About this topic
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 the 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 1982, 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. Review Essay of Contingent Future Persons, Jan C. Heller and Nick Fotion, Eds. [REVIEW]Stuart Rachels - - 1999 - 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 (...)
  2. Is It Good to Make Happy People?Stuart Rachels - - 1998 - Bioethics 12 (2):93–110.
    After considering and rejecting several arguments on both sides of the question, I conclude that it is good to make happy people (and not merely good to make people happy). This is the fourth chapter of my dissertation, Hedonic Value (Director: Jonathan Bennett), Syracuse University, August, 1998.
  3. Future Generations: A Prioritarian View.Matthew Adler - 2009 - 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 (...)
  4. Harm, Benefit, and Non-Identity.Per Algander - 2013 - Dissertation, Uppsala University
    This thesis in an invistigation into the concept of "harm" and its moral relevance. A common view is that an analysis of harm should include a counterfactual condition: an act harms a person iff it makes that person worse off. A common objection to the moral relevance of harm, thus understood, is the non-identity problem. -/- This thesis criticises the counterfactual condition, argues for an alternative analysis and that harm plays two important normative roles. -/- The main ground for rejecting (...)
  5. A Defence of the Asymmetry in Population Ethics.Per Algander - 2012 - 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 (...)
  6. The Repugnant Conclusion.Bill Anglin - 1977 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 7 (4):745 - 754.
  7. Public Goods and Procreation.Jonny Anomaly - 2014 - Monash Bioethics Review 32:172-188.
  8. Ethics and Population, Edited by Michael D. Bayles Schenkman Publishing Company Inc.: Cambridge, Mass. 1976.Páll Árdal - 1980 - Dialogue 19 (1):163-171.
  9. The Moral Status of Potential People.Gustaf Arrhenius - manuscript
    It has been known for quite a while that traditional ethical theories have very counterintuitive and paradoxical implications for questions concerning procreation and our moral duties to future generations. Classical Utilitarianism, for example, seems to imply that we have a moral duty to procreate and that we should try to have as many off-springs as possible. More disturbingly, it implies Derek Parfit’s well-known Repugnant Conclusion.
  10. Future Generations.Gustaf Arrhenius - unknown
    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 (...)
  11. The Very Repugnant Conclusion.Gustaf Arrhenius - unknown
    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 (...)
  12. The Paradoxes of Future Generations and Normative Theory.Gustaf Arrhenius - unknown
    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 (...)
  13. One More Axiological Impossibility Theorem.Gustaf Arrhenius - unknown
    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: (...)
  14. What Österberg's Population Theory has in Common with Plato's.Gustaf Arrhenius - manuscript
    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 (...)
  15. Population Ethics and Different‐Number‐Based Imprecision.Gustaf Arrhenius - 2016 - Theoria 82 (2):166-181.
    Recently, in his Rolf Schock Prize Lecture, Derek Parfit has suggested a novel way of avoiding the Repugnant Conclusion by introducing what he calls “imprecision” in value comparisons. He suggests that in a range of important cases, populations of different sizes are only imprecisely comparable. Parfit suggests that this feature of value comparisons opens up a way of avoiding the Repugnant Conclusion without implying other counterintuitive conclusions, and thus solves one of the major challenges in ethics. In this article, I (...)
  16. Repugnant Conclusion.Gustaf Arrhenius - 2013 - In Hugh LaFollette (ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Wiley-Blackwell.
  17. Population Ethics and Metaethics.Gustaf Arrhenius - 2012 - Iride: Filosofia e Discussione Pubblica 25 (1):35-44.
    This paper focuses on the relations between population ethics and metaethics. Population ethics gives rise to well-known paradoxes, such as the paradox of mere addition. After presenting a version of this paradox, it is argued that a different way to dismantle it might be by considering it as a way to change our standard view of justification in moral theory. Two possible views are considered: a non-cognitivist approach to justification and to the explanation of inconsistency in morals; Parfit's suggestion that (...)
