Identifying and Dissolving the Non-Identity Problem

Philosophical Studies 137 (1):3-18 (2008)
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Abstract

Philosophers concerned with procreative ethics have long been puzzled by Parfit’s Non-Identity Problem (NIP). Various solutions have been proposed, but I argue that we have not solved the problem on its own narrow person-affecting terms, i.e., in terms of the identified individuals affected by procreative decisions and acts, especially future children. Thus, the core problem remains unsolved. This is a nagging concern for all who hold the common intuition that actions that harm no one are permissible. I argue against Harmon’s and Woodward’s direct, narrow person-affecting solutions, and in favor of a new solution to the NIP. My solution, or, rather, dissolution, is based on the argument that merely possible people, i.e., hypothetical people who could possibly, but will not actually, exist, are morally irrelevant. I show that the NIP only arises when we concern ourselves with merely possible people. Once we are careful to restrict our concerns to only those that do or will exist, the NIP is dissolved.

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Rivka Weinberg
Scripps College