EXRE Weekly Colloquium: Julien Bugnon - Welfare Subjectivity and The Unifying Power of Consciousness

Breite Öffentlichkeit
22.05.2024 17:15 - 19:00

I present an argument based on the unifying power of consciousness in favour of what Bradford (2022) has termed “the View”: the view that consciousness is necessary for being a welfare subject. Welfare subjects are bearers of welfare goods and bads: things that affect the well-being or welfare of these subjects, things that are good or bad for them. While determining what exactly should count as welfare goods and bads is a fiercely contested issue, there is a temptation to believe that we should focus on the nature of welfare goods and bads to explain the truth of the View (see van der Deijl 2020, Lin 2020) or its falsity (see Bradford 2022). Contrary to this, I suggest that we should not focus primarily on the nature of welfare goods but rather on the nature of their bearer to evaluate the View.
The first premise of my argument for the View builds on the idea that welfare subjects are not mere locations where we find alleged welfare value. Things are not just good or bad in them, but good or bad for them (compare McDaniel 2014, Orsi 2015). I argue that we should account for this intuitive difference between welfare subjects in a genuine sense as opposed to a mere locational sense in terms of how unified they are. Genuine welfare subjects are individuals unified in a non-arbitrary manner, while mere locations of alleged welfare value are not. There is a non-arbitrary answer to the question of how many genuine welfare subjects there are in a given region of space R, which is not deducible from mere information that there is some welfare value instantiated in R. Yet individuating welfare subjects non-arbitrarily is crucial to uphold some intuitive ethical principles, for instance that when it comes to compensating something being bad for x by something being good for y, whether or not x=y will have ethical significance.
My second premise argues that having consciousness is necessary to be unified in the way required to be a genuine welfare subject. There is an objective fact of the matter as to how many conscious subjects there are in a given region of space R. Once we take the conscious perspective of such a subject seriously, the question of whether it is identical to another subject cannot be given an arbitrary answer. In contrast, any alternative unifying principle, whether functional, biological, or otherwise, will leave room for arbitrariness and fall short of providing sufficiently sharp individuation conditions.
I conclude that the problem with attributing welfare goods to entities without consciousness is not that we cannot make sense of the value of these goods without presupposing that consciousness is a constitutive part of them. We can indeed make sense of a state of affairs A being good for an entity E in a way that A’s goodness for E does not require any conscious experience for E. However, we cannot make sense of a state of affairs being bad for entity E if E is not an entity sufficiently unified to make it appropriate for us to take its valenced point of view.
22.05.2024 17:15 - 19:00
Elisa Bezençon
Vortragende / Mitwirkende
Dr Julien Bugnon, Université de Fribourg & University of Barcelona