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 try to clarify Parfit's proposal and evaluate whether it will help us with the paradoxes in populationethics. (shrink)
This paper focuses on the relations between populationethics and metaethics. Populationethics 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 certain paradoxes might be «quarantined» without shaking our confidence in moral theories encapsulating them. (shrink)
According to prioritarianism, roughly, it is better to benefit a person, the worse off she is. This seems a plausible principle as long as it is applied only to fixed populations. However, once this restriction is lifted, prioritarianism seems to imply that it is better cause a person to exist at a welfare level of l than to confer l units on a person who already exists and is at a positive welfare level. Thus, prioritarianism seems to assign too much (...) weight to the welfare of possible future people. It is in this respect even more demanding than total utilitarianism. However, in this article, I argue that all told, it is not clear that prioritarian- ism is less plausible than total utilitarianism, even when it comes to PopulationEthics. (shrink)
Populationethics is defined and presented, and some of the paradoxes it encapsulates are spelled out. It is argued that the concept of the quality of a life or of a life worth living can- not be avoided if inquiry on many relevant ethical and political topics is to be pursued in a theoretically fitting mode. In particular, the article deals with the asymmetry between rea- sons for not creating unhappy lives and reasons for creating happy lives, the (...) well-known repugnant conclusion and the paradox of mere addition. (shrink)
Values are incommensurable when they cannot be measured on a single cardinal scale. Many philosophers suggest that incommensurability can help us solve the problems of populationethics. I agree. But some philosophers claim that populations bear incommensurable values merely because they contain different numbers of people, perhaps within some range. I argue that mere differences in how many people exist, even within some range, do not suffice for incommensurability. I argue that the intuitive neutrality of creating happy people (...) is better captured by a version of average utilitarianism. But this view is problematic. So I suggest a version of total utilitarianism that avoids the repugnant conclusion by appealing to incommensurable dimensions of wellbeing. (shrink)
This paper focuses on a specific proposal connected with the issue of mitigating climate change by reducing GHG concentrations in the atmosphere. The idea of campaigning in favour of a temporary reproductive suspension, to be addressed to a range of citizens of developed countries , is explored. Some details of the proposal are specified, and the proposal itself is defended against four objec- tions: 1. that it encroaches reproductive freedom; 2. that it subtracts from the overall value the value of (...) future lives; 3. that it is costly and ineffectual; 4. that it is unfair, especially when women are considered. (shrink)
Research on incompetent humans raises ethical challenges, especially when there is no direct benefit to these research subjects. Contemporary codes of research ethics typically require that such research must specifically serve to benefit the population to which the research subjects belong. The article critically examines this “same-population condition”, raising issues of both interpretation and moral justification. Of particular concern is the risk that the way in which the condition is articulated and rationalized in effect disguises or downplays (...) the instrumentalization of incompetent individuals. (shrink)
Consider Phoebe and Daphne. Phoebe has credences in 1 million propositions. Daphne, on the other hand, has credences in all of these propositions, but she's also got credences in 999 million other propositions. Phoebe's credences are all very accurate. Each of Daphne's credences, in contrast, are not very accurate at all; each is a little more accurate than it is inaccurate, but not by much. Whose doxastic state is better, Phoebe's or Daphne's? It is clear that this question is analogous (...) to a question that has exercised ethicists over the past thirty years. How do we weigh a population consisting of some number of exceptionally happy and satisfied individuals against another population consisting of a much greater number of people whose lives are only just worth living? This is the question that occasions populationethics. In this paper, I go in search of the correct populationethics for credal states. (shrink)
A principal aim of the branch of ethics called ‘population theory’ or ‘populationethics’ 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 Ng. I shall argue that one horn of this trilemma is less unattractive than Parfit and others have claimed. The second trilemma, which is a kind of mirror image of the first, appears hitherto to have gone unnoticed. Apart from attempting to resolve the two trilemmas, I shall suggest certain features which I believe a plausible welfarist axiology should possess. The details of this projected axiology will, however, be left open. (shrink)
Starting point The starting point of this paper is the following citation concerning the state of contemporary populationethics: Most discussion in populationethics has concentrated on 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 purport to show that our considered beliefs are inconsistent in cases where the number of people (...) and their welfare varies. Type of problem The best known and most discussed example shattering our intuitions is Parfit's Mere Addition Paradox. This paper explores the potential of the Buddhist Truths to answer the following questions: What is at the source of the Mere Addition Paradox? and Why are paradoxes unavoidable in populationethics? Results The comparison of classical utilitarian and Buddhist intuitions demonstrates the close tie between intuitions and interests. The perplexing Buddhist intuition about non-existence can be explained by a radically different priority given to survival. The method of measuring the quality of life is not decisive for the existence of paradoxes; the Buddhist axiology changes but does not remove counter-intuitive combinations. If the conflict of interest is described within a two-parameter model, it causes conflicting intuitions; in axiologies that favour quantity or quality, the conflicting intuitions inevitably lead to paradoxes. In order to find a compromise, one would have to find a universal interest and a corresponding universal intuition; the obvious candidate to meet this request is sympathy but, since there is no universal consensus on the desirable degree of sympathy, the normative force of such an approach is limited. Breaking out of the two-parameter model and accepting the incommensurability of certain qualities threatens the normative claim of populationethics. (shrink)
Climate change highlights the relevance of populationethics. Should we attempt to maximize the combined welfare of future people? Many versions of Utilitarianism hold that we should. However, most Utilitarian theories have quite unpleasant implications when applied to all future generations.In this article, I consider the prospects for a Telic Sufficientarian theory of welfare . According to this theory, shortfalls from a sufficient level of welfare are morally bad, and this is all that matters as far as welfare (...) is concerned . Telic Sufficientarianism avoids the familiar problems haunting Utilitarian theories, but runs into trouble elsewhere. I argue that these problems are not fatal to the view. (shrink)
Given the deep disagreement surrounding population axiology, one should remain uncertain about which theory is best. However, this uncertainty need not leave one neutral about which acts are better or worse. We show that as the number of lives at stake grows, the Expected Moral Value approach to axiological uncertainty systematically pushes one towards choosing the option preferred by the Total and Critical Level views, even if one’s credence in those theories is low.
