Graduate Workshop on Population Ethics

In addition to the main event, we will host a satellite Graduate Workshop on Population Ethics which will feature presentations of work in progress by graduate students. It will take place on 10 May 2019 in Marx Hall, Room 301.

Participation in the Graduate Workshop is free and open to all. Those planning to attend the main event are warmly invited to attend the Graduate Workshop but are in no way expected to do so.

Feel free to attend as many or as few sessions as you want or have time to.


08:30 - 09:00 Breakfast (outside room 301)

09:00 - 10:00 Chanwoo Lee (UC Davis): "McMahan’s Bitter Thought Argument Reconsidered"

10:00 - 10:15 Coffee break

10:15 - 11:15 Alisabeth Ayars (Princeton): "Are Person-Affecting Considerations Reducible to Contractualist Reasons?"

11:15 - 11:30 Coffee break

11:30 - 12:30 Aidan Penn (Oxford): "The Rights of Future People"

12:30 - 1:30 Lunch (outside room 301)

1:30 - 2:30 Kacper Kowalczyk (Oxford): "Equality and Population Size"

2:30 - 2:45 Coffee break

2:45 - 3:45 Ramiel Tamras (UC Davis): "Fricking A(symmetry): Johann Frick, the Procreation Asymmetry, and the Nature of Our Reasons Towards Future People"

3:45 - 4:00 Coffee break

4:00 - 5:00 Erik Zhang (Princeton): "Resisting Aggregation"

5:00 - 5:15 Coffee break

5:15 - 6:15 Tomi Francis (Oxford): "Population Axiology Without Identity"

Short abstracts:

Chanwoo Lee (UC Davis): "McMahan’s Bitter Thought Argument Reconsidered"

Some benefits can be bestowed by causing people to exist; their existence is dependent on the act of bestowing the benefit itself. Derek Parfit argued that benefiting a person who will exist independently of one's act and bestowing the same amount of benefit by causing the person to exist are equally worthwhile. Jeff McMahan, however, responded that there is an asymmetry between them since the former can have a “bitter thought” when the latter is prioritized. I offer multiple interpretations of McMahan's argument, and it is argued that Parfit's view still stands.

Aidan Penn (Oxford): "The Rights of Future People"

Suppose that you can benefit others by causing person X to exist with a bad life. Many think that it would be wrong for you to do so, even if the benefits to others are large enough that things would go better if you caused X to exist. In my talk, I will consider how non-consequentialists can defend this view. I will argue—pace Parfit, McMahan, and several others—that non-consequentialists have three options for explaining the wrongness of causing X to exist. First, they can maintain that merely possible persons’ rights can generate duties for existing persons; second, they can permit certain violations of normative invariance; third, they can maintain that you have a duty not to cause X to exist because of a consistency constraint on moral agency, not because of X’s rights. I will suggest that the third option is more plausible than the first two.

Kacper Kowalczyk (Oxford): "Equality and Population Size"

I explore how bringing in egalitarian considerations helps with different‑number cases and how bringing in considerations about different-number cases casts light on the nature of egalitarianism. I argue that egalitarian considerations by themselves don’t help at all with different-number cases if we accept a plausible principle about equality comparisons across different population sizes. If that principle is right, however, this also shows that some apparently egalitarian theories in same-number cases are not actually egalitarian. This has some interesting implications about the levelling down objection against egalitarianism and about the distinction between egalitarianism and prioritarianism.

Ramiel Tamras (UC Davis): "Fricking A(symmetry): Johann Frick, the Procreation Asymmetry, and the Nature of Our Reasons Towards Future People"

Philosophers have had a difficult time defending the highly intuitive Procreation Asymmetry. This is the sense that we have strong moral reasons to refrain from creating people with lives not worth living, but no moral reasons to create people just because their lives would be worth living. Johann Frick argues this difficulty is due to a mistaken view about the nature of our reasons to benefit, and that taking our reasons to benefit a person to be conditional on their existence (or bearer-dependent) allows him to do better. I contend that his argument for the bearer-dependence of our reasons to benefit generalizes to all welfare-related reasons, and consequently, undermines the second half of the Asymmetry.

Erik Zhang (Princeton): "Resisting Aggregation"

Some moral theories embrace a mode of justification that is purely aggregative. According to these theories, in situations of interpersonal trade-off, we should maximize the sum total of well-being, aggregated across persons. In short, numbers always count. I reject pure aggregation in favour of partial aggregation; I think it is neither the case that numbers always count nor the case that numbers never count, but that numbers sometimes count. A number of philosophers have recently argued that partial aggregation is extensionally inadequate. I will develop a version of partial aggregation that avoid these extensional difficulties.

Tomi Francis (Oxford): "Population Axiology Without Identity"

Standard population axiologies implicitly refer to the personal identity relation, by taking populations to be sets of lives. This is incompatible with the idea that identity does not matter. Instead, we should formulate our theories without appealing to personal identity. Call the project of taking standard theories and rewriting them in terms which make no reference to personal identity "R-translation". In this talk, I consider the following questions: (1) Is there a general method for R-translating standard population axiologies?; (2) Is there, for each standard population axiology, an R-translation?; (3) Is there always a uniquely appropriate R-translation?


Michal Masny, Princeton University