In Praise of Maximizing – With Some Caveats

Most of you are prob­a­bly fa­mil­iar with the two con­trast­ing de­ci­sion mak­ing strate­gies “max­i­miz­ing” and “satis­fic­ing”, but a short re­cap won’t hurt (you can skip the first two para­graphs if you get bored): Satis­fic­ing means se­lect­ing the first op­tion that is good enough, i.e. that meets or ex­ceeds a cer­tain thresh­old of ac­cept­abil­ity. In con­trast, max­i­miz­ing means the ten­dency to search for so long un­til the best pos­si­ble op­tion is found.

Re­search in­di­cates (Schwartz et al., 2002) that there are in­di­vi­d­ual differ­ences with re­gard to these two de­ci­sion mak­ing strate­gies. That is, some in­di­vi­d­u­als – so called ‘max­i­miz­ers’ – tend to ex­ten­sively search for the op­ti­mal solu­tion. Other peo­ple – ‘satis­ficers’ – set­tle for good enough1. Satis­ficers, in con­trast to max­i­miz­ers, tend to ac­cept the sta­tus quo and see no need to change their cir­cum­stances2.

When the sub­ject is raised, max­i­miz­ing usu­ally gets a bad rap. For ex­am­ple, Schwartz et al. (2002) found “nega­tive cor­re­la­tions be­tween max­i­miza­tion and hap­piness, op­ti­mism, self-es­teem, and life satis­fac­tion, and pos­i­tive cor­re­la­tions be­tween max­i­miza­tion and de­pres­sion, perfec­tion­ism, and re­gret.”

So should we all try to be­come satis­ficers? At least some sci­en­tists and the pop­u­lar press seem to draw this con­clu­sion:

Max­imisers miss out on the psy­cholog­i­cal benefits of com­mit­ment, leav­ing them less satis­fied than their more con­tented coun­ter­parts, the satis­ficers. …Cur­rent re­search is try­ing to un­der­stand whether they can change. High-level max­imisers cer­tainly cause them­selves a lot of grief.

I beg to differ. Satis­ficers may be more con­tent with their lives, but most of us don’t live for the sake of hap­piness alone. Of course, satis­fic­ing makes sense when not much is at stake3. How­ever, max­i­miz­ing also can prove benefi­cial, for the max­i­miz­ers them­selves and for the peo­ple around them, es­pe­cially in the realm of knowl­edge, ethics, re­la­tion­ships and when it comes to more ex­is­ten­tial is­sues – as I will ar­gue be­low4.

Belief sys­tems and Epistemology

Ideal ra­tio­nal­ists could be thought of as epistemic max­i­miz­ers: They try to no­tice slight in­con­sis­ten­cies in their wor­ld­view, take ideas se­ri­ously, be­ware wish­ful think­ing, com­part­men­tal­iza­tion, ra­tio­nal­iza­tions, mo­ti­vated rea­son­ing, cog­ni­tive bi­ases and other epistemic sins. Driven by cu­ri­os­ity, they don’t try to con­firm their prior be­liefs, but wish to up­date them un­til they are max­i­mally con­sis­tent and max­i­mally cor­re­spon­dent with re­al­ity. To put it po­et­i­cally, ideal ra­tio­nal­ists as well as great sci­en­tists don’t con­tent them­selves to wal­low in the mire of ig­no­rance but are im­bued with the Faus­tian yearn­ing to ul­ti­mately un­der­stand what­ever holds the world to­gether in its in­most folds.

In con­trast, con­sider the epistemic habits of the av­er­age Joe Chris­tian: He will cer­tainly pro­fess that hav­ing true be­liefs is im­por­tant to him. But he doesn’t go to great lengths to ac­tu­ally make this hap­pen. For ex­am­ple, he prob­a­bly be­lieves in an om­nipo­tent and benefi­cial be­ing that cre­ated our uni­verse. Did he im­par­tially weigh all available ev­i­dence to reach this con­clu­sion? Prob­a­bly not. More likely is that he merely shares the be­liefs of his par­ents and his peers. How­ever, isn’t he both­ered by the prob­lem of evil or Oc­cam’s ra­zor? And what about all those other re­li­gions whose ad­her­ents be­lieve with the same cer­tainty in differ­ent doc­trines?

