Egyptians, Aliens, and Okies: Against the Sum of Averages

Utilitas:1-7 (forthcoming)
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Grill (2023) defends the Sum of Averages View (SAV), on which the value of a population is found by summing the average lifetime welfare of each generation or birth cohort. A major advantage of SAV, according to Grill, is that it escapes the Egyptology objection to average utilitarianism. But, we argue, SAV escapes only the most literal understanding of this objection, since it still allows the value of adding a life to depend on facts about other, intuitively irrelevant lives. Moreover, SAV has a decisive drawback not shared with either average or total utilitarianism: it can evaluate an outcome in which every individual is worse off as better overall, even when exactly the same people exist in both outcomes. These problems, we argue, afflict not only Grill’s view but any view that uses a sum of subpopulation averages, apart from the limiting cases of average and total utilitarianism.

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Christian Tarsney
University of Texas at Austin


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