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Mere Addition and Two Trilemmas of Population Ethics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2008

Erik Carlson
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.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1998

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