Many peo­ple don’t have good an­swers to these ques­tions. Their model of how the world works is nei­ther very co­her­ent nor ac­cu­rate but it’s com­fort­ing and good enough. They see lit­tle need to fill the epistemic gaps and in­con­sis­ten­cies in their wor­ld­view or to search for a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive. Thus, one could view them as epistemic satis­ficers. Of course, all of us ex­hibit this sort of epistemic laz­i­ness from time to time. In the words of Jonathan Haidt (2013):

We take a po­si­tion, look for ev­i­dence that sup­ports it, and if we find some ev­i­dence—enough so that our po­si­tion “makes sense”—we stop think­ing.

Usu­ally, I try to avoid tak­ing cheap shots at re­li­gion and there­fore I want to note that similar points ap­ply to many non-the­is­tic be­lief sys­tems.


Let’s go back to av­er­age Joe: he pre­sum­ably obeys the dic­tates of the law and his re­li­gion and oc­ca­sion­ally donates to (in­effec­tive) char­i­ties. Joe prob­a­bly thinks that he is a “good” per­son and many peo­ple would likely agree. This leads us to an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion: how do we typ­i­cally judge the moral­ity of our own ac­tions?

Let’s delve into the aca­demic liter­a­ture and see what it has to offer: In one ex­em­plary study, Sachdeva et al. (2009) asked par­ti­ci­pants to write a story about them­selves us­ing ei­ther morally pos­i­tive words (e.g. fair, nice) or morally nega­tive words (e.g. self­ish, mean). After­wards, the par­ti­ci­pants were asked if and how much they would like to donate to a char­ity of their choice. The re­sult: Par­ti­ci­pants who wrote a story con­tain­ing the pos­i­tive words donated only one fifth as much as those who wrote a story with nega­tive words.

This effect is com­monly referred to as moral li­cens­ing: Peo­ple with a re­cently boosted moral self-con­cept feel like they have done enough and see no need to im­prove the world even fur­ther. Or, as McGoni­gal (2011) puts it (em­pha­sis mine):

When it comes to right and wrong, most of us are not striv­ing for moral perfec­tion. We just want to feel good enough – which then gives us per­mis­sion to do what­ever we want.

Another well known phe­nomenon is scope ne­glect. One ex­pla­na­tion for scope ne­glect is the “pur­chase of moral satis­fac­tion” pro­posed by Kah­ne­man and Knetsch (1992): Most peo­ple don’t try to do as much good as pos­si­ble with their money, they only spend just enough cash to cre­ate a “warm-fuzzy feel­ing” in them­selves.

Phenomenons like “moral li­cens­ing” and “pur­chase of moral satis­fac­tion” in­di­cate that it is all too hu­man to only act as al­tru­is­tic as is nec­es­sary to feel or seem good enough. This could be de­scribed as “eth­i­cal satis­fic­ing” be­cause peo­ple just fol­low the course of ac­tion that meets or ex­ceeds a cer­tain thresh­old of moral good­ness. They don’t try to carry out the morally op­ti­mal ac­tion or an ap­prox­i­ma­tion thereof (as mea­sured by their own ax­iol­ogy).

I think I cited enough aca­demic pa­pers in the last para­graphs so let’s get more spec­u­la­tive: Many, if not most peo­ple5 tend to be in­tu­itive de­on­tol­o­gists6. Deon­tol­ogy ba­si­cally posits that some ac­tions are morally re­quired, and some ac­tions are morally for­bid­den. As long as you do perform the morally re­quired ones and don’t en­gage in morally wrong ac­tions you are off the hook. There is no need to do more, no need to perform su­pereroga­tory acts. Not ne­glect­ing your du­ties is good enough. In short, de­on­tol­ogy could also be viewed as eth­i­cal satis­fic­ing (see foot­note 7 for fur­ther elab­o­ra­tion).

In con­trast, con­sider de­on­tol­ogy’s arch-en­emy: Utili­tar­i­anism. Al­most all branches of util­i­tar­i­anism share the same prin­ci­pal idea: That one should max­i­mize some­thing for as many en­tities as pos­si­ble. Thus, util­i­tar­i­anism could be thought of as eth­i­cal max­i­miz­ing8.

