The Asymmetry: A Solution

Theoria 77 (4):333-367 (2011)
The Asymmetry consists of two claims. (A) That a possible person's life would be abjectly miserable –less than worth living – counts against bringing that person into existence. But (B) that a distinct possible person's life would be worth living or even well worth living does not count in favour of bringing that person into existence. In recent years, the view that the two halves of the Asymmetry are jointly untenable has become increasingly entrenched. If we say all persons matter morally whether they exist or not and on that basis try to explain the first half of the Asymmetry, we lose the second half of the Asymmetry. If we say that some persons do not matter morally and some do and on that basis try to explain the second half of the Asymmetry, we lose the first half of the Asymmetry – or else find ourselves with a principle that is either inconsistent or otherwise deeply troubled in some way that has nothing to do with the content of the Asymmetry itself. In this article, I propose an alternative approach to the Asymmetry which I will call Variabilism. By understanding each and every person, whether existing or not, to matter morally but variably– such that the moral significance of any loss incurred by any person is considered to depend, not on who incurs that loss and whether that person matters morally, but rather on where that loss is incurred in relation to the person who incurs it – we can both nicely ground the two halves of the Asymmetry and avoid the conceptual difficulties that have plagued competing approaches
Keywords Moral Actualism  Prior Existence View  loss or harm  the Asymmetry  procreative choice  value of nonexistence  Totalism  Neutrality Intuition
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/j.1755-2567.2011.01117.x
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 16,667
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
Peter Singer (1993). Practical Ethics. Cambridge University Press.
John Broome (2004). Weighing Lives. Oxford University Press.

View all 28 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Theodore Sider (1993). Asymmetry and Self-Sacrifice. Philosophical Studies 70 (2):117 - 132.
Katherine J. Morris (1996). Pain, Injury, and First/Third-Person Asymmetry. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 56 (1):125-56.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

30 ( #105,854 of 1,727,171 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

1 ( #354,178 of 1,727,171 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.