Thursday, March 24, 2011


In Part X of Hume's Dialogues, Demea says this:
Ask yourself, ask any of your acquaintance, whether they would live over again the last ten or twenty years of their lives. No! but the next twenty, they say, will be better.
I'm reading an interesting exploration of this offer. What if this were not in place of the next ten or twenty years but in addition to it? Of course, in reliving this time you really will relive it: there will be no memory of what is to come, so to speak, when you go back; instead, things will turn out just as they did and you will have no prior knowledge of how they would. Still, let's say this adds on and extends your life. If the last ten years have been good overall (contain more good than bad, perhaps) then surely we should want to take up the offer; it would make our lives longer and better.

Here's Avishai Margalit setting out the offer in The Ethics of Memory (Harvard, 2002, 131-2):
Suppose that what you are offered is to repeat the last ten years of your life exactly as they were, with no traces of memory from your previous experience of those ten years.  Assume that the ten years that you are going to relive, if you accept the offer, are ten years added to your life and no a substitute for what awaits you. You will spend the rest of your life from from the exact point you are in now, with the same state of mind and memories that you now have.  Assume, further, that the last ten years in your life were not particularly bad, perhaps even reasonably food.
We should assume that the whole world colludes in this: events repeat in the news, my family and friends equally repeat those ten years.  So it is not as if only I am going back and reliving the time; we're all in it together as far as my life is concerned.  All the same, I don't think I would be keen.  Why not? For one, notice that it is not obvious that I can be sure I am not already doing so.  But that is also why it does not appeal since it also makes no real difference so far as my own conception of my life and its value is concerned whether or not I repeat the ten years, indeed whether or not I am in a succession of such loops.  If a longer life with more goods is a better life then this seems to be a case in which I see no reason to hope for a longer and better life is this is the means by which it becomes longer and better.  If a life is to be improved, therefore, it seems that I want it to be improved in a way that makes it a longer and better continuous set of events, with no such 'loops'; if we take a narrative view of a life, it want it to have more chapters in it and not just in the sense of containing two or more chapter twos, however good that chapter is.

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