Effec­tive al­tru­ists are an even bet­ter ex­am­ple for eth­i­cal max­i­miz­ers be­cause they ac­tu­ally try to iden­tify and im­ple­ment (or at least pre­tend to try) the most effec­tive ap­proaches to im­prove the world. Some con­duct in-depth re­search and com­pare the effec­tive­ness of hun­dreds of differ­ent char­i­ties to find the ones that save the most lives with as lit­tle money as pos­si­ble. And ru­mor has it there are peo­ple who have even weirder ideas about how to eth­i­cally op­ti­mize liter­ally ev­ery­thing. But more on this later.

Friend­ships and conversations

Hu­mans in­tu­itively as­sume that the de­sires and needs of other peo­ple are similar to their own ones. Con­se­quently, I thought that ev­ery­one se­cretly yearns to find like-minded com­pan­ions with whom one can talk about one’s biggest hopes as well as one’s great­est fears and form deep, last­ing friend­ships.

But ex­pe­rience tells me that I was prob­a­bly wrong, at least to some de­gree: I found it quite difficult to have these sorts of con­ver­sa­tions with a cer­tain kind of peo­ple, es­pe­cially in groups (luck­ily, I’ve found also enough ex­cep­tions). It seems that some peo­ple are satis­fied as long as their con­ver­sa­tions meet a cer­tain, not very high thresh­old of ac­cept­abil­ity. Similar ob­ser­va­tions could be made about their friend­ships in gen­eral. One could call them so­cial or con­ver­sa­tional satis­ficers. By the way, this time re­search ac­tu­ally sug­gests that con­ver­sa­tional max­i­miz­ing is prob­a­bly bet­ter for your hap­piness than small talk (Mehl et al., 2008).

In­ter­est­ingly, what could be called “plu­ral­is­tic su­perfi­cial­ity” may ac­count for many in­stances of small talk and su­perfi­cial friend­ships since ev­ery­one ex­pe­riences this at­mo­sphere of bor­ing triv­ial­ity but thinks that the oth­ers seem to en­joy the con­ver­sa­tions. So ev­ery­one is care­ful not to voice their yearn­ing for a more profound con­ver­sa­tion, not re­al­iz­ing that the oth­ers are sup­press­ing similar de­sires.

Cru­cial Con­sid­er­a­tions and the Big Picture

On to the last sec­tion of this es­say. It’s even more spec­u­la­tive and half-baked than the pre­vi­ous ones, but it may be the most in­ter­est­ing, so bear with me.

Re­search sug­gests that many peo­ple don’t even bother to search for an­swers to the big ques­tions of ex­is­tence. For ex­am­ple, in a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of 603 Ger­mans, 35% of the par­ti­ci­pants could be clas­sified as ex­is­ten­tially in­differ­ent, that is they nei­ther think their lives are mean­ingful nor suffer from this lack of mean­ing (T. Sch­nell, 2008).

The ex­is­ten­tial thirst of the re­main­ing 65% is pre­sum­ably harder to satisfy, but how much harder? Many peo­ple don’t in­vest much time or cog­ni­tive re­sources in or­der to as­cer­tain their ac­tual ter­mi­nal val­ues and how to op­ti­mally reach them – which is ar­guably of the ut­most im­por­tance. In­stead they ap­pear to fol­low a men­tal check­list con­tain­ing com­mon life goals (one could call them “cached goals”) such as a nice job, a ro­man­tic part­ner, a house and prob­a­bly kids. I’m not say­ing that such goals are “bad” – I also pre­fer hav­ing a job to sleep­ing un­der the bridge and hav­ing a part­ner to be­ing alone. But peo­ple usu­ally ac­quire and pur­sue their (life) goals un­sys­tem­at­i­cally and with­out much re­flec­tion which makes it un­likely that such goals ex­haus­tively re­flect their ideal­ized prefer­ences. Un­for­tu­nately, many hu­mans are so oc­cu­pied by the pur­suit of such goals that they are forced to aban­don fur­ther con­tem­pla­tion of the big pic­ture.

