Possible preferences and the harm of existence

Abstract

How good or bad is a person’s life? How good or bad is a world? In this dissertation, I will attempt to answer these questions. Common-sense would dictate that if a person’s life would be extremely bad, then bringing her into existence is a bad thing. Not only is it bad for the person who lives it, but also, it is bad because it makes the world a worse place. A world populated only by individuals who have lives full of unrelenting misery and suffering is certainly worse than a world only populated by individuals who are extremely well off. If we can measure the value of a person’s life and the value of a world, then we can determine how good or bad our lives are and how good or bad the actual world is. Investigating these issues and providing satisfactory answers to these questions is immensely important. In this dissertation I argue that all actual human lives are so bad that it would have been better had all of us never come into existence. I also argue that our world is worse than an empty world. The nucleus of my view consists of the following two claims: i. Each person has an interest in acquiring a new satisfied preference. ii. Whenever a person is deprived of a new satisfied preference this violates an interest and is thus a harm with a finite disvalue. If one holds both and, then one is a deprivationalist. Any deprivationalist will have to claim that existence is worse for all actual persons than non-existence. I also show that deprivationalism presents a clear strategy for escaping The Repugnant Conclusion and The Mere Addition Paradox. For a deprivationalist, the Non-Identity Problem is neutralized as well. Parfit’s challenge in Reasons and Persons was to devise a theory of beneficence that could escape these cases without leading to other unacceptable conclusions. Parfit failed to find a theory—“Theory X”—that would meet these requirements. If the conclusions in this dissertation are correct, then deprivationalism is a good candidate for Theory X.

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