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The ethics of unessencing


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On first sight this may be an odd question. But after you apply an essence mark, you are somebody else. Removing that mark will destroy that new individual. Is that an ethical thing to do? Why would the new person be any less important than the old one? Now you could argue that you are restoring hence defending the old person. Yet she did it to herself.

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I swear never to talk philosophy on the Shard and then this thread happens :lol:

Well, this more or less overlaps with existing philosophical debates on the nature of moral duties/obligations towards future generations and past generations, since in a real sense, duties towards future people are, I would argue, just as nebulous as duties towards possible other selves, or I suppose if you prefer the more exciting technical jargon, possible world counterparts. It just so happens that in the Cosmere, we are compelled to be modal realists (i.e. in the case of using an Essence Mark, these 'possible' other selves become very real other selves!), and thus the welfare of possible world counterparts has to be taken seriously.

^ This foregoing is sort of to harden to question you're posing, about what grounds we might have to think that something is owed to the Essence Mark Person, i.e. that EMP has rights as well.

1 hour ago, Oltux72 said:

But after you apply an essence mark, you are somebody else. Removing that mark will destroy that new individual. Is that an ethical thing to do?

I think the question here is really whether it is ethically permissible. That is to say, the judgement might not be whether it is the ethical thing to do (or I presume, as your question is really asking, the ethically bad thing to do) but whether ethics permits this, or prohibits this.

This distinction matters because there are many acts which are ethically permissible, but aren't in themselves imbued with any kind of ethical value one way or another, e.g. reading The Lost Metal.

Either way, in my view, the relevant considerations here are:

  • This entire argument hinges on two argumentative moves. First, that an Essence Mark Person is closer to being another person, than it is to being an alternate version of Current Person. Let's call this [AM1]. Second, that the difference between EMP and CP is sufficient to anchor a moral judgement that causing EMP to cease existing is tantamount to murder. Let's call this [AM2]. I think you need at least [AM2] to be true in order to deem removing the Essence Mark impermissible, but realistically, you want both [AM1] and [AM2], barring odd views about self-murder that I'm going to bracket here. [AM2] isn't the same as [AM1]: you can reject the view that an EMP is relevantly close to being another person (note that this is not the same as claiming that an EMP qualifies for personhood!) I suppose technically, you could try to establish a third argument, [AM3] that removing the Essence Mark is still a morally impermissible act, even if it is not of the same badness as murder. But then the onus is to cash out why it is morally impermissible. An account is owed here, and it will likely involve at least a claim to personhood on the part of EMP.
  • Arguably, applying the Essence Mark also destroys the person you currently are. If we consider the new individual to have rights and personhood, then it is only fair and consistent that we also consider the very act of applying an Essence Mark to be an act of violence against Current Person. We could try to argue the Essence Mark is temporary, or intended to be temporary, which is why it is not in fact morally wrong to use one. But if we do that, then the same objection applies to Essence Mark Person: if temporary status defuses the 'badness' of applying an Essence Mark in the first place, why not expect it to also defuse the 'badness' of removing it?
  • Are you really a different person? And I think there has to be actual argumentative work done to show that both moves are justified. The fact that the Essence Mark more or less modulates between versions of you suggests that there's a common 'youness' there, an essence we would, in philosophical jargon, refer to as 'personal identity.' It is the notion that Shaizan is as much Shai, just different, as Forger Shai. Shai doesn't just slap on an Essence Mark and become Renarin. If the premise that 'you are a different person' [AM1] cannot be sustained, or at least the premise that the different you is so significantly different that this difference can anchor the same, distinctive moral status that another person enjoys [AM2] cannot be sustained, then there is no problem, to put it simply. (This consideration doesn't really put pressure on [AM2]. For this, we'd want to check [AM2].)
  • To sharpen the previous point, think about the debate on personal identity. We may (perhaps this isn't true for everyone) undergo significant psychological changes across our lives. We change our defining outlooks, we remember some things more clearly, and forget some things. There are more extreme thought experiments - outlined by Derek Parfit (1984) in Reasons and Persons, Part 3. We can imagine a person who goes through a Saul on the road to Damascus moment and repudiates everything they believed as a young adult, holds on to a different set of memories. Yet the common-sense intuition is that this is the same person. (This argument, by the way, won't be persuasive to the person who bites the bullet and says there's a reason pre-Damascus Saul isn't Paul :P ) If you accept this intuition, then you're more or less committed to the view we seem to think that a person can survive significant psychological change. That's reason enough to think that 'destroying' the alternate self by removing the Essence Mark isn't actually morally equivalent to murdering another person, and is therefore ethically permissible. I think committing to the idea that this is no different from rejecting and destroying other selves that could very coherently exist when we make choices also  gives us reason to reject [AM3].
  • Another thing we do want to think about in this ballpark: suppose there is an Evil, or at least extremely immoral person who desires to become good, and does, in fact, manage that after decades. We do want to say this sort of radical psychological shift is laudable, and that it isn't actually committing an act of murder against the person they used to be, and is therefore impermissible! That would be a very odd view to be committed to.
  • A cheeky rejoinder is you could, of course, go ultra-hedonist, or ultra-utilitarian, and argue that it is permissible as long as the Essence Mark Person is a 'life worth living', i.e. a life of overall utility or hedonic value, over the short shelf-life! The downside is that most of us are not prepared to accept the consequences (in my view) of committing to the idea that it is okay to terminate the Essence Mark as long as that life, which would not have come into being without it, was in value theory and ethical terms, of positive value. (It's one thing to say this about animals, and another thing for people to accept this about persons, which I think is a fair objection.)

FWIW I lean towards the view it's permissible but think it could make a very fun research paper because just cashing out the prima facie argument in favour of why this should be ethically impermissible will be fun work.

Edited by Kasimir
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On 11/16/2022 at 4:14 AM, Oltux72 said:

On first sight this may be an odd question. But after you apply an essence mark, you are somebody else. Removing that mark will destroy that new individual. Is that an ethical thing to do? Why would the new person be any less important than the old one? Now you could argue that you are restoring hence defending the old person. Yet she did it to herself.

I'm going to argue the premise that the soul stamp is a person into themselves. It's nothing more than a memory alteration.

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6 hours ago, Frustration said:

Are you referring to Ashravan?

Because in that case it functions the same way spikes do for kandra, his soul was still there, otherwise he'd be dead.

He was dead. That was the whole point of The Emperor's Soul. That was the whole reason Forging him to have suffered a lesser injury did not work.

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