The diminishing marginal value of happy people

Philosophical Studies 51 (1):123 - 137 (1987)
Thomas Hurka has recently proposed a utilitarian theory which would effect a compromise between Average and Total utilitarianism, the better to deal with issues in population ethics. This Compromise theory would incorporate the principle that the value which an extra happy person contributes to a possible world is a decreasing function of the total population of that world: that happy people are of diminishing marginal value. In spite of its initial plausibility I argue against this principle. I show that the Compromise theory is actually no improvement over the two original versions of utilitarianism; in particular, it is subject to almost all the objections which are fatal to Average utilitarianism, and more besides. And I attempt to dispell the appearance that intuition supports the Compromise theory as against Total utilitarianism, by arguing that the latter's Repugnant Conclusion, when properly understood, is not intuitively unacceptable. Total utilitarianism remains a plausible ethical theory, while both the Average and the Compromise theories should be definitely rejected.
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DOI 10.1007/BF00353967
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