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Summary This category covers two major issues concerning the ethics of future persons: (1) Population axiology, or what principles determine the value of a population.  E.g., does an additional happy life make a positive contribution to the value of the world, all else equal?  (2) The Non-Identity Problem, and the moral evaluation of actions that determine who will exist in future.
Key works Parfit 1984 introduced both the non-identity problem and the fundamental problems of population axiology.  Much subsequent discussion has concerned whether we should accept Parfit's "Repugnant Conclusion", or whether there is any plausible way to avoid it.  Arrhenius 2000 offers an "impossibility theorem" showing that several prima facie plausible axioms cannot be jointly held.  Such difficulties have led several philosophers to embrace the repugnant conclusion -- Huemer 2008 is a representative example.  Others, following Hurka 1983, have rejected the "mere addition" principle: the idea that adding a happy life cannot (all else equal) make a population worse.
Introductions Parfit 2004 offers a streamlined introduction to the problems of population axiology. Roberts 2011 has an accessible discussion of the intuitive "Asymmetry" according to which we are required not to bring into existence miserable lives, but are permitted not to bring into existence happy lives.
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  1. Stuart Rachels - (1999). Review Essay of Contingent Future Persons, Jan C. Heller and Nick Fotion, Eds. [REVIEW] Bioethics 13:160-167.
    This essay critically comments on Contingent Future Persons (1997), an anthology of thirteen papers on the same topic as Obligations to Future Generations (1978), namely, the morality of decisions affecting the existence, number and identity of future persons. In my discussion, I identify the basic point of dispute between R. M. Hare and Michael Lockwood on potentiality; I criticize Nick Fotion's thesis that the Repugnant Conclusion is too far-fetched to be philosophically valuable; I object to Clark Wolf's "Impure Consequentialist Theory (...)
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  2. Matthew Adler (2009). Future Generations: A Prioritarian View. George Washington Law Review 77:1478-1520.
    Should we remain neutral between our interests and those of future generations? Or are we ethically permitted or even required to depart from neutrality and engage in some measure of intergenerational discounting? This Article addresses the problem of intergenerational discounting by drawing on two different intellectual traditions: the social welfare function (“SWF”) tradition in welfare economics, and scholarship on “prioritarianism” in moral philosophy. Unlike utilitarians, prioritarians are sensitive to the distribution of well-being. They give greater weight to well-being changes affecting (...)
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  3. Per Algander (2012). A Defence of the Asymmetry in Population Ethics. Res Publica 18 (2):145-157.
    A common intuition is that there is a moral difference between ‘making people happy’ and ‘making happy people.’ This intuition, often referred to as ‘the Asymmetry,’ has, however, been criticized on the grounds that it is incoherent. Why is there, for instance, not a corresponding difference between ‘making people unhappy’ and ‘making unhappy people’? I argue that the intuition faces several difficulties but that these can be met by introducing a certain kind of reason that is favouring but non-requiring. It (...)
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  4. Jonny Anomaly, Public Goods and Procreation (Draft).
    Procreation is the ultimate public goods problem. Each new child affects the welfare of many other people, and some (but not all) children produce uncompensated value that future people will enjoy. This essay addresses challenges that arise if we think of procreation and parenting as public goods. These include whether private choices are likely to lead to a socially desirable outcome, and whether changes in laws, social norms, or access to genetic engineering and embryo selection might improve the aggregate outcome (...)
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  5. Jonny Anomaly (2011). Public Health and Public Goods. Public Health Ethics 4 (3):251-259.
    It has become increasingly difficult to distinguish public health from tangentially related fields like social work. I argue that we should reclaim the more traditional conception of public health as the provision of health-related public goods. The public goods account has the advantage of establishing a relatively clear and distinctive mission for public health. It also allows a consensus of people with different comprehensive moral and political commitments to endorse public health measures, even if they disagree about precisely why they (...)
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  6. Páll Árdal (1980). Ethics and Population, Edited by Michael D. Bayles Schenkman Publishing Company Inc.: Cambridge, Mass. 1976. Dialogue 19 (01):163-171.
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  7. Gustaf Arrhenius, Future Generations.
    For the last thirty years or so, there has been a search underway for a theory that can accommodate our intuitions in regard to moral duties to future generations. The object of this search has proved surprisingly elusive. The classical moral theories in the literature all have perplexing implications in this area. Classical Utilitarianism, for instance, implies that it could be better to expand a population even if everyone in the resulting population would be much worse off than in the (...)
