Asymmetry (population ethics)

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The Asymmetry, also known as 'the Procreation Asymmetry,'[1] is the idea in population ethics that there is a moral or evaluative asymmetry between bringing into existence individuals with good or bad lives.[2] It was first discussed by Jan Narveson in 1967, and Jeff McMahan coined the term 'the Asymmetry' 1981.[3] McMahan formulates the Asymmetry as follows: “while the fact that a person's life would be worse than no life at all ... constitutes a strong moral reason for not bringing him into existence, the fact that a person's life would be worth living provides no (or only a relatively weak) moral reason for bringing him into existence.”[4] Professor Nils Holtug formulates the Asymmetry evaluatively in terms of the value of outcomes instead of in terms of moral reasons. Holtug's formulation says that “while it detracts from the value of an outcome to add individuals whose lives are of overall negative value, it does not increase the value of an outcome to add individuals whose lives are of overall positive value.”[5]

Much of the literature on the ethics of procreation deals with the Asymmetry.[6] A number of authors have defended the Asymmetry,[7] and a number of authors have argued against it.[8]

See also[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Frick 2014, p. 1.
  2. ^ Frick 2014, pp. 2-3
  3. ^ Frick 2014, p. 1: “The Asymmetry was first discussed by Jan Narveson in 'Utilitarianism and New Generations', Mind 76 (1967), pp. 62–72. The label is due to Jeff McMahan, 'Problems of Population Theory', Ethics, 92 (1981), pp. 96-127.”
  4. ^ McMahan 1981, p. 100: “Consider the view that, while the fact that a person's life would be worse than no life at all (or 'worth not living') constitutes a strong moral reason for not bringing him into existence, the fact that a person's life would be worth living provides no (or only a relatively weak) moral reason for bringing him into existence. This view, which I shall refer to as 'the Asymmetry,' is approved both by Narveson and by common sense.”
  5. ^ Holtug 2004, p. 138.
  6. ^ Heyd 1992, p. 59: “Much of the literature on the morality of procreation revolves around the issue whether there is a difference between the duty to bring a happy child into the world and the duty to avoid conceiving a miserable child.”
  7. ^ For example, Narveson 1978, Tooley 1998, Elstein 2005, Roberts 2011a, Roberts 2011b, Algander 2012, Meacham 2012, Frick 2014, and Grill 2017.
  8. ^ For example, Sikora 1978, Rachels 1998, Holtug 2004, Persson 2009, Beckstead 2013, and John Broome (according to Frick 2014, p. 5).

References[edit]

Algander, Per (2012). "A Defence of the Asymmetry in Population Ethics". Res Publica. 18 (2): 145–57. doi:10.1007/s11158-011-9164-0. 
Beckstead, Nicholas (2013). On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future (Ph.D.). Rutgers University. 
Bradley, Ben (2013). "Asymmetries in Benefiting, Harming and Creating". The Journal of Ethics. 17 (1-2): 37–49. doi:10.1007/s10892-012-9134-6. 
Elstein, Daniel J. (2005). "The Asymmetry of Creating and Not Creating Life". The Journal of Value Inquiry. 39 (1): 49–59. doi:10.1007/s10790-006-7256-4. 
Frick, Johann David (2014). ‘Making People Happy, Not Making Happy People’: A Defense of the Asymmetry Intuition in Population Ethics (Ph.D.). Harvard University. 
Grill, Kalle (2017). "Asymmetric Population Axiology: Deliberative Neutrality Delivered". Philosophical Studies. 174 (1): 219–236. doi:10.1007/s11098-016-0678-3. 
Heyd, David (1992). Genethics: Moral Issues in the Creation of People. Berkeley: University of California Press. 
Holtug, Nils (2004). "Person-affecting Moralities". In Jesper Ryberg and Torbjörn Tännsjö, eds., The Repugnant Conclusion. Dordrecht: Kluwer. pp. 129–61. 
McMahan, Jefferson (1981). "Problems of Population Theory". Ethics. 92 (1): 96–127. doi:10.1086/292301. 
Meacham, Christopher J.G. (2012). "Person-Affecting Views and Saturating Counterpart Relations" (PDF). Philosophical Studies. 158: 257–87. doi:10.1007/s11098-012-9884-9. 
Narveson, Jan (1967). "Utilitarianism and New Generations" (PDF). Mind. 76: 62–72. doi:10.1093/mind/lxxvi.301.62. 
Narveson, Jan (1978). "Future People and Us". In R. I. Sikora and Brian Barry, eds., Obligations to Future Generations. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. pp. 38–60. 
Persson, Ingmar (2009). "Rights and the Asymmetry Between Creating Good and Bad Lives". In Melinda A. Roberts and David T. Wasserman, eds., Harming Future Persons. Netherlands: Springer. pp. 29–48. 
Rachels, Stuart (1998). "Is It Good to Make Happy People?". Bioethics. 12 (2): 93–110. doi:10.1111/1467-8519.00098. 
Roberts, Melinda A. (2011a). "An Asymmetry in the Ethics of Procreation". Philosophy Compass. 6 (11): 765–76. doi:10.1111/j.1747-9991.2011.00435.x. 
Roberts, Melinda A. (2011b). "The Asymmetry: A Solution". Theoria. 77: 333–67. doi:10.1111/j.1755-2567.2011.01117.x. 
Sikora, R. I. (1978). "Is it Wrong to Prevent the Existence of Future Generations?". In R. I. Sikora and Brian Barry, eds., Obligations to Future Generations. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. pp. 112–66. 
Tooley, Michael (1998). "Value, Obligation and the Asymmetry Question". Bioethics. 12 (2): 111–24. doi:10.1111/1467-8519.00099. 

Further reading[edit]

  • McMahan, Jeff (2009). "Asymmetries in the Morality of Causing People to Exist". In Melinda A. Roberts and David T. Wasserman, eds., Harming Future Persons. Netherlands: Springer. pp. 49–68. 

External links[edit]