Escaping the repugnant conclusion: Rank-discounted utilitarianism with variable population

Geir Asheim and Stéphane Zuber

Published in Theoretical Economics, 9 (2014), 629-650


We contribute to population ethics by proposing and axiomatizing rankdiscounted critical-level generalized utilitarianism (RDCLU). Population ethics is needed for evaluation of policies, e.g., concerning climate change, where population size depends on the chosen policy. We show that critical-level generalized utilitarianism and (a version of ) critical-level leximin are the limits of RDCLU for extreme values of the rank utility discount factor. Moreover, we establish how RDCLU avoids serious objections raised against other variable population criteria. In particular, it escapes both the Repugnant Conclusion and the Very Sadistic Conclusion (while critical-level generalized utilitarianism leads to one of these undesirable conclusions for any critical level).

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Published Jan. 27, 2015 2:39 PM - Last modified Apr. 7, 2015 11:10 AM