A person-affecting or person-based view (also called person-affecting restriction) in population ethics captures the intuition that an act can only be bad if it is bad for someone. Similarly something can be good only if it is good for someone. Therefore, according to standard person-affecting views, there is no moral obligation to create people nor moral good in creating people because nonexistence means "there is never a person who could have benefited from being created". Whether one accepts person-affecting views greatly influences to what extent shaping the far future is important (since there may be greatly more humans existing in the future than has ever existed). Person-affecting views are also important in considering human population control.
A weaker form of person-affecting views states that an act can only be bad if it is bad for some existing or future person.
Person-affecting views can be seen as a revision of total utilitarianism in which the "scope of the aggregation" is changed from all individuals who would exist to a subset of those individuals (namely those individuals who already exist).
There is no single "person-affecting view" but rather a variety of formulations all involving the idea of something being good or bad for someone.
- Gustaf Arrhenius formulates the "person-affecting restriction" as saying that moral claims "necessarily involve a reference to humans", so that statements only referencing "the scenery" or "the balance of the ecosystem" (without reference to humans) are excluded from moral consideration.
- Nick Beckstead states that the person-affecting view claims the following: "When aggregating the interests of different people to determine the value of an outcome, the interests of 'extra' people count for less or can be ignored" (where "extra" can mean different things in different contexts, but in each case actions cannot be good or bad for "extra" people). Beckstead further distinguishes between moderate and strict person-affecting views, where moderate views give less weight to "extra" people (so that while creating new lives that are good is a good thing, this is inferior to improving already-existing lives) while strict views do not consider "extra" people at all.
- There are also wide and narrow person-affecting views, as well as an asymmetric view (under which it is considered immoral to bring into this world lives that are not worth living, even though it is morally neutral to bring into this world lives that are worth living – hence the asymmetry). The asymmetric view in particular can lead one to conclude that human extinction is good, according to Beckstead.
- The Asymmetry (population ethics)
- Nonidentity problem
- Mere addition paradox (also known as the repugnant conclusion)
- Gustaf Arrhenius. "The Person-Affecting Restriction, Comparativism, and the Moral Status of Potential People". 2003. http://www.iffs.se/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/The-Person-Affecting-Restriction-Comparativism-and-the-Moral-Status-of-Potential-People.pdf[permanent dead link]
- Roberts, M. A., "The Nonidentity Problem", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nonidentity-problem/
- Beckstead, Nick (2013), On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future, PhD thesis, Department of Philosophy, Rutgers University, retrieved 5 July 2017