  18. Can the Person Affecting Restriction Solve the Problems in Population Ethics?Gustaf Arrhenius - 2009 - In M. A. Roberts & D. T. Wasserman (eds.), Harming Future Persons. Springer Verlag. pp. 289--314.
  19. Egalitarianism and Population Change.Gustaf Arrhenius - 2009 - In Axel Gosseries & Lukas H. Meyer (eds.), Intergenerational Justice. Oxford University Press.
  20. Life Extension Versus Replacement.Gustaf Arrhenius - 2008 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 25 (3):211-227.
    It seems to be a widespread opinion that increasing the length of existing happy lives is better than creating new happy lives although the total welfare is the same in both cases, and that it may be better even when the total welfare is lower in the outcome with extended lives. I shall discuss two interesting suggestion that seems to support this idea, or so it has been argued. Firstly, the idea there is a positive level of wellbeing above which (...)
  21. The Person-Affecting Restriction, Comparativism, and the Moral Status of Potential People.Gustaf Arrhenius - 2003 - 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 (...)
  22. Feldman's Desert-Adjusted Utilitarianism and Population Ethics.Gustaf Arrhenius - 2003 - Utilitas 15 (2):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.
  23. An Impossibility Theorem for Welfarist Axiologies.Gustaf Arrhenius - 2000 - 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 (...)
  24. An Impossibility Theorem in Population Axiology with Weak Ordering Assumptions.Gustaf Arrhenius - 1999 - Philosophical Studies 49:11-21.
  25. Population Axiology.Gustaf Svante Henning Arrhenius - 2000 - Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada)
    This thesis deals with population axiology, that is, the moral value of states of affairs where the number of people, the quality of their lives, and their identities may vary. Since, arguably, any reasonable moral theory has to take these aspects of possible states of affairs into account when determining the normative status of actions, the study of population axiology is of general import for moral theory. ;There has been a search underway for the last thirty years or so for (...)
  26. Better to Be Than Not to Be?Gustaf Arrhenius & Wlodek Rabinowitz - 2010 - 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. pp. 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, (...)
  27. Biocentric Consequentialism and Value-Pluralism: A Response to Alan Carter.Robin Attfield - 2005 - 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 (...)
  28. Ethics and Population.Michael D. Bayles - 1976
  29. Persons and Value: A Thesis in Population Axiology.Simon Beard - unknown
    My thesis demonstrates that, despite a number of impossibility results, a satisfactory and coherent theory of population ethics is possible. It achieves this by exposing and undermining certain key assumptions that relate to the nature of welfare and personal identity. I analyse a range of arguments against the possibility of producing a satisfactory population axiology that have been proposed by Derek Parfit, Larry Temkin, Tyler Cowen and Gustaf Arrhenius. I conclude that these results pose a real and significant challenge. However, (...)
  30. On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future.Nicholas Beckstead - unknown
    In slogan form, the thesis of this dissertation is that shaping the far future is overwhelmingly important. More precisely, I argue that: Main Thesis: From a global perspective, what matters most (in expectation) is that we do what is best (in expectation) for the general trajectory along which our descendants develop over the coming millions, billions, and trillions of years. The first chapter introduces some key concepts, clarifies the main thesis, and outlines what follows in later chapters. Some of the (...)
  31. The Axiomatic Approach to Population Ethics.Charles Blackorby, Walter Bossert & David Donaldson - 2003 - 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.
  32. Critical-Level Utilitarianism and the Population-Ethics Dilemma.Charles Blackorby, Walter Bossert & David Donaldson - 1997 - 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 (...)
  33. Population Issues in Social Choice Theory, Welfare Economics, and Ethics.Charles Blackorby, Walter Bossert & David J. Donaldson - 2013 - Cambridge University Press.
    This book presents an exploration of the idea of the common or social good, extended so that alternatives with different populations can be ranked. The approach is, in the main, welfarist, basing rankings on the well-being, broadly conceived, of those who are alive. The axiomatic method is employed, and topics investigated include: the measurement of individual well-being, social attitudes toward inequality of well-being, the main classes of population principles, principles that provide incomplete rankings, principles that rank uncertain alternatives, best choices (...)
