10 Jun 2016 4:00pm - 5:30pm Hopkinson Lecture Theatre, New Museums Site.


Professor Hilary Greaves is an Associate Professor in Philosophy at Somerville College, University of Oxford. Her current research focuses on various issues in ethics while her particular interests include foundational issues in consequentialism ('global' and 'two-level' forms of consequentialism), the debate between consequentialists and contractualists, aggregation (utilitarianism, prioritarianism and egalitarianism), moral psychology and selective debunking arguments, population ethics, the interface between ethics and economics, the analogies between ethics and epistemology, and formal epistemology.

Professor Greaves currently directs the project “Population Ethics: Theory and Practice”, based at the Future of Humanity Institute, and funded by The Leverhulme Trust.

Free access. No registration required.

Extinction Risk and Population Ethics.

How important is it that we reduce the risk of human extinction? This depends sensitively on fundamental questions in moral theory. On the one hand, if humanity goes extinct prematurely, vast amounts of well-being will be lost – all the well-being that would have been contained in the future lives that are prevented, by the premature extinction event, from coming into existence. On the other hand, if humanity goes extinct prematurely, then (aside from the suffering involved in the process of extinction itself) the extinction event seems to be in one clear sense victimless – precisely because of the extinction, there do not exist any persons who lose the well-being in question. The first thought suggests that reducing the risk of extinction is about the most important thing we could do; the second suggests it is a matter of relative indifference. I will argue for the first thought over the second, via arguing that the moral theory that would be required to justify the second, however initially intuitive, is not in the end coherent. A further question, initially apparently unrelated, is what the optimal size is for the human population at any given time; many in the public sphere are increasingly concerned about overpopulation, for reasons related to resource scarcity, climate change, economic growth or others. Prof Greaves will first suggest that if the arguments in the first part of her talk are correct, these make it much harder to argue that population size ought to be reduced via any of the usual routes. Second, however, she will sketch one new (and tentative) argument for population-size reduction that is a *result* of the thesis that extinction risk is overwhelmingly important.


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