Human extinction and the value of our efforts

Philosophical Forum 35 (3):371–391 (2004)
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Some people feel distressed reflecting on human extinction. Some people even claim that our efforts and lives would be empty and pointless if humanity becomes extinct, even if this will not occur for millions of years. In this essay, I will attempt to demonstrate that this claim is false. The desire for long-lastingness or quasi-immortality is often unwittingly adopted as a standard for judging whether our efforts are significant. If we accomplish our goals and then later in life conclude that these accomplishments were of no significance, then this is a sign that the desire for long-lastingness has crept into our standards. By recognizing this, and refraining from adopting an unreasonable standard to judge whether our efforts are significant, it will be to our advantage. Then, when we look back on life from an external perspective that encompasses times after humanity has become extinct, we will not conclude that our efforts amounted to nothing. Rather, we will conclude that many people made significant accomplishments that made their lives and the lives of other people better than they would have been if their goals had never been pursued.

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