Fur­ther­more, many of them lack the fi­nan­cial, in­tel­lec­tual or psy­cholog­i­cal ca­pac­i­ties to pon­der com­plex ex­is­ten­tial ques­tions. I’m not blam­ing sub­sis­tence farm­ers in Bangladesh for not read­ing more about philos­o­phy, ra­tio­nal­ity or the far fu­ture. But there are more than enough af­fluent, highly in­tel­li­gent and in­quisi­tive peo­ple who cer­tainly would be able to re­flect about cru­cial con­sid­er­a­tions. In­stead, they spend most of their wak­ing hours max­i­miz­ing noth­ing but the money in their bank ac­counts or in­ter­pret­ing the po­ems of some ara­bic guy from the 7th cen­tury9.

Gen­er­ally, many peo­ple seem to take the cur­rent rules of our ex­is­tence for granted and con­tent them­selves with the fun­da­men­tal evils of the hu­man con­di­tion such as ag­ing, need­less suffer­ing or death. What­ever the rea­son may be, they don’t try to rad­i­cally change the rules of life and their ev­ery­day be­hav­ior seems to in­di­cate that they’ve (gladly?) ac­cepted their cur­rent ex­is­tence and the hu­man con­di­tion in gen­eral. One could call them ex­is­ten­tial satis­ficers.

Con­trast this with the mind­set of tran­shu­man­ism. Gen­er­ally, tran­shu­man­ists are not will­ing to ac­cept the hor­rors of na­ture and re­al­ize that hu­man na­ture it­self is deeply flawed. Thus, tran­shu­man­ists want to fun­da­men­tally al­ter the hu­man con­di­tion and aim to erad­i­cate, for ex­am­ple, ag­ing, un­nec­es­sary suffer­ing and ul­ti­mately death. Through var­i­ous tech­nolo­gies tran­shu­man­ists de­sire to cre­ate an utopia for ev­ery­one. Thus, tran­shu­man­ism could be thought of as ex­is­ten­tial max­i­miz­ing10.

How­ever, ex­is­ten­tial max­i­miz­ing and tran­shu­man­ism are not very pop­u­lar. Quite the op­po­site, ex­is­ten­tial satis­fic­ing – ac­cept­ing the seem­ingly un­alter­able hu­man con­di­tion – has a long philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tion. To give some ex­am­ples: The oth­er­wise ad­mirable Sto­ics be­lieved that the whole uni­verse is per­vaded and an­i­mated by di­v­ine rea­son. Con­se­quently, one should cul­ti­vate ap­atheia and calmly ac­cept one’s fate. Leib­niz even ar­gued that we already live in the best of all pos­si­ble wor­lds. The mind­set of ex­is­ten­tial satis­fic­ing can also be found in Epicure­anism and ar­guably in Bud­dhism. Lastly, re­li­gions like Chris­ti­an­ity or Is­lam are gen­er­ally against tran­shu­man­ism, partly be­cause this amounts to “play­ing God”. Which is un­der­stand­able from their point of view be­cause why bother fun­da­men­tally trans­form­ing the hu­man con­di­tion if ev­ery­thing will be perfect in heaven any­way?

One has to grant an­cient philoso­phers that they couldn’t even imag­ine that one day hu­man­ity would ac­quire the tech­nolog­i­cal means to fun­da­men­tally al­ter the hu­man con­di­tion. Thus it is no won­der that Epicu­rus ar­gued that death is not to be feared or that the Sto­ics be­lieved that dis­ease or poverty are not re­ally bad: It is all too hu­man to in­vent ra­tio­nal­iza­tions for the de­sir­a­bil­ity of ac­tu­ally un­de­sir­able, but (seem­ingly) in­evitable things – be it death or the hu­man con­di­tion it­self.

But many con­tem­po­rary in­tel­lec­tu­als can’t be given the benefit of the doubt. They ar­gue ex­plic­itly against try­ing to change the hu­man con­di­tion. To name a few: Bernard Willi­ams be­lieved that death gives life mean­ing. Fran­cis Fukuyama called tran­shu­man­ism the world’s most dan­ger­ous idea. And even Richard Dawk­ins thinks that the fear of death is “whin­ing” and that the de­sire for im­mor­tal­ity is “pre­sump­tu­ous”11:

Be thank­ful that you have a life, and for­sake your vain and pre­sump­tu­ous de­sire for a sec­ond one.

