Population Ethics under Risk

Social Choice and Welfare (forthcoming)
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Population axiology concerns how to evaluate populations in terms of their moral goodness, that is, how to order populations by the relations “is better than” and “is as good as”. The task has been to find an adequate theory about the moral value of states of affairs where the number of people, the quality of their lives, and their identities may vary. So far, this field has largely ignored issues about uncertainty and the conditions that have been discussed mostly pertain to the ranking of risk-free outcomes. Most public policy choices, however, are decisions under uncertainty, including policy choices that affect the size of a population. Here, we shall address the question of how to rank population prospects—that is, alternatives that contain uncertainty as to which population they will bring about—by the relations “is better than” and “is as good as”. We start by illustrating how well-known population axiologies can be extended to population prospect axiologies. And we show that new problems arise when extending population axiologies to prospects. In particular, traditional population axiologies lead to prospect-versions of the problems that they praised for avoiding in the risk-free settings. Finally, we identify an intuitive adequacy condition that, we contend, should be satisfied by any population prospect axiology, and show how given this condition, the impossibility theorems in population axiology can be extended to (non-trivial) impossibility theorems for population prospect axiology.

Author Profiles

Gustaf Arrhenius
Stockholm University
H. Orri Stefansson
Stockholm University


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