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All else being equal, creating a miserable person makes the world worse, and creating an ecstatic person makes it better. Such claims are easily justified if it can be better, or worse, for a person to exist than not to exist. But that seems to require that things can be better, or worse, for a person even in a world in which she does not exist. Ingmar Persson defends this seemingly paradoxical claim in his latest book, Inclusive Ethics. He argues that persons that never exist are merely possible beings for whom non-existence is worse than existence with a good life. We argue that Persson's argument, as stated in his book, has false premises and is invalid. We reconstruct the argument to make it valid, but the premises remain highly problematic. Finally, we argue, one can make sense of our procreative obligations without letting merely possible beings into the moral club.
A person's welfare or well-being concerns what is good for him, what makes his life worth living. It therefore depends crucially on facts about the person and his life. As William James once remarked, whether a life is worth living depends on the liver. How this dependency should be spelled out is a controversial question. Desire theorists, or as I shall call them well-being preferentialists, claim that a person's well-being depends on his desires and preferences.
Most people at some point in their lives face transformative decisions that could result in experiences that are radically different from any that they have had, and that could radically change their personalities and preferences. For instance, most people make the conscious decision to either become or not become parents. In a recent but already influential book, L. A. Paul (2014) argues that transformative choices cannot be rational – or, more precisely, that they cannot be rational if one assumes what Paul sees as a cultural paradigm for rational decision-making. Paul arrives at this surprising conclusion due to her understanding of transformative experience as being both epistemically and personally transformative. An experience is epistemically transformative if it ‘teaches [a person] something she could not have learned without having that kind of experience’ (11), but it is personally transformative if it changes the person's point of view and her fundamental preferences (16).
How do we determine the well-being of a person when her preferences are not stable across worlds? Suppose, for instance, that you are considering getting married, and that you know that if you get married, you will prefer being unmarried, and that if you stay unmarried, you will prefer being married. The general problem is to find a stable standard of well-being when the standard is set by preferences that are not stable. In this paper, I shall show that the problem is even worse: inconsistency threatens if we accept both that your desires determine what is good for you and that you must prefer what is better for you. After I have introduced a useful toy model and stated the inconsistency argument, I will go on to discuss a couple of unsuccessful theories and see what we can learn from their mistakes. One important lesson is that how you would have felt about a life had you never led it is irrelevant to the question of how good that life is for you. What counts is how you feel about your life when you are actually leading it. Another lesson is that a life can be better for you even if you would not rank it higher, if you were to lead it.
Act-consequentialism is usually taken to be the view that we ought to perform the act that will have the best consequences. But this definition ignores the possibility of various non-maximizing forms of act-consequentialism, e.g. satisficing theories that tell us to perform the act whose consequences will be good enough. What seems crucial to act-consequentialism is not that we ought to maximize value but that the normative status of alternative actions depends solely on the values of their outcomes. The purpose of this paper is to spell out this dependency claim and argue that it should be seen as the denning feature of act-consequentialism. In particular, I will defend the definition against certain objections that purport to show that the definition is too wide and too narrow.
John Broome's Weighing Lives provides a much-needed framework for the intriguing problems of population ethics. It is also an impressive attempt to find a workable solution to these problems. I am not sure that Broome has found the right solution, but I think he has done the ethics profession a tremendous service in tidying up the discussion. The framework he presents will make it possible for the participants in this debate to formulate their positions in a clear and precise manner. Even people who disagree with him will be helped by this framework, since they will now be able to show exactly where their views differ.
I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to comment on McKerlie's interesting article, especially since it concerns one of my pet topics and provides many helpful comments on one of my own articles on this topic. My comments will be brief because I agree with most of his points, in particular, his criticisms of the prudential view and the present-aim theory. What I want to do here is just to clarify a couple of things concerning my own theory, concede some of the difficulties that McKerlie raises for my theory, and see to what extent his own proposal fares better than my own theory.
What is the prudentially right thing to do in situations in which our actions will shape our preferences? Suppose, for instance, that you are considering getting married, and that you know that if you get married, you will prefer being unmarried, and that if you stay unmarried, you will prefer being married. This is the problem I will deal with in this article. I will begin by explaining why preferences matter to prudence. I will then go on to discuss a couple of unsuccessful theories and see what we can learn from their mistakes. One of the most important lessons is that how you would have felt about a life had you never led it is irrelevant to the question of what you prudentially ought to do. My theory takes this into account. What counts is how you feel about a life when you are actually leading it.
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