Calibrating variable-value population ethics


Variable-Value axiologies propose solutions to the challenges of population ethics. These views avoid Parfit's Repugnant Conclusion, while satisfying some weak instances of the Mere Addition principle (for example, at small population sizes). We apply calibration methods to Variable-Value views while assuming: first, some very weak instances of Mere Addition, and, second, some plausible empirical assumptions about the size and welfare of the intertemporal world population. We find that Variable-Value views imply conclusions that should seem repugnant to anyone who opposes Total Utilitarianism due to the Repugnant Conclusion. So, any wish to avoid repugnant conclusions is not a good reason to choose a Variable-Value view. More broadly, these calibrations teach us something about the effort to avoid the Repugnant Conclusion. Our results join a recent literature arguing that prior efforts to avoid the Repugnant Conclusion hinge on inessential features of the formalization of repugnance. Some of this effort may therefore be misplaced.

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H. Orri Stefansson
Stockholm University


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