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The Repugnant Conclusion and Utilitarianism under Domain Restrictions

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  • LESLIE SHIELL

Abstract

The paper investigates the problem of the repugnant conclusion in variable-population social choice. A choice rule exhibits the repugnant conclusion if, given any alternative in which all individuals enjoy a high quality of life, there is always a better alternative (according to the choice rule) in which the population is larger and each individual has a life which is barely worth living. While it is well-known that classical utilitarianism (CU) exhibits the repugnant conclusion on an unrestricted domain, the paper shows that critical-level utilitarianism (CLU) also exhibits the repugnant conclusion on an unrestricted domain when repugnance is defined in terms of the critical level. In contrast, both CU and CLU are shown to avoid the repugnant conclusion on a restricted domain defined by bounded resources, the law of conservation of matter, concavity and monotonicity of preferences, positive subsistence consumption, and positive "neutral consumption." In light of the universality of these restrictions, one may conclude that the problem of the repugnant conclusion may not be as great as previously thought. Copyright © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc..

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  • Leslie Shiell, 2008. "The Repugnant Conclusion and Utilitarianism under Domain Restrictions," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 10(6), pages 1011-1031, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:jpbect:v:10:y:2008:i:6:p:1011-1031
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Charles Blackorby & Walter Bossert & David Donaldson, 2003. "The Axiomatic Approach to Population Ethics," Politics, Philosophy & Economics, , vol. 2(3), pages 342-381, October.
    2. Arrhenius, Gustaf, 2000. "An Impossibility Theorem for Welfarist Axiologies," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 16(02), pages 247-266, October.
    3. Blackorby, Charles & Donaldson, David, 1982. "Ratio-Scale and Translation-Scale Full Interpersonal Comparability without Domain Restrictions: Admissible Social-Evaluation Functions," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 23(2), pages 249-268, June.
    4. Blackorby, Charles & Bossert, Walter & Donaldson, David, 2002. " Population Principles with Number-Dependent Critical Levels," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 4(3), pages 347-368.
    5. Blackorby, Charles & Bossert, Walter & Donaldson, David, 1997. "Critical-Level Utilitarianism and the Population-Ethics Dilemma," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 13(02), pages 197-230, October.
    6. Blackorby, Charles & Bossert, Walter & Donaldson, David, 1995. "Intertemporal Population Ethics: Critical-Level Utilitarian Principles," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(6), pages 1303-1320, November.
    7. Blackorby, Charles & Bossert, Walter & Donaldson, David, 1999. "Information Invariance in Variable-Population Social-Choice Problems," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 40(2), pages 403-422, May.
    8. Blackorby, Charles & Donaldson, David, 1984. "Social criteria for evaluating population change," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(1-2), pages 13-33, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Thomas Renström & Luca Spataro, 2011. "The optimum growth rate for population under critical-level utilitarianism," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 24(3), pages 1181-1201, July.

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