The Very Repugnant Conclusion

Gustaf Arrhenius
Stockholm University
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 proved similar results.1 All of these contributions, however, have one thing in common: They all involve an adequacy condition that rules out Parfit’s Repugnant Conclusion: The Repugnant Conclusion: For any perfectly equal population with very high positive welfare, there is a population with very low positive welfare which is better, other things being equal.2 A number of theorists, however, have argued that we should accept the Repugnant Conclusion and hence that avoidance of this conclusion is not a convincing adequacy condition for a population axiology. Torbjörn Tännsjö, for example, argues that the Repugnant Conclusion is not at all repugnant but rather “an unsought, but acceptable, consequence of hedonistic utilitarianism”:3..
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