Population Ethics

Edited by Johan E. Gustafsson (University of York, University of Gothenburg)
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.  For example, 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 the 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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257 found
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1 — 50 / 257
  1. added 2020-10-21
    Utils and Shmutils.Jacob M. Nebel - forthcoming - Ethics.
    Matthew Adler's Measuring Social Welfare is an introduction to the social welfare function (SWF) methodology. This essay questions some ideas at the core of the SWF methodology having to do with the relation between the SWF and the measure of well-being. The facts about individual well-being do not single out a particular scale on which well-being must be measured. As with physical quantities, there are multiple scales that can be used to represent the same information about well-being; no one scale (...)
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  2. added 2020-10-14
    Non-Additive Axiologies in Large Worlds.Christian Tarsney & Teruji Thomas - manuscript
    Is the overall value of a world just the sum of values contributed by each value-bearing entity in that world? Additively separable axiologies (like total utilitarianism, prioritarianism, and critical level views) say 'yes', but non-additive axiologies (like average utilitarianism, rank-discounted utilitarianism, and variable value views) say 'no'. This distinction is practically important: additive axiologies support 'arguments from astronomical scale' which suggest (among other things) that it is overwhelmingly important for humanity to avoid premature extinction and ensure the existence of a (...)
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  3. added 2020-08-19
    Review of The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity. [REVIEW]Theron Pummer - 2020 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 8.
  4. added 2020-08-12
    Defending the Transitivity of "Better Than" in the Face of Axiological Relativity.Irene Bosco - manuscript
    Human epistemic subjects cannot but employ imperfect and limited tools to gain knowledge. Even in the seemingly simple business of acquiring knowledge of the value of a physical quantity, what the instrument reads or perception tells more often that not does not correspond to real value. However, even though both our perceptual apparatus and measuring instruments are sensible to background noise, under certain conditions, collecting more information of the same quantity using the same tools leads to an improvement of the (...)
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  5. added 2020-07-25
    Sorites On What Matters.Theron Pummer - forthcoming - In Jeff McMahan, Timothy Campbell, Ketan Ramakrishnan & Jimmy Goodrich (eds.), Ethics and Existence: The Legacy of Derek Parfit. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Ethics in the tradition of Derek Parfit’s Reasons and Persons is riddled with sorites-like arguments, which lead us by what seem innocent steps to seemingly false conclusions. Take, for example, spectrum arguments for the Repugnant Conclusion that appeal to slight differences in quality of life. Several authors have taken the view that, since spectrum arguments are structurally analogous to sorites arguments, the correct response to spectrum arguments is structurally analogous to the correct response to sorites arguments. I argue against this (...)
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  6. added 2020-06-08
    Malthus, l'utilitarismo teologico e il baule. [REVIEW]Sergio Volodia Marcello Cremaschi - 2006 - Storia Del Pensiero Economico 3 (2):213- 219.
    I discuss Malthus, Thomas Robert "The unpublished papers in the collection of Kanto Gakuen University", Pullen, John; Parry, Trevor Hughes (eds). I argue that the theological dimension in Malthus’s overall project may be stressed in the light of some of the original materials published here for the first time. -/- .
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  7. added 2020-05-18
    Introduction: Urban Environmental Ethics.Andrew Light - 1997 - Journal of Social Philosophy 34 (1):1-5.
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  8. added 2020-05-11
    Resources and the Acceptability of the Repugnant Conclusion.Stephen J. Schmidt - forthcoming - Theoria. An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science.
    Parfit’s Repugnant Conclusion argues, against intuition, that for any world A, another world Z with higher population and minimal well-being is better. That intuition is incorrect because the argument has not considered resources that support well-being. Z must have many more resources supporting well-being than A does. Z is repugnant because it spreads those resources among too many people; another world with Z’s resources and fewer people, if available, would be far superior. But Z is still better than A; it (...)
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  9. added 2020-05-11
    Why the Non-Identity Problem Does Not Undermine Our Obligations to the Future Under Real-World Conditions.Johan Sandelin - 2019 - Philosophia 47 (3):851-863.
    When Derek Parfit in Reasons and Persons, examined whether the Non-Identity Problem could be solved with the Impersonal Total Principle, he assumed perfect equality in the future population outcomes under his consideration. His thinking was that this assumption could not distort his reasoning, but would make it more simple and clear. He then reasoned that the best future population outcome, according to the Impersonal Total Principle, would be an enormous population, whose members have lives only barely worth living, as a (...)