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 not dealt adequately with the new possibilities. The dilemma faced by moral theory is that traditional theories cannot answer moral questions involving the creation of people. Two related problems arise. The first concerns numbers: how many people should there be? The second asks what sort of people should live and what their levels of well-being should be. Conventional social-contract theories, including the work of Rawls (1971), are restricted to situations with a fixed number of individuals. Sumner (1978) attempts to extend a Rawlsian veil-of-ignorance approach to possible people but is aware of the difficulties involved. The main problem is that possible people must be thought to benefit when they move from non-existence to existence, a view that we reject (see Section 1, Heyd, 1992, Chapter 1; McMahan, 1996a; Parfit, 1984, Appendix G). Rights-based and duty-based theories suffer from a similar problem; there must be a person who has the right or a person to whom the duty is owed (see McMahan, 1981). (shrink)
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.
The repugnant conclusion is acceptable from the point of view of total utilitarianism. Total utilitarians do not seem to be bothered with it. They feel that it is in no way repugnant. To me, a hard-nosed total utilitarian, this settles the case. However, if, sometimes, I doubt that total utilitarianism has the final say in ethics, and tend to think that there may be something to some objection to it or another, it is the objection to it brought forward (...) from egalitarian thought that first comes to mind. But if my argument in this article is correct, then it is clear that the repugnant conclusion should be equally acceptable to egalitarians of various different bents as it is to total utilitarians. (shrink)
and Overview In an earlier book, Weighing Goods1, John Broome gave a sophisticated defense of utilitarianism for the cases involving a fixed population. In the present book, Weighing Lives, he extends this defense to variable population cases, where different individuals exist depending on which choice is made. Broome defends a version of utilitarianism according to which there is a vague positive level of individual wellbeing such that adding a life with more than that level of wellbeing makes things (...) morally better and adding a life with less than that level makes things morally worse. This version of utilitarianism avoids the extreme—but perhaps not all— forms of the repugnant conclusion that the usual total version faces. As usual, Broome’s work combines logical rigor with deep philosophical insight. There is much to learn from it. Nonetheless, I shall identify some problematic conditions used by Broome to derive utilitarianism and suggest that Broome’s version of utilitarianism has implausible implications. (shrink)
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.
The impending implementation of pre-exposure prophylaxis has prompted complicated bioethical and public health ethics concerns regarding the moral distribution of antiretroviral medications to ostensibly healthy populations as a form of HIV prevention when millions of HIV-positive people still lack access to ARVs globally. This manuscript argues that these questions are, in part, concerns over the ethics of the knowledge production practices of epidemiology. Questions of distribution, and their attendant cost-benefit calculations, will rely on a number of presupposed, and (...) therefore, normatively cultural assumptions within the science of epidemiology specifically regarding the ability of epidemiologic surveillance to produce accurate maps of HIV throughout national populations. Specifically, ethical questions around PrEP will focus on who should receive ARVs given the fact that global demand will far exceed supply. Given that sexual transmission is one of the main modes of HIV transmission, these questions of ‘who’ are inextricably linked to knowledge about sexual personhood. As a result, the ethics of epidemiology, and how the epidemiology of HIV in particular conceives, classifies and constructs sexual populations will become a critical point of reflection and contestation for bioethicists, health activists, physicians, nurses, and researchers in the multi-disciplinary field of global health. This paper examines how cultural conundrums within the fields of bioethics and public health ethics are directly implicated within the ethics of PrEP, by analyzing the problems of population inaugurated by the construction of the men who have sex with men epidemiologic category in the specific national context of South Africa. (shrink)
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 (...) is argued that there are structural similarities between the asymmetry and moral options and that the asymmetry can be defended as an instance of a moral option. (shrink)
The ethics of organizations has received much attention in recent years. This raises the question of whether the ethics of organizations has also improved. In 1999, 2004, and 2008, a survey was conducted of 12,196 U.S. managers and employees. The results show that the ethical culture of organizations improved in the period between 1999 and 2004. Between 2004 and 2008 unethical behavior and its consequences declined and the scope of ethics programs expanded while ethical culture showed no (...) significant improvement during the same period. The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of these findings for future research and practice. (shrink)
Advances in DNA sequencing technology open new possibilities for public health genomics, especially in the form of general population preventive genomic sequencing. Such screening programs would sit at the intersection of public health and preventive health care, and thereby at once invite and resist the use of clinical ethics and public health ethics frameworks. Despite their differences, these ethics frameworks traditionally share a central concern for individual rights. We examine two putative individual rights—the right not to (...) know, and the child’s right to an open future—frequently invoked in discussions of predictive genetic testing, in order to explore their potential contribution to evaluating this new practice. Ultimately, we conclude that traditional clinical and public health ethics frameworks, and these two rights in particular, should be complemented by a social justice perspective in order adequately to characterize the ethical dimensions of general population PGS programs. (shrink)
