Mind 127 (507):807-832 (2018)

Teruji Thomas
Oxford University
It is notoriously difficult to find an intuitively satisfactory rule for evaluating populations based on the welfare of the people in them. Standard examples, like total utilitarianism, either entail the Repugnant Conclusion or in some other way contradict common intuitions about the relative value of populations. Several philosophers have presented formal arguments that seem to show that this happens of necessity: our core intuitions stand in contradiction. This paper assesses the state of play, focusing on the most powerful of these ‘impossibility theorems’, as developed by Gustaf Arrhenius. I highlight two ways in which these theorems fall short of their goal: some appeal to a supposedly egalitarian condition which, however, does not properly reflect egalitarian intuitions; the others rely on a background assumption about the structure of welfare which cannot be taken for granted. Nonetheless, the theorems remain important: they give insight into the difficulty, if not perhaps the impossibility, of constructing a satisfactory population axiology. We should aim for reflective equilibrium between intuitions and more theoretical considerations. I conclude by highlighting one possible ingredient in this equilibrium, which, I argue, leaves open a still wider range of acceptable theories: the possibility of vague or otherwise indeterminate value relations.
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DOI 10.1093/mind/fzx047
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References found in this work BETA

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford University Press.
Reasons and Persons.Joseph Margolis - 1986 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 47 (2):311-327.
Utilitarianism.John Stuart Mill - 1863 - Cleveland: Cambridge University Press.
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Citations of this work BETA

An Intrapersonal Addition Paradox.Jacob M. Nebel - 2019 - Ethics 129 (2):309-343.
Totalism Without Repugnance.Jacob M. Nebel - 2022 - In Jeff McMahan, Tim Campbell, James Goodrich & Ketan Ramakrishnan (eds.), Ethics and Existence: The Legacy of Derek Parfit. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 200-231.

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