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  10. added 2020-05-11
    Asymmetry and Non-Identity.Per Algander & Katharina Berndt Rasmussen - 2019 - Utilitas 31 (3):213-230.
    In this paper we distinguish two versions of the non-identity problem: one involving positive well-being and one involving negative well-being. Intuitively, there seems to be a difference between the two versions of the problem. In the negative case it is clear that one ought to cause the better off person to exist. However, it has recently been suggested that this is not so in the positive case. We argue that such an asymmetrical treatment of the two versions should be rejected (...)
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  11. added 2020-05-11
    The Non-Identity Problem and the Ethics of Future People, David Boonin. [REVIEW]Silvia Milano - 2016 - Economics and Philosophy 32:353-381.
  12. added 2020-05-11
    The Population Holocaust and Quality of 'Life'.Sp Godrej - 1993 - In S. Z. Qasim (ed.), Science and Quality of Life. Offsetters. pp. 225.
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  13. added 2020-05-11
    Obligations to Future Generations.M. P. Golding - 1972 - The Monist 56 (1):85-99.
    The purpose of this note is to examine the notion of obligations to future generations, a notion that finds increasing use in discussions of social policies and programs, particularly as concerns population distribution and control and environment control. Thus, it may be claimed, the solution of problems in these areas is not merely a matter of enhancing our own good, improving our own conditions of life, but is also a matter of discharging an obligation to future generations.
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  14. added 2020-05-01
    Repugnance and Perfection.Nikhil Venkatesh - 2020 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 48 (3):262-284.
    A foundational problem in population ethics is the “repugnant conclusion", introduced by Derek Parfit in Reasons and Persons. It holds that for any possible population of at least ten billion lives of very high positive welfare, there is some larger possible population of lives of very low positive welfare whose existence would be better, if other things are equal. I call this claim RC1. In this article, I argue that by carefully considering the nature and variety of possible lives of (...)
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  15. added 2020-03-17
    Average Utilitarianism Implies Solipsistic Egoism.Christian Tarsney - manuscript
    Average utilitarianism and several related axiologies, when paired with the standard expectational theory of decision-making under risk and with reasonable empirical credences, can find their practical prescriptions overwhelmingly determined by the minuscule probability that the agent assigns to solipsism -- i.e., to the hypothesis that there is only one welfare subject in the world, viz., herself. This either (i) constitutes a reductio of these axiologies, (ii) suggests that they require bespoke decision theories, or (iii) furnishes a novel argument for ethical (...)
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  16. added 2020-03-16
    The Argument Against Neutrality About the Size of Population.David Pomerenke - manuscript
    How should we as a society value changes in population size? The question may be crucial when evaluating global warming scenarios. I defend the intuition of neutrality, which answers a part of the question. It states that – other things being equal – it is ethically irrelevant whether or not additional people are added to a population. The argument against neutrality criticizes the intuition of neutrality as inconsistent. The contribution of this thesis is twofold: First, the framework of welfare economics, (...)
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  17. added 2020-03-16
    Introduction to the Collection.Andrea Sauchelli - 2020 - In Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons: An Introduction and Critical Inquiry. London, UK: pp. 1-9.
  18. added 2020-03-09
    Why We Should Stop Creating Pets with Lives Worth Living.Chelsea Haramia - 2015 - Between the Species 18 (1).
    Pedigreed breeding often leads to severe health problems for, say, those dogs who exist as a result of the practice. It is also the case that virtually all of those unhealthy animals would not exist at all if it were not for the practice of pedigreed breeding. If those animals have lives worth living, then it follows that they are not harmed by the practice—assuming that a life worth living is better than no life at all. It would seem, then, (...)
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  19. added 2020-03-09
    To Be or Never to Have Been: Anti-Natalism and a Life Worth Living.Aaron Smuts - 2013 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 17 (4):711-729.
    David Benatar argues that being brought into existence is always a net harm and never a benefit. I disagree. I argue that if you bring someone into existence who lives a life worth living, then you have not all things considered wronged her. Lives are worth living if they are high in various objective goods and low in objective bads. These lives constitute a net benefit. In contrast, lives worth avoiding constitute a net harm. Lives worth avoiding are net high (...)