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  8. Gustaf Arrhenius, The Very Repugnant Conclusion.
    Population axiology concerns how to evaluate populations in regard to their goodness, that is, how to order populations by the relations “is better than” and “is as good as”. This field has been riddled with “paradoxes” which seem to show that our considered beliefs are inconsistent in cases where the number of people and their welfare varies. Already in Derek Parfit’s seminal contribution to the topic, an informal paradox — the Mere Addition Paradox — was presented and later contributions have (...)
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  9. Gustaf Arrhenius, One More Axiological Impossibility Theorem.
    Population axiology concerns how to evaluate populations in regard to their goodness, that is, how to order populations by the relations “is better than” and “is as good as”. This field has been riddled with impossibility results which seem to show that our considered beliefs are inconsistent in cases where the number of people and their welfare varies.1 All of these results have one thing in common, however. They all involve an adequacy condition that rules out Derek Parfit’s Repugnant Conclusion: (...)
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  10. Gustaf Arrhenius, The Paradoxes of Future Generations and Normative Theory.
    As the title of this paper indicates, I’m going to discuss what we ought to do in situations where our actions affect future generations. More specifically, I shall focus on the moral problems raised by cases where our actions affect who’s going to live, their number and their well being. I’ll start, however, with population axiology. Most discussion in population ethics has concentrated on how to evaluate populations in regard to their goodness, that is, how to order populations by the (...)
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  11. Gustaf Arrhenius, What Österberg's Population Theory has in Common with Plato's.
    Jan Österberg is one of the pioneers in the field of population ethics. He started thinking about this issue already in the late 60s and he has developed one of the most original and interesting population axiologies.1 I’ve discussed the problems and drawbacks of Österberg’s theory elsewhere, and I don’t think that this is the place and time to discuss them again.2 Rather, I shall show that Österberg’s theory has a feature in common with the population axiologies of such luminaries (...)
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  12. Gustaf Arrhenius (2009). Egalitarianism and Population Change. In Axel Gosseries & Lukas H. Meyer (eds.), Intergenerational Justice. Oup Oxford.
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  13. Gustaf Arrhenius (2009). Can the Person Affecting Restriction Solve the Problems in Population Ethics?. In. In M. A. Roberts & D. T. Wasserman (eds.), Harming Future Persons. Springer Verlag. 289--314.
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  14. Gustaf Arrhenius (2003). Feldman's Desert-Adjusted Utilitarianism and Population Ethics. Utilitas 15 (02):225-.
    Fred Feldman has proposed a desert-adjusted version of utilitarianism, , as a plausible population axiology. Among other things, he claims that justicism avoids Derek Parfit's . This paper explains the theory and tries to straighten out some of its ambiguities. Moreover, it is shown that it is not clear whether justicism avoids the repugnant conclusion and that it is has other counter-intuitive implications. It is concluded that justicism is not convincing as a population axiology.
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  15. Gustaf Arrhenius (2003). The Person-Affecting Restriction, Comparativism, and the Moral Status of Potential People. Ethical Perspectives 10 (3):185-195.
    Traditional ethical theories have paradoxical implications in regards to questions concerning procreation and our moral duties to future people. It has been suggested that the crux of the problem resides in an all too ‘impersonal’ axiology and that the problems of population axiology can be solved by adopting a ‘Person Affecting Restriction’ which in its slogan form states that an outcome can only be better than another if it is better for people. This move has been especially popular in the (...)
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  16. Gustaf Arrhenius (2000). An Impossibility Theorem for Welfarist Axiologies. Economics and Philosophy 16 (2):247-266.
    A search is under way for a theory that can accommodate our intuitions in population axiology. The object of this search has proved elusive. This is not surprising since, as we shall see, any welfarist axiology that satisfies three reasonable conditions implies at least one of three counter-intuitive conclusions. I shall start by pointing out the failures in three recent attempts to construct an acceptable population axiology. I shall then present an impossibility theorem and conclude with a short discussion of (...)
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  17. Gustaf Arrhenius (1999). An Impossibility Theorem in Population Axiology with Weak Ordering Assumptions. Philosophical Studies 49:11-21.
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  18. Gustaf Arrhenius & Wlodek Rabinowitz (2010). Better to Be Than Not to Be? In Hans Joas (ed.), The Benefit of Broad Horizons: Intellectual and Institutional Preconditions for a Global Social Science: Festschrift for Bjorn Wittrock on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday. Brill. 65 - 85.
