The Journal of Ethics

, Volume 17, Issue 1–2, pp 37–49 | Cite as

Asymmetries in Benefiting, Harming and Creating

  • Ben BradleyEmail author


It is often said that while we have a strong reason not to create someone who will be badly off, we have no strong reason for creating someone who will be well off. In this paper I argue that this asymmetry is incompatible with a plausible principle of independence of irrelevant alternatives, and that a more general asymmetry between harming and benefiting is difficult to defend. I then argue that, contrary to what many have claimed, it is possible to harm or benefit someone by bringing her into existence.


Asymmetry Creation Existence Harm Independence of irrelevant alternatives Well-being 



Many thanks to the participants at NOISE 2 at Tulane in February 2011 and the Population Ethics workshop at McGill in April 2011. Special thanks to Gustaf Arrhenius, Ralf Bader, Elizabeth Brake, Eric Cave, Justin D’Arms, Tyler Doggett, Dale Dorsey, Iwao Hirose, Dan Jacobson, Jens Johansson, Melinda Roberts, David Shoemaker, and Sarah Stroud.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Syracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA

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