The Impossibility of a Satisfactory Population Prospect Axiology (Independently of Finite Fine-Grainedness)
Philosophical Studies, 2021.
Abstract: Arrhenius’s impossibility theorems purport to demonstrate that no population axiology can satisfy each of a small number of intuitively compelling adequacy conditions. However, it has recently been pointed out that each theorem depends on a dubious assumption: Finite Fine-Grainedness. This assumption states that there exists a finite sequence of slight welfare differences between any two welfare levels. Denying Finite Fine-Grainedness makes room for a lexical population axiology which satisfies all of the compelling adequacy conditions in each theorem. Therefore, Arrhenius’s theorems fail to prove that there is no satisfactory population axiology.
In this paper, I argue that Arrhenius’s theorems can be repurposed. Since all of our population-affecting actions have a non-zero probability of bringing about more than one distinct population, it is population prospect axiologies that are of practical relevance, and amended versions of Arrhenius’s theorems demonstrate that there is no satisfactory population prospect axiology. These impossibility theorems do not depend on Finite Fine-Grainedness, so lexical views do not escape them.
Open-access published article / penultimate draft
Is Global Consequentialism More Expressive Than Act Consequentialism?
Abstract: Act consequentialism states that an act is right iff the expected value of its outcome is at least as great as the expected value of any other act’s outcome. Two objections to this view are as follows. The first is that act consequentialism cannot account for our normative ambivalence in cases where agents perform the right act out of bad motives. The second is that act consequentialism is silent on questions of character: questions like ‘What are the right motives to have?’ and ‘What kind of person ought I be?’. These objections have been taken to motivate a move to global consequentialism, on which acts are not the only subjects of normative assessment. Motives and decision-procedures (amongst other things) are also judged right or wrong by direct reference to their consequences. In this paper, I argue that these objections fail to motivate the move from act to global consequentialism.
Latest draft / Joint Session talk
Critical Levels, Critical Ranges, and Imprecise Exchange Rates in Population Axiology
Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, forthcoming.
Abstract: According to Critical-Level Views in population axiology, an extra life improves a population only if that life’s welfare exceeds some fixed ‘critical level.’ An extra life at the critical level leaves the new population equally good as the original. According to Critical-Range Views, an extra life improves a population only if that life’s welfare exceeds some fixed ‘critical range.’ An extra life within the critical range leaves the new population incommensurable with the original.
In this paper, I sharpen some old objections to these views and offer some new ones. Critical-Level Views cannot avoid certain Repugnant and Sadistic Conclusions. Critical-Range Views imply that lives featuring no good or bad components whatsoever can nevertheless swallow up and neutralise goodness or badness. Both classes of view entail that certain small changes in welfare correspond to worryingly large differences in contributive value.
I then offer a view that retains much of the appeal of Critical-Level and Critical-Range Views while avoiding the above pitfalls. On the Imprecise Exchange Rates View, the quantity of some good required to outweigh a given unit of some bad is imprecise. This imprecision is the source of incommensurability between lives and populations.
A Dilemma for Lexical and Archimedean Views in Population Axiology
Economics and Philosophy, forthcoming.
Abstract: According to lexical views in population axiology, there are good lives x and y such that some number of lives equally good as x is not worse than any number of lives equally good as y. Such views can avoid the Repugnant Conclusion without violating Transitivity or Separability, but they imply a dilemma: either some good life is better than any number of slightly worse lives, or else the ‘at least as good as’ relation on populations is radically incomplete, in a sense to be explained. One might judge that the Repugnant Conclusion is preferable to each of these horns and hence embrace an Archimedean view. This is, roughly, the claim that quantity can always substitute for quality: each population is worse than a population of enough good lives. However, Archimedean views face an analogous dilemma: either some good life is better than any number of slightly worse lives, or else the ‘at least as good as’ relation on populations is radically and symmetrically incomplete, in a sense to be explained. Therefore, the lexical dilemma gives us little reason to prefer Archimedean views. Even if we give up on lexicality, problems of the same kind remain.