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Value, Obligation and the Asymmetry Question

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Is there a prima facie obligation to produce additional individuals whose lives would be worth living? In his paper ‘Is it Good to Make Happy People?’, Stuart Rachels argues not only that there is, but, also, that precisely as much weight should be assigned to the quality of life that would be enjoyed by such potential persons, if they were to be actualized, as to the quality of life enjoyed by actually existing persons. In response, I shall argue, first, that Rachels’ view is exposed to very serious objections, and secondly, that his arguments in support of his position involve a crucial assumption, which cannot be sustained, concerning the relation between, on the one hand, propositions about good-making and bad-making properties, and, on the other, propositions about right-making and wrong-making ones. I shall then argue that there is a very plausible position concerning the conditions under which an action can be morally wrong which entails the following asymmetry: there is a prima facie obligation not to bring into existence individuals whose lives are not worth living, but there is no corresponding obligation to create additional individuals whose lives would be worth living.

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, University of Colorado at Boulder

Publication date: 1998-04-01

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