Blocking the Move from the Non-Identity Problem: A new approach to the Repugnant Conclusion

The Repugnant Conclusion is the conclusion that for any world of moderately happy people, there is a better world with far more people living lives barely worth living. As the name suggests, most people are not comfortable embracing the repugnant conclusion. If one believes that there is a moral duty to improve the value of the world, then it seems that people have an important reason to try to bring about a world full of people regardless of the effect this might have on their welfare.

While most philosophers agree that the repugnant conclusion is unappealing, there is currently no widely accepted way to deny it. One major derivation of the repugnant conclusion is from the non-identity problem. Derek Parfit explains the moral duty of a woman to delay a pregnancy if she can avoid giving birth to an impaired child by so doing by appealing to the greater total utility which will likely result. Unfortunately, the appeal to total utility leads directly to the repugnant conclusion. In my thesis I will attempt to show that ethical egoism may offer a way to answer the non-identity problem without inducing the repugnant conclusion. Ethical egoism may deny that the woman has a duty to delay her pregnancy, thus avoiding the axiological move which induced the repugnant conclusion.

Even if ethical egoism does not completely block the moves which lead to the repugnant conclusion, it may nevertheless be able to deny the ethical implications of the repugnant conclusion. I plan to look at whether ethical egoism may allow the maintenance of population limiting policies such as those which allow the proliferation of birth-control which the repugnant conclusion would render unethical under many other ethical theories. if ethical egoism allows people to deny some of the likely implications of the repugnant conclusion, that might provide at least some minimal reason to suppose that ethical egoism is plausible so long as some answer may be made to serious existing criticisms.


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