The Dennes Room

Philosophy 290-7

Fall 2021

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
290-7 Graduate Seminar: Topics in Population Ethics Frick W 2-4 TBA

This seminar will examine ethical questions surrounding the creation of new persons. We will look both at the individual decision to procreate as well as at social policies that influence the number, identity, and wellbeing of future persons. Among the questions we will consider are:

  • Can I harm or benefit a person by bringing her into existence?
  • Can it be wrong for me to create a person whose life is well worth living, because I could instead have created a different person whose life would have foreseeably been happier? If so, why?
  • If I have a moral reason not to create a child whose life would foreseeably be miserable, is there a corresponding moral reason to create a child whose life would be happy? If not, what might explain the asymmetry in our judgments?
  • All else equal, does the world go better if more happy lives are created? Does the world go better the larger the total utility contained in all lives that are ever lived?
  • What reasons, if any, are there for wanting humankind to survive for as long as possible?
  • What is the significance of posterity (i.e. the fact that there will be people living after our death) for our own lives?

In the course of discussing these questions, we will grapple with four famous (and notoriously difficult) problems in population ethics that were first systematically discussed by Derek Parfit in Part IV of his book Reasons and Persons: the Non-Identity Problem, the Asymmetry, the Repugnant Conclusion, and the Mere Addition Paradox.