One more axiological impossibility theorem

In Lars-Göran Johansson, Jan Österberg & Ryszard Sliwinski (eds.), Logic, Ethics and All That Jazz. Essays in Honour of Jordan Howard Sobel. Uppsala: Uppsala Philosophical Studies. pp. 23-37 (2009)
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Abstract

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: 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 1 The informal Mere Addition Paradox in Parfit (1984), pp. 419ff is the locus classicus. For an informal proof of a similar result with stronger assumptions, see Ng (1989), p. 240. A formal proof with slightly stronger assumptions than Ng’s can be found in Blackorby and Donaldson (1991). For theorems with much weaker assumptions, see my (1999), (2000b), and especially (2000a), (2001), and (2009). 2 See Parfit (1984), p. 388. My formulation is more general than Parfit’s apart from that he doesn’t demand that the people with very high welfare are equally well off. Expressions such as “a population with very high positive welfare”, “a population with very low positive welfare”, etc., are elliptical for the more cumbersome phrases “a population consisting only of lives with..

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Gustaf Arrhenius
Stockholm University

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