expend in solving the crossword on my own is entirely unnecessary, but I choose to expend the effort. I am a relatively new participant on this website. I could answer questions by submitting them to ChatGPT, but instead I choose to expend the intellectual effort myself because I enjoy it. And if we reach the point at which websites such as this became redundant because people can ask AI bots for philosophical answers, then I will find something else to do with my spare mental energy.
  5. You overlook the fact that there are many satisfying human pursuits that cannot be automated away. I like to improve my guitar playing- a robot cannot do that for me.
  • Yes. I have seen mechanical horse-walking things to exercise horses (looks like a big turnstile) but I don't think humans will put up with being walked, even if it is "good for them". Ever try to put a leash on a cat? I've built radio equipment, simple stuff, not even using a kit, when I could buy something better for $10. But learning counts for something, because we live a long time.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 7, 2023 at 11:16

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