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  20. added 2020-03-09
    Is It Wrong to Impose the Harms of Human Life? A Reply to Benatar.David DeGrazia - 2010 - Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 31 (4):317-331.
    Might it be morally wrong to procreate? David Benatar answers affirmatively in Better Never to Have Been , arguing that coming into existence is always a great harm. I counter this view in several ways. First, I argue against Benatar’s asserted asymmetry between harm and benefit—which would support the claim that any amount of harm in a human life would make it not worth starting—while questioning the significance of his distinction between a life worth starting and one worth continuing. I (...)
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  21. added 2020-02-24
    Totalism Without Repugnance.Jacob M. Nebel - forthcoming - In Jeff McMahan, Tim Campbell, James Goodrich & Ketan Ramakrishnan (eds.), Ethics and Existence: The Legacy of Derek Parfit. Oxford:
    Totalism is the view that one distribution of well-being is better than another just in case the one contains a greater sum of well-being than the other. Many philosophers, following Parfit, reject totalism on the grounds that it entails the repugnant conclusion: that, for any number of excellent lives, there is some number of lives that are barely worth living whose existence would be better. This paper develops a theory of welfare aggregation---the lexical-threshold view---that allows totalism to avoid the repugnant (...)
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  22. added 2020-02-24
    Asymmetries in the Value of Existence.Jacob M. Nebel - 2019 - Philosophical Perspectives 33 (1):126-145.
    According to asymmetric comparativism, it is worse for a person to exist with a miserable life than not to exist, but it is not better for a person to exist with a happy life than not to exist. My aim in this paper is to explain how asymmetric comparativism could possibly be true. My account of asymmetric comparativism begins with a different asymmetry, regarding the (dis)value of early death. I offer an account of this early death asymmetry, appealing to the (...)
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  23. added 2020-02-07
    Comparative Personal Views and the Non-Identity Problem.Jonas Harney - 2020 - Intergenerational Justice Review 5 (2):52-53.
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  24. added 2020-02-06
    Population Ethics Under Risk.Gustaf Arrhenius & H. Orri Stefansson - manuscript
    Population axiology concerns how to evaluate populations in terms of their moral goodness, that is, how to order populations by the relations “is better than” and “is as good as”. The task has been to find an adequate theory about the moral value of states of affairs where the number of people, the quality of their lives, and their identities may vary. So far, this field has largely ignored issues about uncertainty and the conditions that have been discussed mostly pertain (...)
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  25. added 2020-01-29
    Utilitarianism with and Without Expected Utility.David McCarthy, Kalle Mikkola & Joaquin Teruji Thomas - 2016 - Journal of Mathematical Economics 87:77-113.
    We give two social aggregation theorems under conditions of risk, one for constant population cases, the other an extension to variable populations. Intra and interpersonal welfare comparisons are encoded in a single ‘individual preorder’. The theorems give axioms that uniquely determine a social preorder in terms of this individual preorder. The social preorders described by these theorems have features that may be considered characteristic of Harsanyi-style utilitarianism, such as indifference to ex ante and ex post equality. However, the theorems are (...)
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  26. added 2019-12-20
    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 (...)
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  27. added 2019-12-20
    The Affirmative Answer to the Existential Question and the Person Affecting Restriction.Gustaf Arrhenius - 2015 - In Iwao Hirose & Andrew Reisner (eds.), Weighing and Reasoning: Themes from the Philosophy of John Broome. Oxford, Storbritannien: pp. 110-125.
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  28. added 2019-12-20
    The Impossibility of a Satisfactory Population Ethics.Gustaf Arrhenius - 2011 - In Hans Colonius & Ehtibar N. Dzhafarov (eds.), Descriptive and Normative Approaches to Human Behavior, Advanced Series on Mathematical Psychology. Singapore:
    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 eld has been riddled with para- doxes and impossibility results which seem to show that our considered beliefs are inconsistent in cases where the number of people and their welfare varies. All of these results have one thing in common, however. They all involve an adequacy condition that rules out Derek (...)
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  29. added 2019-12-20
    The Repugnant Conclusion: Essays on Population Ethics.Torbjörn Tännsjö & Jesper Ryberg (eds.) - 2004 - Kluwer Academic Publishers.
