Wlodek Rabinowicz, Lund University
07. Oktober 2020 16.45–18.45h CEST (virtual conference room)
Can Parfit′s Appeal to Incommensurabilities in Value Block the Continuum Argument for the Repugnant Conclusion?
Abstract: The so-called Continuum Argument purports to establish that for any population in which everyone’s life is excellent there is a better population in which everyone’s life is drab – barely worth living.. The latter population can be reached from the former by a sequence of steps: at each step the life quality is slightly decrease but this quality loss is outweighed by a large increase in the population size. Since each step is an improvement, the last population in this sequence must be better than the first one. As many others, Parfit considers this conclusion t be repugnant.
Two items are incommensurable in value iff neither is better than the other nor are they equally good. Parfit (2016) suggests that the Continuum Argument can be blocked if some populations in the argument’s population sequence are incommensurable with their immediate predecessors, instead of being better. This seems like an attractive solution. However, the relevant incommensurabilities (‘imprecise equalities′ in Parfit′s own terminology) need to be very thoroughgoing to prevent the argument from being repaired: they need to be ‘persistent′ in the sense to be explained. While such persistency is highly atypical and might well seem to be problematic, I suggest how it can be accounted for if incommensurability is interpreted along the lines of the fitting-attitudes analysis of value relations. On this account, two items are incommensurable if divergent preferential attitudes towards them are permissible. For example, if it is permissible to prefer one to the other but also permissible to have the opposite preference. It is easy to provide a modelling of this kind for persistent incommensurability. However, even if Parfit’s main suggestion can in this way be defended, one of his substantive value assumptions – the Simple View regarding the marginal value of added lives – should be given up to avoid implausible implications.