  34. Population Ethics.Chuck Blackorby, Walter Bossert & David Donaldson - 2009 - In Paul Anand, Prasanta Pattanaik & Clemens Puppe (eds.), The Handbook of Rational and Social Choice. Oxford University Press.
  35. Asymmetries in Benefiting, Harming and Creating.Ben Bradley - 2013 - 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 (...)
  36. Should We Value Population?John Broome - 2005 - Journal of Political Philosophy 13 (4):399-413.
  37. Weighing Lives.John Broome - 2004 - 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 (...)
  38. Representing an Ordering When the Population Varies.John Broome - 2003 - Social Choice and Welfare 20:243-6.
    This note describes a domain of distributions of wellbeing, in which different distributions may have different populations. It proves a representation theorem for an ordering defined on this domain.
  39. The Welfare Economics of Population.John Broome - 1985 - Social Choice and Welfare 2:221-34.
    Intuition suggests there is no value in adding people to the population if it brings no benefits to people already living: creating people is morally neutral in itself. This paper examines the difficulties of incorporating this intuition into a coherent theory of the value of population. It takes three existing theories within welfare economics - average utilitarianism, relativist utilitarianism, and critical-level utilitarianism - and considers whether they can satisfactorily accommodate the intuition that creating people is neutral.
  40. The Value of a Person.John Broome & Adam Morton - 1994 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 68 (1):167 - 198.
    (for Adam Morton's half) I argue that if we take the values of persons to be ordered in a way that allows incomparability, then the problems Broome raises have easy solutions. In particular we can maintain that creating people is morally neutral while killing them has a negative value.
  41. Better Than Nothing.Campbell Brown - manuscript
    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 (...)
  42. Reply to Benatar.Campbell Brown - 2013 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy.
  43. Better Never to Have Been Believed: Benatar on the Harm of Existence.Campbell Brown - 2011 - 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 (...)
  44. Prioritarianism for Variable Populations.Campbell Brown - 2007 - 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.
  45. The Good, the Bad, and the Ethically Neutral.Krister Bykvist - 2007 - Economics and Philosophy 23 (1):97-105.
    John Broome's Weighing Lives provides a much-needed framework for the intriguing problems of population ethics. It is also an impressive attempt to find a workable solution to these problems. I am not sure that Broome has found the right solution, but I think he has done the ethics profession a tremendous service in tidying up the discussion. The framework he presents will make it possible for the participants in this debate to formulate their positions in a clear and precise manner. (...)
  46. Climate Ethics and Population Policy.Philip Cafaro - 2012 - WIREs Climate Change 3 (1):45–61.
    According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, human population growth is one of the two primary causes of increased greenhouse gas emissions and accelerating global climate change. Slowing or ending population growth could be a cost effective, environmentally advantageous means to mitigate climate change, providing important benefits to both human and natural communities. Yet population policy has attracted relatively little attention from ethicists, policy analysts, or policy makers dealing with this issue. In part, this is because addressing population matters (...)
  47. Ethics and Population.Daniel Callahan - 2009 - Hastings Center Report 39 (3):11-13.
  48. Mere Addition and Two Trilemmas of Population Ethics.Erik Carlson - 1998 - Economics and Philosophy 14 (2):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 (...)
  49. A Solution to the Purported Non-Transitivity of Normative Evaluation.Alan Carter - 2015 - Journal of Philosophy 112 (1):23-45.
    Derek Parfit presents his Mere Addition Paradox in order to demonstrate that it is extremely difficult to avoid the Repugnant Conclusion. And in order to avoid it, Parfit has embraced perfectionism. However, Stuart Rachels and Larry Temkin, taking their lead from Parfit, have concluded, instead, that the Repugnant Conclusion can be avoided by denying the axiom of transitivity with respect to the all-things-considered-better-than relation. But this seems to present a major challenge to how we evaluate normatively. In this article I (...)
  50. Moral Theory and Global Population.Alan Carter - 1999 - 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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