  30. added 2019-10-28
    Derek Parfit’s Reasons and Persons: An Introduction and Critical Inquiry.Andrea Sauchelli (ed.) - 2020 - Routledge.
    Derek Parfit (1942–2017) is widely considered to be one of the most important moral philosophers of the twentieth century. Reasons and Persons is arguably the most influential of the two books published in his lifetime and hailed as a classic work of ethics and personal identity. Derek Parfit’s Reasons and Persons: An Introduction and Critical Inquiry is an outstanding introduction to and assessment of Parfit’s book, with chapters by leading scholars of ethics, metaphysics and of Parfit’s work. Part I provides (...)
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  31. added 2019-09-25
    Explaining the Geometry of Desert.Neil Feit & Stephen Kershnar - 2004 - Public Affairs Quarterly 18 (4):273-298.
    In the past decade, three philosophers in particular have recently explored the relation between desert and intrinsic value. Fred Feldman argues that consequentialism need not give much weight – or indeed any weight at all – to the happiness of persons who undeservedly experience pleasure. He defends the claim that the intrinsic value of a state of affairs is determined by the “fit” between the amount of well-being that a person receives and the amount of well-being that the person deserves. (...)
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  32. added 2019-09-16
    On Parfit’s Wide Dual Person-Affecting Principle.Michal Masny - 2020 - Philosophical Quarterly 70 (278):114-139.
    In the posthumously published ‘Future People, the Non-Identity Problem, and Person-Affecting Principles’, Derek Parfit presents a novel axiological principle which he calls the Wide Dual Person-Affecting Principle and claims that it does not imply the Repugnant Conclusion. This paper shows that even the best version of Parfit's principle cannot avoid this conclusion. That said, accepting such a principle makes embracing the Repugnant Conclusion more justifiable. This paper further addresses important questions which Parfit left unanswered concerning: the relative importance of individual (...)
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  33. added 2019-09-14
    Varför Tännsjö bör bli vegetarian.Simon Rosenqvist - 2014 - Filosofisk Tidskrift 35 (2):33-35.
    Jag argumenterar för att Torbjörn Tännsjö borde anse det fel att äta kött. Därför borde han bli vegetarian. Anledningen till detta är en artikel, "Why we ought to accept the repugnant conclusion", som Tännsjö publicerade 2002 i tidskriften Utilitas.
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  34. added 2019-08-20
    A Fixed-Population Problem for the Person-Affecting Restriction.Jacob M. Nebel - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (9):2779-2787.
    According to the person-affecting restriction, one distribution of welfare can be better than another only if there is someone for whom it is better. Extant problems for the person-affecting restriction involve variable-population cases, such as the nonidentity problem, which are notoriously controversial and difficult to resolve. This paper develops a fixed-population problem for the person-affecting restriction. The problem reveals that, in the presence of incommensurable welfare levels, the person-affecting restriction is incompatible with minimal requirements of impartial beneficence even in fixed-population (...)
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  35. added 2019-06-05
    Better Never to Have Been Believed: Benatar on the Harm of Existence: Campbell Brown.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. 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 that Benatar's theory suffers from a defect which was already widely known to afflict similar theories, and that the main asymmetry he discusses is better explained in a way which allows that existence is often not a harm.
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  36. added 2019-06-05
    Parfits "Paradox der blossen Hinzufügung": Anstoss für eine untypische version des Utilitarismus.Fabian Fricke - 2002 - 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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  37. added 2019-06-05
    Sacrificing the Patrol: Utilitarianism, Future Generations and Infinity: Luc Van Liedekerke and Luc Lauwers.Luc Van Liedekerke - 1997 - Economics and Philosophy 13 (2):159-174.
    Many people believe that we have responsibility towards the distant future, but exactly how far this responsibility reaches and how we can find a reasonable ethical foundation for it has not been answered in any definitive manner. Future people have no power over us, they form no part of our moral community and it is unclear how we can represent them in a possible original position. All these problems can be circumvented when you take an impersonal decision criterion like maximizing (...)
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  38. added 2019-05-28
    Ethics and Population, Edited by Michael D. Bayles Schenkman Publishing Company Inc.: Cambridge, Mass.1976.Páll Árdal - 1980 - Dialogue 19 (1):163-171.