With all that said, “run-off-the-mill” tran­shu­man­ism ar­guably still doesn’t go far enough. There are at least two prob­lems I can see: 1) Without a benev­olent su­per­in­tel­li­gent sin­gle­tonMoloch” (to use Scott Alexan­der’s ex­cel­lent word­ing) will never be defeated. 2) We are still un­cer­tain about on­tol­ogy, de­ci­sion the­ory, episte­mol­ogy and our own ter­mi­nal val­ues. Con­se­quently, we need some kind of pro­cess which can help us to un­der­stand those things or we will prob­a­bly fail to re­ar­range re­al­ity un­til it con­forms with our ideal­ized prefer­ences.

There­fore, it could be ar­gued that the ul­ti­mate goal is the cre­ation of a benev­olent su­per­in­tel­li­gence or Friendly AI (FAI) whose val­ues are al­igned with ours. There are of course nu­mer­ous ob­jec­tions to the whole su­per­in­tel­li­gence strat­egy in gen­eral and to FAI in par­tic­u­lar, but I won’t go into de­tail here be­cause this es­say is already too long.

Nev­er­the­less – how­ever un­likely – it seems pos­si­ble that with the help of a benev­olent su­per­in­tel­li­gence we could abol­ish all gra­tu­itous suffer­ing and achieve an op­ti­mal mode of ex­is­tence. We could be­come posthu­man be­ings with god-like in­tel­lects, our ec­stasy out­shin­ing the sur­round­ing stars, and trans­form­ing the uni­verse un­til one happy day all wounds are healed, all de­spair dis­pel­led and ev­ery (ideal­ized) de­sire fulfilled. To many this seems like sen­ti­men­tal and wish­ful es­cha­tolog­i­cal spec­u­la­tion but for me it amounts to ul­ti­mate ex­is­ten­tial max­i­miz­ing12, 13.


The pre­vi­ous para­graphs shouldn’t fool one into be­liev­ing that max­i­miz­ing has no se­ri­ous dis­ad­van­tages. The de­sire to aim higher, be­come stronger and to always be­have in an op­ti­mally goal-track­ing way can eas­ily re­sult in psy­cholog­i­cal over­load and sub­se­quent sur­ren­der. Fur­ther­more, it seems that adopt­ing the mind­set of a max­i­mizer in­creases the ten­dency to en­gage in up­ward so­cial com­par­i­sons and coun­ter­fac­tual think­ing which con­tribute to de­pres­sion as re­search has shown.

More­over, there is much to be learnt from sto­icism and satis­fic­ing in gen­eral: Life isn’t always perfect and there are things one can­not change; one should ac­cept one’s short­com­ings – if they are in­deed un­alter­able; one should make the best of one’s cir­cum­stances. In con­clu­sion, bet­ter be a happy satis­ficer whose mod­er­ate pro­duc­tivity is sus­tain­able than be a stressed max­i­mizer who burns out af­ter one year. See also these two es­says which make similar points.

All that be­ing said, I still fa­vor max­i­miz­ing over satis­fic­ing. If our an­ces­tors had all been satis­ficers we would still be pick­ing lice off each other’s backs14. And only by means of ex­is­ten­tial max­i­miz­ing can we hope to abol­ish the afore­men­tioned ex­is­ten­tial evils and all need­less suffer­ing – even if the chances seem slim.


[1] Ob­vi­ously this is not a cat­e­gor­i­cal clas­sifi­ca­tion, but a di­men­sional one.

