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The Repugnant Conclusion and Utilitarianism under Domain Restrictions

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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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Article provided by Association for Public Economic Theory in its journal Journal of Public Economic Theory.

Volume (Year): 10 (2008)
Issue (Month): 6 (December)
Pages: 1011-1031

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Handle: RePEc:bla:jpbect:v:10:y:2008:i:6:p:1011-1031
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