In ‘Agency, Life Extension, and the Meaning of Life‘, professional philosopher Lisa Bortolotti argues that the so-called agency objection against a loosely defined life extension technology should be rejected.
Briefly put, the agency objection argues that one important component of the meaningfulness of human life is being constrained as an agent and since ‘life extension’ removes these constraints it undermines this meaningfulness of lived lives.
Agency is described the following way by Bortolotti:
Working towards one’s desired goals requires the overcoming of obstacles and contributes to a sense of achievement and self worth. Agency would not play this role unless agents were constrained. Striving to achieve one’s goals is a paradigmatic way of acquiring or manifesting virtues such as constancy, integrity and determination, and recent empirical evidence also suggests that it is a source of happiness.
Bortolotti shows with good examples and careful argumentation that even in a much extended life constraints of agency are still around and obstacles are still galore. She is also using another well-known argument against ‘life extension’, the boredom argument to work against the agency objection.
Now, I’m not here to introduce Bortolotti’s arguments in details but I recommend for everybody interested in the philosophy of lifespan extension to take a look.
I’m here to sketch an even stronger argument against the potential use of the agency objection in the context of robust lifespan extension. The main purpose of this exercise is to show how serious lifespan extension technology can provide ample enough motivations, commitments, decisions, challenges for people who will take it seriously. So the agency objection is just an apropos of developing snippets of positive philosophy around extreme longevity.
By an ‘even stronger argument’ I mean that from the point-of-view of this argument the agency objection stops being an objection and turns into an actual agency argument supporting extreme life extension due to its effect on the actions and decision of the agents.
Body of argument
First of all we assume the most conservative scenario of robust lifespan extension, a bodily one, maintaining physical, physiological continuity and psychological connectedness.
Second, a scientifically/technologically motivated assumption: Any kind of significant lifespan extension can only be achieved with a continuous, diverse and super-complex regenerative treatment.
(Will elaborate on these 2 assumptions above later, and update the post or in subsequent posts.)
Third, extreme, healthy, lifespan extension taken seriously forms a coherent life plan for individuals choosing it. For them the meaning of life is to live healthily as long as technologically possible.
A technical note on the Rawlsian concept of ‘life plan’ using Nozick’s introduction in Philosophy and the meaning of life, p577 in Philosophical explanations:
To intend that my life be a certain way, I must have an intention or desire or goal or plan that focuses upon my life as a whole, or at least a significant portion of it. … The strongest sort of intention about one’s life is a life plan, an individual’s set of coherent, systematic purposes and intentions for his life. These need not be specified fully, they will leave much open for further detailing, they can be revised and so on. A life plan specifies the intentional focus of a person’s life, his major goals (perhaps partially ordering them), his conception of himself, his purposes, what if anything he dedicates or devotes himself to, and so forth.
Let’s see now the meat of the argument, presented en masse, textually without detailed argumentative structure and notation.
Extreme lifespan extension intervention technology management will take up a significant amount of time of the agent going through the process (think 15-20%, say, as an analogy think of serious diabetes 1 management). It will present a major constraint to any human life lived with the use of this technology. When the question is to prioritise between reaching longevity escape velocity with a new intervention versus any other non-related life goal, like learning a new profession or raising kids, a serious life extension commitment will overrule these other choices, that would have otherwise been prioritised assuming current, typical life expectancy. These other choices and decisions will be nested within the life structure presented by such a demanding, continuous, regenerative process. By posing such constraints and obstacles of reaching other goals in life, keeping to this regenerative regimen brings 2 important consequences. First, every human life committed to lifespan extension will be equipped with a new superstructure, specified by the process. Second, all other, non-related goals and commitments in life become more scrutinised, more challenging for the agents in particular, compared to how they are in the current society.
As reaching the next period of extended life will always have its challenges and hence cannot be standardised ahead of these challenges (biological aging is not in remission for long, multiple, diverse damages can and will always come back and pile up) this superstructure imposed on life helps constructs a super-agent, always with an agenda on what to repair, regenerate next in order to keep the system together. This superstructure continuously nourishes the constantly updated, “original” agent underneath, the one before the start of interventions, with it’s original, ever-revised and adjusted non-related life goals.
According to such an argument and such an interpretation of extreme lifespan extension technology and commitment, the agency-ness of active agents will become much stronger and over-expressed. So the agency objection can be re-stated as a pro argument for developing, desiring, choosing and acting under extreme, healthy, lifespan extension.
PS: This post is a quick draft, cut out from a text 3x as big. I am not dealing here with the related concept of self-narrative, or not elaborating on further on the crucial concept of a ‘life plan’. In case of actual, substantial feedback and interest, I will provide more details and attempt to make the structure of the argument clearer.