    Can it be better or worse for a person to be than not to be, that is, can it be better or worse to exist than not to exist at all? This old 'existential question' has been raised anew in contemporary moral philosophy. There are roughly two reasons for this renewed interest. Firstly, traditional so-called “impersonal” ethical theories, such as utilitarianism, have counter-intuitive implications in regard to questions concerning procreation and our moral duties to future, not yet existing people. Secondly, (...)
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  19. Robin Attfield (2005). Biocentric Consequentialism and Value-Pluralism: A Response to Alan Carter. Utilitas 17 (1):85-92.
    My theory of biocentric consequentialism is first shown not to be significantly inegalitarian, despite not advocating treating all creatures equally. I then respond to Carter's objections concerning population, species extinctions, the supposed minimax implication, endangered interests, autonomy and thought-experiments. Biocentric consequentialism is capable of supporting a sustainable human population at a level compatible with preserving most non-human species, as opposed to catastrophic population increases or catastrophic decimation. Nor is it undermined by the mere conceivable possibility of counter-intuitive implications. While Carter (...)
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  20. Charles Blackorby, Walter Bossert & David Donaldson (2003). The Axiomatic Approach to Population Ethics. Politics, Philosophy and Economics 2 (3):342-381.
    This article examines several families of population principles in the light of a set of axioms. In addition to the critical-level utilitarian, number-sensitive critical-level utilitarian, and number-dampened utilitarian families and their generalized counterparts, we consider the restricted number-dampened family and introduce two new ones: the restricted critical-level and restricted number-dependent critical-level families. Subsets of the restricted families have non-negative critical levels, avoid the `repugnant conclusion' and satisfy the axiom priority for lives worth living, but violate an important independence condition.
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  21. Charles Blackorby, Walter Bossert & David Donaldson (1997). Critical-Level Utilitarianism and the Population-Ethics Dilemma. Economics and Philosophy 13 (2):197-.
    Advances in technology have made it possible for us to take actions that affect the numbers and identities of humans and other animals that will live in the future. Effective and inexpensive birth control, child allowances, genetic screening, safe abortion, in vitro fertilization, the education of young women, sterilization programs, environmental degradation and war all have these effects. Although it is true that a good deal of effort has been devoted to the practical side of population policy, moral theory has (...)
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  22. Ben Bradley (2013). Asymmetries in Benefiting, Harming and Creating. Journal of Ethics 17 (1-2):37-49.
    It is often said that while we have a strong reason not to create someone who will be badly off, we have no strong reason for creating someone who will be well off. In this paper I argue that this asymmetry is incompatible with a plausible principle of independence of irrelevant alternatives, and that a more general asymmetry between harming and benefiting is difficult to defend. I then argue that, contrary to what many have claimed, it is possible to harm (...)
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  23. John Broome (2005). Should We Value Population? Journal of Political Philosophy 13 (4):399-413.
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  24. John Broome (2004). Weighing Lives. Oxford University Press.
    We are often faced with choices that involve the weighing of people's lives against each other, or the weighing of lives against other good things. These are choices both for individuals and for societies. A person who is terminally ill may have to choose between palliative care and more aggressive treatment, which will give her a longer life but at some cost in suffering. We have to choose between the convenience to ourselves of road and air travel, and the lives (...)
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  25. Campbell Brown, Better Than Nothing.
    A good life, or a life worth living, is a one that is "better than nothing". At least that is a common thought. But it is puzzling. What does "nothing" mean here? It cannot be a quantifier in the familiar sense, yet nor, it seems, can it be a referring term. To what could it refer? This paper aims to resolve the puzzle by examining a number of analyses of the concept of a life worth living. Temporal analyses, which exploit (...)
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  26. Campbell Brown (2013). Reply to Benatar. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy.
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  27. Campbell Brown (2011). Better Never to Have Been Believed: Benatar on the Harm of Existence. Economics and Philosophy 27 (1):45-52.
    In Better Never to Have Been, David Benatar argues that existence is always a harm (Benatar 2006, pp. 18--59). His argument, in brief, is that this follows from a theory of personal good which we ought to accept because it best explains several 'asymmetries'. I shall argue here (a) that Benatar's theory suffers from a defect which was already widely known to afflict similar theories, and (b) that the main asymmetry he discusses is better explained in a way which allows (...)
