Friday, May 19, 2006

mere addition paradox

Agorophilia looks at parfit's mere addition paradox

" One objection to utilitarianism is its difficulty in dealing with questions of population change. For example, is it desirable to add more people to a population if the new additions have lives that are (a) worth living but (b) not quite as good as the lives of those already living? The larger population would have higher total utility but lower average utility. (Set aside concerns about negative externalities from population growth. Holding the happiness of the already-living sharpens the philosophical question.)

Derek Parfit’s “Mere Addition Paradox” (MAP) shows how both total and average utilitarianism can lead to bizarre and (seemingly) unpalatable conclusions."

1) We are to a large extent operating under a misconception of what "a life worth living" is.

To put it simply you could sit there watching the world get better with each new lovely baby entering the world the world getting better each time - eventually you stop because the next baby makes the world marginally worse but by that stage the world is HUGELY better than the world now.
(the paradox implies you can keep adding only positive numbers and end up with a negitive total! obviously nonsense).

Also the paradox doesn’t occur like that in practice because you have to consider the sustainability of the model. (Another thing we intuitively include in our analysis).
For example environmentalists tell us that the world may be overpopulated - if that is the case the utilitarian may well want us to REDUCE our population even from the current level just to ensure that the planet can maintain a reasonable number of people in the status of a life worth living into the future as far as the mind can see.
these and a couple of other factors (like the investment to make a human) prop up the standard of hte lowest peopel in the optimal utilitarian world.


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