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Keywords:

  • the Asymmetry;
  • Totalism;
  • Prior Existence View;
  • Neutrality Intuition;
  • Moral Actualism;
  • loss or harm;
  • procreative choice;
  • value of nonexistence

Abstract

The Asymmetry consists of two claims. (A) That a possible person's life would be abjectly miserable –less than worth living – counts against bringing that person into existence. But (B) that a distinct possible person's life would be worth living or even well worth living does not count in favour of bringing that person into existence. In recent years, the view that the two halves of the Asymmetry are jointly untenable has become increasingly entrenched. If we say all persons matter morally whether they exist or not and on that basis try to explain the first half of the Asymmetry, we lose the second half of the Asymmetry. If we say that some persons do not matter morally and some do and on that basis try to explain the second half of the Asymmetry, we lose the first half of the Asymmetry – or else find ourselves with a principle that is either inconsistent or otherwise deeply troubled in some way that has nothing to do with the content of the Asymmetry itself. In this article, I propose an alternative approach to the Asymmetry which I will call Variabilism. By understanding each and every person, whether existing or not, to matter morally but variably– such that the moral significance of any loss incurred by any person is considered to depend, not on who incurs that loss and whether that person matters morally, but rather on where that loss is incurred in relation to the person who incurs it – we can both nicely ground the two halves of the Asymmetry and avoid the conceptual difficulties that have plagued competing approaches.