Topics in Population Ethics

Dissertation, University of Oxford (2016)
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This thesis consists of several independent papers in population ethics. I begin in Chapter 1 by critiquing some well-known 'impossibility theorems', which purport to show there can be no intuitively satisfactory population axiology. I identify axiological vagueness as a promising way to escape or at least mitigate the effects of these theorems. In particular, in Chapter 2, I argue that certain of the impossibility theorems have little more dialectical force than sorites arguments do. From these negative arguments I move to positive ones. In Chapter 3, I justify the use of a 'veil of ignorance', starting from three more basic normative principles. This leads to positive arguments for various kinds of utilitarianism - the best such arguments I know. But in general the implications of the veil depend on how one answers what I call 'the risky existential question': what is the value to an individual of a chance of non-existence? I chart out the main options, and raise some puzzles for non-comparativism, the view that life is incomparable to non-existence. Finally, in Chapter 4, I consider the consequences for population ethics of the idea that what is normatively relevant is not personal identity, but a degreed relation of psychological connectedness. In particular, I pursue a strategy based in population ethics for understanding the controversial 'time-relative interests' account of the badness of death.
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