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  28. Campbell Brown (2007). Prioritarianism for Variable Populations. Philosophical Studies 134 (3):325 - 361.
    Philosophical discussions of prioritarianism, the view that we ought to give priority to those who are worse off, have hitherto been almost exclusively focused on cases involving a fixed population. The aim of this paper is to extend the discussion of prioritarianism to encompass also variable populations. I argue that prioritarianism, in its simplest formulation, is not tenable in this area. However, I also propose several revised formulations that, so I argue, show more promise.
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  29. Daniel Callahan (2009). Ethics and Population. Hastings Center Report 39 (3):11-13.
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  30. Erik Carlson (1998). Mere Addition and Two Trilemmas of Population Ethics. Economics and Philosophy 14 (02):283-.
    A principal aim of the branch of ethics called ‘population theory’ or ‘population ethics’ is to find a plausible welfarist axiology, capable of comparing total outcomes with respect to value. This has proved an exceedingly difficult task. In this paper I shall state and discuss two ‘trilemmas’, or choices between three unappealing alternatives, which the population ethicist must face. The first trilemma is not new. It originates with Derek Parfit's well-known ‘Mere Addition Paradox’, and was first explicitly stated by Yew-Kwang (...)
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  31. Alan Carter (1999). Moral Theory and Global Population. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 99 (3):289–313.
    Ascertaining the optimum global population raises not just substantive moral problems but also philosophical ones, too. In particular, serious problems arise for utilitarianism. For example, should one attempt to bring about the greatest total happiness or the highest level of average happiness? This article argues that neither approach on its own provides a satisfactory answer, and nor do rights-based or Rawlsian approaches, either. Instead, what is required is a multidimensional approach to moral questions—one which recognises the plurality of our values. (...)
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  32. Kai M. A. Chan (2003). Intransitivity and Future Generations: Debunking Parfit's Mere Addition Paradox. Journal of Applied Philosophy 20 (2):187–200.
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  33. Richard Yetter Chappell, Value Holism.
    This paper considers the relation between the value of a whole (person, society) and its parts (timeslices, individuals), arguing that the contributory value of a part cannot be determined in isolation. For example, the value of an additional life may depend on what other lives there are. This has important implications for population ethics, and especially Parfit's 'repugnant conclusion'.
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  34. Andrew Chrucky, The Greatest Problem in the World.
    Charles Whitney correctly reports that I believe that the greatest problems facing humanity are the nuclear threat and overpopulation. Both situations can lead -- one directly and the other indirectly -- to massive self-destruction. But he apparently contends that these problems exist as a result of political policies, and that they require a political solution. And by this token, he thinks, the greater problem for humanity is political organization. He goes on to lament that we, as a people, have been (...)
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  35. Bruno Contestabile (2010). On the Buddhist Truths and the Paradoxes in Population Ethics. Contemporary Buddhism 11 (1):103-113.
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  36. Diana Coole (2012). Reconstructing the Elderly: A Critical Analysis of Pensions and Population Policies in an Era of Demographic Ageing. Contemporary Political Theory 11 (1):41.
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  37. Christian Coons (forthcoming). &Quot;the Best Expression of Welfarism&Quot;. In Mark C. Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics (Vol. 2). Oxford University Press.
  38. Wesley Cooper (2008). Decision-Value Utilitarianism. Polish Journal of Philosophy 2 (2):39-50.
    A decision value alternative is proposed to the various formulations of the principle of utility, which counsel maimization of expected utility as utility is variously conceived. Decision value factors expected utility into causal expected utility and evidential expected utility, and it adds a third factor --- symbolic utility. This latter introduces deontological and a ‘perceived value’ elements into calculations of utility. It also suggests a solution to a lingering problem in population ethics, the so-called Repugnant Conclusion that consequentialist thinking demands (...)
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  39. Tyler Cowen, Resolving the Repugnant Conclusion.
    The Repugnant Conclusion is closer to infinity-based arguments, such as Pascal’s Wager, than it at first appears. Both rely on an unbounded set of payoff comparisons. It is possible to restructure Pascal’s Wager to resemble the Repugnant Conclusion more closely, as the use of infinity is not central to the former. I then consider settings in which the set of comparisons is bounded, so as to differentiate Parfit’s problem from the more general issues involved with very large numbers. We then (...)
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  40. Tyler Cowen (1996). What Do We Learn From the Repugnant Conclusion? Ethics 106 (4):754-775.