The rapidly expanding aging population presents an urgent global challenge cutting through just about every dimension of worldly life, including the social, political, cultural, and economic. Developing innovations in health and assistive technology are poised to support effective and sustainable health care in the face of this challenge, yet there is scant discussion of the ethical issues surrounding AT for older persons with dementia. Demands for ethical frameworks that can respond to frontline dilemmas regarding AT development and provision, and (...) how the needs of aging persons themselves are defined throughout this development process, are increasing. This article suggests that fulfilling the promises of AT to provide effective and ethically informed solutions may demand shifting away from standard bioethical analyses that centralize the principle of respect for autonomy. An autonomy-centric paradigm is dubiously equipped to theorize the foundational ethical issues in dementia care and to effectively guide AT development and implementation. An agency-centered approach to dementia care, which could engage more adaptively with the perspectives and choices of older persons themselves while offering strong support to AT research and stakeholders, may offer an attractive alternative. (shrink)
In this paper, the author questions whether the research ethics guidelines and procedures are robust enough to protect groups when conducting genetics research with socially identifiable populations, particularly with Native American groups. The author argues for a change in the federal guidelines in substance and procedures of conducting genetic research with socially identifiable groups.
This paper considers the morally relevant ways in which population-based research is a distinct type of human subjects research that have unique moral considerations relevant for public health practitioners and researchers. By defining population-based research, the authors distinguish it from public health practice and then consider, in more detail, the ways in which population-based research differs from clinical human subjects research. Based upon the distinctions between these types of research and practice, they identify five important issues that (...) arise in the design and conduct of certain kinds of population-based research. The authors hope that public health practitioners find these distinctions useful in determining when their work may actually be population-based research and that public health researchers use them to identify the areas where ethical issues in their research may arise. (shrink)
Mental health surveys are used extensively in epidemiological research worldwide. The ethical questions that arise regarding their risk of causing psychological distress or other potential harm have not been studied in the general population. We have investigated how study participants serving as controls in a population-based study perceived an anonymous postal questionnaire focusing on mental health and wellbeing. Parents were contacted from the Swedish Census Bureau as part of a larger follow-up study on palliative care conducted in 2001. (...) Eligible parents had a child of the same gender, year of birth and were from the same counties in Sweden as parents who had lost a child to cancer. Five percent reported being negatively affected. The principle negative effect on participants was that self-reflection reminded them of their difficulties. Of the 418 respondents, 52% reported that they were positively affected by study participation and 95% perceived the inquiry as valuable. These findings support the use of population-based controls in future research. (shrink)
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 from feasible sets, and applications. The chapters are divided, with mathematical arguments confined to the second part. The first part is intended to make the arguments accessible to a more general readership. Although the book can be read as a defense of the critical-level generalized-utilitarian class of principles, comprehensive examinations of other classes are included. (shrink)
Critical-Range Utilitarianism is a variant of Total Utilitarianism which can avoid both the Repugnant Conclusion and the Sadistic Conclusion in populationethics. Yet Standard Critical-Range Utilitarianism entails the Weak Sadistic Conclusion, that is, it entails that each population consisting of lives at a bad well-being level is not worse than some population consisting of lives at a good well-being level. In this paper, I defend a version of Critical-Range Utilitarianism which does not entail the Weak Sadistic (...) Conclusion. This is made possible by a fourth category of absolute value in addition to goodness, badness, and neutrality. (shrink)
Assume we could someday create artificial creatures with intelligence comparable to our own. Could it be ethical use them as unpaid labor? There is very little philosophical literature on this topic, but the consensus so far has been that such robot servitude would merely be a new form of slavery. Against this consensus I defend the permissibility of robot servitude, and in particular the controversial case of designing robots so that they want to serve human ends. A typical objection to (...) this case draws an analogy to the genetic engineering of humans: if designing eager robot servants is permissible, it should also be permissible to design eager human servants. Few ethical views can easily explain even the wrongness of such human engineering, however, and those few explanations that are available break the analogy with engineering robots. The case turns out to be illustrative of profound problems in the field of populationethics. (shrink)