Papers in Population Ethics

Dissertation, University of Oxford (2023)
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This thesis consists of a series of papers in population ethics: a subfield of normative ethics concerned with the distinctive issues that arise in cases where our actions can affect the identities or number of people of who ever exist. Each paper can be read independently of the others. In Chapter 1, I present a dilemma for Archimedean views in population axiology: roughly, those views on which adding enough good lives to a population can make that population better than any other. In Chapter 2, I extend Gustaf Arrhenius’s famous impossibility theorems in population axiology into the domain of choices under risk. My risky impossibility theorems dispense with the assumption that welfare levels are finitely fine-grained, and so tell against lexical views in population axiology. In Chapter 3, I present objections to critical-level and critical-range views in population axiology. I then sketch out what I call the ‘Imprecise Exchange Rates View’ and argue that it is an attractive alternative. In Chapter 4, I address critical-level and critical-range views again. This time, I note that they are vulnerable to objections from biographical identity: identity between lives. I suggest that these objections give us reason to reject critical-level and critical-range views and embrace the Total View. In Chapter 5, I argue that objections of the same form – objections from personal identity – tell against person-affecting views in population ethics. In Chapter 6, I draw out some counterintuitive implications of two recent complaints-based theories of the procreation asymmetry.

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Elliott Thornley
Oxford University


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