A while ago I read a great paper by the philosopher L. A. Paul and wrote this post about it, asking: is the experience of becoming a vampire analogous in important ways to the experience of becoming a parent? When deciding whether to become a vampire, is it relevant what human you thinks about being a vampire, or only what future vampire you would think about being a vampire?
Paul liked the example and was kind enough to include (her much deeper and more fully worked-out version of) it in her book, Transformative Experience.
And now David Brooks, the official public philosopher de nous jours, has devoted a whole column to Paul’s book! And he leads with the vampires!
Let’s say you had the chance to become a vampire. With one magical bite you would gain immortality, superhuman strength and a life of glamorous intensity. Your friends who have undergone the transformation say the experience is incredible. They drink animal blood, not human blood, and say everything about their new existence provides them with fun, companionship and meaning.
Would you do it? Would you consent to receive the life-altering bite, even knowing that once changed you could never go back?
The difficulty of the choice is that you’d have to use your human self and preferences to try to guess whether you’d enjoy having a vampire self and preferences. Becoming a vampire is transformational. You would literally become a different self. How can you possibly know what it would feel like to be this different version of you or whether you would like it?
Brooks punts on the actually difficult questions raised by Paul’s book, counseling you to cast aside contemplation of your various selves’ preferences and do as objective moral standards demand. But Paul makes it clear (p.19) that “in the circumstances I am considering… there are no moral or religious rules that determine just which act you should choose.”
Note well, buried in the last paragraph:
When we’re shopping for something, we act as autonomous creatures who are looking for the product that will produce the most pleasure or utility. But choosing to have a child or selecting a spouse, faith or life course is not like that.
Choosing children, spouses, and vocations are discussed elsewhere in the piece, but choosing a religion is not. And yet there it is in the summation. The column is yet more evidence for my claim that David Brooks will shortly announce — let’s say within a year — that he’s converting to Christianity. Controversial predictions! And vampires! All part of the Quomodocumque brand.