Some of Robin Hanson’s Malthusian-sounding posts prompted me to wonder how we can create a future that is better than the repugnant conclusion. It struck me that there’s no reason to accept the assumption that increasing the number of living minds to the limit of available resources implies that the quality of the lives those minds live will decrease to where they’re barely worth living.
If we imagine the minds to be software, then a mind that barely has enough resources to live could be designed so that it is very happy with the cpu cycles or negentropy it gets even if those are negligible compared to other minds. Or if there is some need for life to be biological, a variant of hibernation might accomplish the same result.
If this is possible, then what I find repugnant about the repugnant conclusion is that it perpetuates the cruelty of evolution which produces suffering in beings with fewer resources than they were evolved to use. Any respectable civilization will engineer away the conflict between average utilitarianism and total utilitarianism.
If instead the most important limit on the number of minds is the supply of matter, then there is a tradeoff between more minds and more atoms per mind. But there is no mere addition paradox to create concerns about a repugnant conclusion if the creation of new minds reduces the utility of other minds.
(Douglas W. Portmore has a similar but less ambitious conclusion (pdf)).