[2] To put it more for­mally: The util­ity func­tion of the ul­ti­mate satis­ficer would as­sign the same (pos­i­tive) num­ber to each pos­si­ble world, i.e. the ul­ti­mate satis­ficer would be satis­fied with ev­ery pos­si­ble world. The less pos­si­ble wor­lds you are satis­fied with (i.e. the higher your thresh­old of ac­cept­abil­ity), the less pos­si­ble wor­lds ex­ist be­tween which you are in­differ­ent, the less of a satis­ficer and the more of a max­i­mizer you are. Also note: Satis­fic­ing is not ir­ra­tional in it­self. Fur­ther­more, I’m talk­ing about the some­what messy psy­cholog­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics and (re­vealed) prefer­ences of hu­man satis­ficers/​max­i­miz­ers. Read these posts if you want to know more about satis­fic­ing vs. max­i­miz­ing with re­gard to AIs.

[3] Ra­tional max­i­miz­ers take the value of in­for­ma­tion and op­por­tu­nity costs into ac­count.

[4] In­stead of “max­i­mizer” I could also have used the term “op­ti­mizer”.

[5] E.g. in the “Fat Man” ver­sion of the fa­mous trol­ley dilemma, some­thing like 90% of sub­jects don’t push a fat man onto the track, in or­der to save 5 other peo­ple. Also, util­i­tar­i­ans like Peter Singer don’t ex­actly get rave re­views from most folks. Although there is some con­flict­ing re­search (Jo­hans­son-Sten­man, 2012). Fur­ther­more, the de­on­tol­ogy vs. util­i­tar­i­anism dis­tinc­tion it­self is limited. See e.g. “The Righ­teous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt.

[6] Of course, most peo­ple are not strict de­on­tol­o­gists. They are also in­tu­itive virtue ethi­cists and care about the con­se­quences of their ac­tions.

[7] Ad­mit­tedly, one could ar­gue that cer­tain ver­sions of de­on­tol­ogy are about max­i­mally not vi­o­lat­ing cer­tain rules and thus could be viewed as eth­i­cal max­i­miz­ing. How­ever, in the space of all pos­si­ble moral ac­tions there ex­ist many ac­tions be­tween which a de­on­tol­o­gist is in­differ­ent, namely all those ac­tions that ex­ceed the thresh­old of moral ac­cept­abil­ity (i.e. those ac­tions that are not vi­o­lat­ing any de­on­tolog­i­cal rule). To illus­trate this with an ex­am­ple: Visit­ing a friend and com­fort­ing him for 4 hours or us­ing the same time to work and sub­se­quently donat­ing the earned money to a char­ity are both morally equiv­a­lent from the per­spec­tive of (many) de­on­tolog­i­cal the­o­ries – as long as one doesn’t vi­o­late any de­on­tolog­i­cal rule in the pro­cess. We can see that this par­allels satis­fic­ing.

Con­trast this with (clas­si­cal) util­i­tar­i­anism: In the space of all pos­si­ble moral ac­tions there is only one op­ti­mal moral ac­tion for an util­i­tar­ian and all other ac­tions are morally worse. An (ideal) util­i­tar­ian searches for and im­ple­ments the op­ti­mal moral ac­tion (or tries to ap­prox­i­mate it be­cause in real life one is ba­si­cally never able to iden­tify, let alone carry out the op­ti­mal moral ac­tion). This amounts to max­i­miz­ing. In­ter­est­ingly, this in­her­ent de­mand­ing­ness has of­ten been put for­ward as a cri­tique of util­i­tar­i­anism (and other sorts of con­se­quen­tial­ism) and satis­fic­ing con­se­quen­tial­ism has been pro­posed as a solu­tion (Slote, 1984). Fur­ther ev­i­dence for the claim that max­i­miz­ing is gen­er­ally viewed with sus­pi­cion.

[8] The obli­ga­tory word of cau­tion here: fol­low­ing util­i­tar­i­anism to the let­ter can be self-defeat­ing if done in a naive way.

[9] Nick Bostrom (2014) ex­presses this point some­what harshly:

A col­league of mine likes to point out that a Fields Medal (the high­est honor in math­e­mat­ics) in­di­cates two things about the re­cip­i­ent: that he was ca­pa­ble of ac­com­plish­ing some­thing im­por­tant, and that he didn’t.

As a gen­eral point: Too many peo­ple end up as money-, academia-, ca­reer- or sta­tus-max­i­miz­ers al­though those things of­ten don’t re­flect their (ideal­ized) prefer­ences.

