Res Publica

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 145–157 | Cite as

A Defence of the Asymmetry in Population Ethics



A common intuition is that there is a moral difference between ‘making people happy’ and ‘making happy people.’ This intuition, often referred to as ‘the Asymmetry,’ has, however, been criticized on the grounds that it is incoherent. Why is there, for instance, not a corresponding difference between ‘making people unhappy’ and ‘making unhappy people’? I argue that the intuition faces several difficulties but that these can be met by introducing a certain kind of reason that is favouring but non-requiring. It is argued that there are structural similarities between the asymmetry and moral options and that the asymmetry can be defended as an instance of a moral option.


Asymmetry Harm Benefit Procreation Reasons Options Supererogation Anti-natalism 



Many thanks to Kent Hurtig, Gustaf Arrhenius, Eric Carlson and an anonymous referee for their many helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  2. 2.Filosofiska institutionenUppsala UniversitetUppsalaSweden

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