In Oxford Handbook of Population Ethics (forthcoming)

Mark Budolfson
Rutgers University - New Brunswick
Formal arguments have proven that avoiding the Repugnant Conclusion is impossible without rejecting one or more highly plausible population principles. To many, such proofs establish not only a deep challenge for axiology, but also pose an important practical problem of how policymaking can confidently proceed without resolving any of the central questions of population ethics. Here we offer deflationary responses: first to the practical challenge, and then to the more fundamental challenge for axiology. Regarding the practical challenge, we provide an overview of recent literature that explores the implications for public policy of the Repugnant Conclusion and related puzzles within population ethics, and shows that there is more commonality in the implications of different population axiologies than is generally recognized. The upshot is that uncertainty about population ethics presents no important problem for policymaking, and the importance of population ethics to policymaking has been overstated. We then turn to more fundamental issues about axiology, and describe a new series of formal proofs that undermine the idea that any plausible axiology could avoid the Repugnant Conclusion, including those that are assumed to avoid it in the literature. The philosophical upshot is that the Repugnant Conclusion cannot plausibly be avoided, and so it is a mistake to assume as a constraint on a plausible axiology that it must be avoided, as is assumed by most of the literature in population ethics, including by all of the fundamental impossibility theorems.
Keywords population ethics  population axiology  repugnant conclusion  value theory  demography  climate change  consequentialism  utilitarianism  policy  feasibility
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Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford University Press.
Weighing Lives.John Broome - 2004 - Oxford University Press.
Population Axiology.Hilary Greaves - 2017 - Philosophy Compass 12 (11):e12442.

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