This is a short assignment I give my Intro to Philosophy students.
Imagine you KNOW that you and the entirety of this world are in a virtual reality right now, a fully simulated reality where you have no “real” body elsewhere floating in a vat of nutrients. You are wholly virtual. As we all know, this world is full of violence, hate, and more than enough suffering of every stripe and variety to go around ten times over. This is the way of our world since before recorded history.
Now, imagine that one day while walking to class, you notice a small blue box. You pick up the box, open it, and find a button and a pamphlet. The button is labeled “OFF.” After reading the pamphlet, you realize that this button is the OFF button for the entire simulation. With one push, you and EVERYTHING ELSE would vanish without a trace, without pain. It would be like turning off a video game. There wouldn’t be a violent ending, just an ending. No one would even know. You are now faced with a decision…will you push the button?
For the sake of argument, I’ll take the less popular stance. Considering that we are nothing but simulations and pushing the button would not result in ANY violence, it would be immoral NOT to push the button. You can talk about self-survival, wanting to experience the joys of life, not wanting to make such a big decision for others, and the prospects of a brighter future. But none of that will trump the fact that millions of people are suffering horribly right now. War, famine, oppression, slavery, forced prostitution, extreme poverty, deadly illnesses, and natural disasters line every corner and crevice of our world. It would be the moral decision to push the button and end all of this suffering. If you decide not to the push the button, then you have given your assent to every suffering that happens henceforth. Every genocide that happens thereafter will have happened because you allowed it to happen. The impending torture, rape, and killing of every child, will have happened because you failed to put an end to such atrocities. These sufferings would be on your shoulders.
Yes, by pushing the button, you also put an end to all the joys that would have happened had you not pushed the button. But that price pales in comparison to the benefit – the benefit of ending all the pointless suffering in the world. Since we are nothing but simulations and pushing the button would not result in ANY violence, the moral thing to do is push the button.
Think about it this way. You might think that it’s a no-brainer decision to say, “no way!” as you comfortably live in relative luxury. But what might the person who is just about to starve to death decide who has already lost his whole family to famine?
Like I said, I’m proposing this view for the sake of argument.