Economics and Philosophy

Essays

Mere Addition and Two Trilemmas of Population Ethics

Erik Carlsona1

a1 Uppsala University

A principal aim of the branch of ethics called ‘population theory’ or ‘population ethics’ is to find a plausible welfarist axiology, capable of comparing total outcomes with respect to value. This has proved an exceedingly difficult task. In this paper I shall state and discuss two ‘trilemmas’, or choices between three unappealing alternatives, which the population ethicist must face. The first trilemma is not new. It originates with Derek Parfit's well-known ‘Mere Addition Paradox’, and was first explicitly stated by Yew-Kwang Ng. I shall argue that one horn of this trilemma is less unattractive than Parfit and others have claimed. The second trilemma, which is a kind of mirror image of the first, appears hitherto to have gone unnoticed. Apart from attempting to resolve the two trilemmas, I shall suggest certain features which I believe a plausible welfarist axiology should possess. The details of this projected axiology will, however, be left open.