A consequentialist account of Narveson’s dictum
- 57 Downloads
In population ethics, Narveson’s dictum states: morality favours making people happy, but is neutral about making happy people. The thought is intuitively appealing; for example, it prohibits creating new people at the expense of those who already exist. However, there are well-known obstacles to accommodating Narveson’s dictum within a standard framework of overall betterness: any attempt to do so violates very plausible formal features of betterness (notably transitivity). Therefore, the prevailing view is that the dictum is off-limits to consequentialists, who are thereby committed to the unsavoury normative consequences of denying it. We argue against the prevailing view, by showing that Narveson’s dictum can be accommodated within “multidimensional” consequentialism. The key move is to deny the normative preeminence of overall betterness, instead taking moral decision-making to rest directly on “respects” of betterness. The multidimensional approach permits a consequentialist account of Narveson’s dictum in which betterness is well-behaved. It also yields a new way to think of the connection between goodness and rightness, thus revealing new terrain in the space of possible moral theories.
KeywordsPopulation ethics Axiology Intuition of neutrality Consequentialism
The authors would like to thank Simon Beard, John Broome, Matthew Clark, Daniel Cohen, Hilary Greaves, Alan Hájek, Michael McDermott, Wlodek Rabinowicz, Teruji Thomas, and audiences at ANU and Oxford for useful discussion.
- Cusbert, J. (2017). Acting on essentially comparative goodness. Thought: A Journal of Philosophy, 6(2), 73–83.Google Scholar
- Kath, R. (2016). Shortfall utilitarianism: A theory for variable population decisions. PhD Thesis, University of Sydney.Google Scholar
- Parfit, D. (1984). Reasons and persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Roberts, M. A. (2015). Population axiology. In I. Hirose & J. Olson (Eds.), The oxford handbook of value theory (pp. 399–423). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Sartre, J. P. (1948). Existentialism and humanism. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
- Temkin, L. S. (1987). Intransitivity and the mere addition paradox. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 16(2), 138–187.Google Scholar