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  39. added 2019-05-20
    Adding Happy People.Theron Pummer - 2016 - In David Edmonds (ed.), Philosophers Take on the World. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press. pp. 236-239.
    I very briefly sketch two arguments for the claim that we have significant moral reason to ‘add happy people’ (that is, bring into existence people with lives that are well worth living), independently of any effects on those already existing.
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  40. added 2019-04-22
    Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence – David Benatar.Saul Smilansky - 2008 - Philosophical Quarterly 58 (232):569–571.
  41. added 2019-03-25
    Review: David Benatar: Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence. [REVIEW]Y. Nagasawa - 2008 - Mind 117 (467):674-677.
  42. added 2019-03-25
    Review of David Benatar, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence[REVIEW]Christopher Belshaw - 2007 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2007 (6).
  43. added 2019-03-25
    Parfit's Puzzle.Philip Kitcher - 2000 - Noûs 34 (4):550–577.
    In the brilliant final section of Reasons and Persons , Derek Parfit presents a puzzle about how the goodness of states of affairs relates to the quality of the lives led by people in those states. Stripped to barest essentials, the puzzle runs as follows: if the value of a state is obtained simply by aggregating the quantity of whatever makes life worth living, then a world in which a significant number of people (say ten billion) enjoy lives of very (...)
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  44. added 2019-03-17
    Malthus’s War on Poverty as Moral Reform.Sergio Volodia Marcello Cremaschi - 2013 - CRIS - Bulletin of the Centre for Research and Interdisciplinary Studies, The Journal of Prague College 9:43-54.
    The paper aims at finding a way out of deadlocks in Malthus scholarship concerning his relationship to utilitarianism. The main claim is that Malthus viewed his own population theory and political economy as Hifsdisziplinen to moral and political philosophy, that is, empirical enquiries required in order to be able to pronounce justified value judgments on such matters as the Poor Laws. On the other hand, Malthus’s population theory and political economy were no value-free science and his policy advice – far (...)
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  45. added 2019-03-07
    Overpopulation and the Quality of Life.Derek Parfit - 1986 - In Peter Singer (ed.), Applied Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 145-164.
    How many people should there be? Can there be overpopulation: too many people living? I shall present a puzzling argument about these questions, show how this argument can be strengthened, then sketch a possible reply.
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  46. added 2019-03-04
    Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence.David Benatar - 2006 - New York ;Oxford University Press.
    Better Never to Have Been argues for a number of related, highly provocative, views: (1) Coming into existence is always a serious harm. (2) It is always wrong to have children. (3) It is wrong not to abort fetuses at the earlier stages of gestation. (4) It would be better if, as a result of there being no new people, humanity became extinct. These views may sound unbelievable--but anyone who reads Benatar will be obliged to take them seriously.
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  47. added 2019-03-04
    Jeff McMahan, the Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life, New York, Oxford University Press, 2002, Pp. VII+540.N. Athanassoulis - 2005 - Utilitas 17 (1):117-119.
  48. added 2019-03-04
    More Lives, Better Lives.Christopher Belshaw - 2003 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 6 (2):127-141.
    Although many people believe that more people would be better, arguments intended to show this are unconvincing. I consider one of Parfit's arguments for a related conclusion, that even when both are worth living, we ought to prefer the better of two lives. Were this argument successful, or so I claim, then it would follow that more people would be better. But there aren't reasons for preferring the better of two lives. Nor is an attempted rejoinder effective. We can agree (...)
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  49. added 2019-03-04
    The Parfit Population Problem.Don Locke - 1987 - Philosophy 62 (240):131 - 157.
    Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons is a long, difficult and fascinating book, inside which three shorter, clearer and better books are struggling to get out. The third of these shorter but better books deals with the problem of Future Generations, and that is the book I want to discuss. In it Parfit tries, but fails, to find a theory—Theory X, he calls it—which will deal with various problems and issues which he develops, and in particular the issue which I will (...)
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  50. added 2019-03-04
    Why Not Let Life Become Extinct?John Leslie - 1983 - Philosophy 58 (225):329 - 338.
    Would Earth be sadly underpopulated if all life on it had died? I shall argue for a Yes, against two main groups. In the first are those who say that life's absence could not be sad, a pity, something less than ideal, because there would be nobody to be sad about it. The second group maintains that life's absence would be preferable to its presence since living can be nasty.
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