Population ethics is the philosophical study of the ethical problems concerning populations. It is also sometimes called population axiology, which is "the theory of when one state of affairs is better than another, where the states of affairs may differ over the number of people who ever live". It deals with the special problems that arise when actions or policies cannot be said to affect individual persons but merely to substitute one group of people with another. Such problems usually only arise when our actions affect future generations.
“Most discussion in population ethics has concentrated on how to evaluate populations in regard to their goodness, that is, how to order populations by the relations “is better than” and “is as good as”. This field has been riddled with paradoxes which purport to show that our considered beliefs are inconsistent in cases where the number of people and their welfare varies.”
Population ethics is especially important when making large-scale decisions like those regarding climate policy. Population ethics may be also applied to evaluate scenarios that influence how people value averting deaths in charitable organizations.
Perspectives and methodology
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One applied methodology includes using cost-effectiveness analysis to measure impact of intervention. These can be measured in QALYs (Quality-Adjusted Life Year) and/or DALYs (Disability-Adjusted Life Year). QALYs is a measure of years lived assuming perfect health gained, while DALYs measures in years where perfect health is lost. The two terms originated in the 1970s and 1990s, and are internationally recognized units of measurement. Both measurements may have limits in capturing wider effects such as emotional and mental health of individuals.
- Average and total utilitarianism
- Mere addition paradox (also called the repugnant conclusion)
- Person-affecting view
- The Asymmetry (population ethics)
- Population Ethics, Aggregate Welfare, and the Repugnant Conclusion
- The Repugnant Conclusion in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- On the Buddhist Truths and the Paradoxes in Population Ethics
- Greaves, Hilary. "Comparing existence and nonexistence". http://users.ox.ac.uk/~mert2255/talks/existence.pdf
- Arrhenius Gustav, 2004, The paradoxes of future generations and normative theory, in The repugnant conclusion, essays on population ethics, p.201, Dordrecht, Holland: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
- Population Ethics: Theory and Practice. Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford. http://www.populationethics.org/
- Cotra, Ajeya (2016-12-12). "AMF and Population Ethics". The GiveWell Blog. Retrieved 2017-01-13.
- EUFIC. "Measuring burden of disease - the concept of QALYs and DALYs (EUFIC)". www.eufic.org. Retrieved 2017-01-13.
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