X-Risk, 257–340


5. Internal Contradictions: Omnicide


In 1958, the Scottish philosopher Roderick Ninian Smart noticed something strange about a certain strand of utilitarian ethics. If you hold that acting ethically consists in minimising total suffering—a view which Smart dubbed negative utilitarianism—then you would only have one option if presented with a big red button that would instantaneously end the world. Smart called this the ‘Benevolent World-Exploder’ argument.

But even if we don’t have the technology at our disposal to explode the world, since nonexistence causes less suffering than existence, perhaps the kindest and most moral thing to do is to at least make sure we prevent further people from being born.…