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COMPLEX TIME: Adaptation, Aging, & Arrow of Time

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Population and the Environment: Analytical Demography and Applied Population Ethics/Foundation of population ethics - population axiology & moral theory

From Complex Time

October 15, 2018
9:35 am - 10:20 am


Christopher Cowie (Durham Univ.)


How should we compare states of affairs that differ in not only the identities and qualities of life of those who comprise them, but also in their populations? This is the central challenge for moral philosophers working on population and future generations. I introduce the key ideas and arguments. I focus on the ‘repugnant conclusion’: the view that large populations of people with relatively low qualities of life may be better than small populations with relatively higher quality of life. I explore some of the arguments for and against this view and sketch the range of positions that those who wish to avoid it have adopted.    

Presentation file(s)
Related files

Post-meeting Reflection

Christopher Cowie (Durham Univ.) Link to the source page

Highlights: People genuinely seeming to care about philosophy.

Open questions that came up: questions about the nature of duties to merely potential people and the application of my approach to personal choices as well as public policy choices.

How your perspective changed: I wouldn't say my perspective changed. But I now think I was wrong to assimilate personal choices as well as public policy choices in my approach.

Impact on your own work: A bit more clarity on the above, as well as on the sense of should used to frame my questions (= should of morality not of rationality).

Reference Material

Hilary Greaves. Population Axiology. Philosophy Compass. (2017). A nice summary of some of the core issues in population axiology.

Mike Huemer. In Defense of Repugnance. Mind (2007). A more in-depth discussion of one of the controversial views in population axiology.

Title Author name Source name Year Citation count From Scopus. Refreshed every 5 days. Page views Related file
In defence of repugnance Michael Huemer Mind 2008 39 5
Population axiology Hilary Greaves Philosophy Compass 2017 16 7