[10] Of course there are lots of utopian move­ments like so­cial­ism, com­mu­nism or the Zeit­geist move­ment. But all those move­ments make the fun­da­men­tal mis­take of ig­nor­ing or at least heav­ily un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the im­por­tance of hu­man na­ture. Creat­ing utopia merely through so­cial means is im­pos­si­ble be­cause most of us are, by our very na­ture, too self­ish, sta­tus-ob­sessed and hyp­o­crit­i­cal and cul­tural in­doc­tri­na­tion can hardly change this. To deny this, is to sim­ply mi­s­un­der­stand the pro­cess of nat­u­ral se­lec­tion and evolu­tion­ary psy­chol­ogy. Se­condly, even if a so­cial­ist utopia were to come true, there still would ex­ist un­re­quited love, dis­ease, de­pres­sion and of course death. To abol­ish those things one has to rad­i­cally trans­form the hu­man con­di­tion it­self.

[11] Here is an­other quote:

We are go­ing to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most peo­ple are never go­ing to die be­cause they are never go­ing to be born. [….] We priv­ileged few, who won the lot­tery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our in­evitable re­turn to that prior state from which the vast ma­jor­ity have never stirred?

― Richard Dawk­ins in “Un­weav­ing the Rain­bow”

[12] It’s prob­a­bly no co­in­ci­dence that Yud­kowsky named his blog “Op­ti­mize Liter­ally Every­thing” which ad­e­quately en­cap­su­lates the sen­ti­ment I tried to ex­press here.

[13] Those in­ter­ested in or skep­ti­cal of the prospect of su­per­in­tel­li­gent AI, I re­fer to “Su­per­in­tel­li­gence: Paths, Dangers and Strate­gies” by Nick Bostrom.

[14] I stole this line from Bostrom’s “In Defense of Posthu­man Dig­nity”.


Bostrom, N. (2014). Su­per­in­tel­li­gence: Paths, dan­gers, strate­gies. Oxford Univer­sity Press.

Haidt, J. (2013). The righ­teous mind: Why good peo­ple are di­vided by poli­tics and re­li­gion. Ran­dom House LLC.

Jo­hans­son-Sten­man, O. (2012). Are most peo­ple con­se­quen­tial­ists? Eco­nomics Let­ters, 115 (2), 225-228.

Kah­ne­man, D., & Knetsch, J. L. (1992). Valu­ing pub­lic goods: the pur­chase of moral satis­fac­tion. Jour­nal of en­vi­ron­men­tal eco­nomics and man­age­ment, 22(1), 57-70.

McGoni­gal, K. (2011). The Willpower In­stinct: How Self-Con­trol Works, Why It Mat­ters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. Pen­guin.

Mehl, M. R., Vaz­ire, S., Hol­leran, S. E., & Clark, C. S. (2010). Eaves­drop­ping on Hap­piness Well-Be­ing Is Re­lated to Hav­ing Less Small Talk and More Sub­stan­tive Con­ver­sa­tions. Psy­cholog­i­cal Science, 21(4), 539-541.

Sachdeva, S., Iliev, R., & Medin, D. L. (2009). Sin­ning saints and saintly sin­ners the para­dox of moral self-reg­u­la­tion. Psy­cholog­i­cal sci­ence, 20(4), 523-528.

Sch­nell, T. (2010). Ex­is­ten­tial in­differ­ence: Another qual­ity of mean­ing in life. Jour­nal of Hu­man­is­tic Psy­chol­ogy, 50(3), 351-373.

Schwartz, B. (2000). Self de­ter­mi­na­tion: The tyranny of free­dom. Amer­i­can Psy­chol­o­gist, 55, 79–88.

Schwartz, B., Ward, A., Mon­terosso, J., Lyubomirsky, S., White, K., & Lehman, D. R. (2002). Max­i­miz­ing ver­sus satis­fic­ing: hap­piness is a mat­ter of choice. Jour­nal of per­son­al­ity and so­cial psy­chol­ogy, 83(5), 1178.

Slote, M. (1984). “Satis­fic­ing Con­se­quen­tial­ism”. Pro­ceed­ings of the Aris­totelian So­ciety, 58: 139–63.