The Value of Existence

Publication year: 2015

Arrhenius, Gustaf , Wlodek Rabinowicz

in: The Oxford Handbook of Value Theory Eds.Iwao Hirose and Jonas Olson, Oxford University Press.

Can it be better or worse for a person to exist than not to exist at all? This old and challenging existential question has been raised anew in contemporary moral philosophy, mainly for two reasons. First, traditional “impersonal” ethical theories, such as utilitarianism, have counterintuitive implications in population ethics, for example, the repugnant conclusion. Second, it has seemed evident to many that an outcome can be better than another only if it is better for someone, and that only moral theories that are in this sense “person affecting” can be correct. The implications of this Person-Affecting Restriction will differ radically, however, depending on which answer one gives to the existential question. The negative answer, which we argue against, would make the restriction quite untenable. Hence, many of the problems regarding our moral duties to future generations turn around the issue at hand.