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)
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)
Population ethics contains several principles that avoid the repugnant conclusion. These rules rank all possible alternatives, leaving no room for moral ambiguity. Building on a suggestion of Parfit, this paper characterizes principles that provide incomplete but ethically attractive rankings of alternatives with different population sizes. All of them rank same-number alternatives with generalized utilitarianism.
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.