    In a series of articles on population theory, culminating in his 1984 b00k Reasons and Persons, Dcrck Pariit presented dilemmas for utilitarian and conscqucntialist moral theories.] ParHt’s work has led to rcncwcd interest in thc theory of optimal population. More generally, Pariit is searching for a general theory of bcncHcencc—"Theory X"——that also will covcr population comparisons. Theory X corresponds to Kenneth Arrow’s notion of a social welfare function—both attempt t0 provide 21 generic formula or algorithm for ranking social outcomes on (...)
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  41. Partha Dasgupta (2005). Regarding Optimum Population. Journal of Political Philosophy 13 (4):414–442.
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  42. Russell Disilvestro (2009). Reproductive Autonomy, the Non-Identity Problem, and the Non-Person Problem. Bioethics 23 (1):59-67.
    The Non-Identity Problem is the problem of explaining the apparent wrongness of a decision that does not harm people, especially since some of the people affected by the decision would not exist at all were it not for the decision. One approach to this problem, in the context of reproductive decisions, is to focus on wronging, rather than harming, one's offspring. But a Non-Person Problem emerges for any view that claims (1) that only persons can be wronged and (2) that (...)
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  43. Kai Draper (2002). The Personal and Impersonal Dimensions of Benevolence. Noûs 36 (2):201–227.
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  44. F. Fricke (2002). Parfits "Paradox der Blossen Hinzufügung": Anstoss für Eine Untypische Version Des Utilitarismus. Grazer Philosophische Studien 64 (1):175-207.
    Parfit's Mere Addition Paradox seems to show that we must give up one of three very plausible beliefs about the relative goodness of certain outcomes, which would put a strong damper on our hopes of finding an acceptable theory of benevolence dealing with issues of procreation. I shall argue that such a result can be avoided if we challenge some basic assumptions about moral reasoning which underlie Parfit's argument. An alternative account of the nature of moral reasoning will be given, (...)
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  45. Molly Gardner & Justin Weinberg (2013). How Lives Measure Up. Acta Analytica 28 (1):31-48.
    The quality of a life is typically understood as a function of the actual goods and bads in it, that is, its actual value. Likewise, the value of a population is typically taken to be a function of the actual value of the lives in it. We introduce an alternative understanding of life quality: adjusted value. A life’s adjusted value is a function of its actual value and its ideal value (the best value it could have had). The concept of (...)
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  46. Stephen Grover (1999). Mere Addition and the Best of All Possible Worlds. Religious Studies 35 (2):173-190.
    The quantitative argument against the notion of a best possible world claims that, no matter how many worthwhile lives a world contains, another world contains more and is, other things being equal, better. Parfit’s ‘ Mere Addition Paradox ’ suggests that defenders of this argument must accept his ‘ Repugnant Conclusion ’ : that outcomes containing billions upon billions of lives barely worth living are better than outcomes containing fewer lives of higher quality. Several responses to the Paradox are discussed (...)
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  47. Toby Handfield (2011). Absent Desires. Utilitas 23 (04):402-427.
    What difference does it make to matters of value, for a desire satisfactionist, if a given desire is *absent*, rather than *present*? I argue that it is most plausible to hold that the state in which a given desire is satisfied is, other things being equal, incommensurate with the state in which that desire does not exist at all. In addition to illustrating the internal attractions of the view, I demonstrate that this idea has attractive implications for population ethics. Finally, (...)
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  48. R. M. Hare (1993). Essays on Bioethics. Oxford University Press.
    R.M. Hare is well known both for his fundamental work in ethical theory and for his applications of it to practical issues. For this volume he has selected the best of his writings on medical ethics and related topics. The book's chief theoretical interest lies in its synthesis between utilitarian and Kantian ethics, which are shown to have the same practical consequences. The main practical thesis in the book is that we can harm possible people by preventing them from becoming (...)
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  49. Nicole Hassoun (2005). Other Published and Working Papers. Various and Unpublished.
  50. Rita K. Hessley (1981). Should Government Regulate Procreation? Environmental Ethics 3 (1):49-53.
    Donald Lee has claimed that of three ethical values, freedom, justice, and security-survival, involved in the effects of population growth on the future and the survival of all human beings, security-survival is the most fundamental. As such, it should have priority over freedom and justice. Based on this hierarchy, Lee draws the conclusion that one does not have the right to unlimited procreation, and that ultimately it is the duty of government to impose limits on population growth. I accept Lee’s (...)
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