Past Event

Birth and Death - Sir Partha Dasgupta

This event is organised by the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations and the ESRC 

It has long been known that in finite economies the Classical Utilitarianism of Henry Sidgwick commends large populations with low living standards, and that the stronger is the aversion to income inequality, the lower is the living standard in the Utilitarian optimum. This feature of the theory was subsequently named the Repugnant Conclusion (RC). Most escape routes from RC have invoked the language of "benefits" and "harms", which are familiar notions in social cost-benefit analysis. Those notions however have been found to lead to paradoxes involving the Non-Identity Problem. The one escape route that hasn't invoked the language of benefits and harms, namely Critical Level Utilitarianism, can be shown to have intractable problems.

In this lecture Sir Partha Dasgupta will follow Sidgwick's theory in its pristine form, where the normative focus is on well-being: period. He will introduce into the theory a weak notion of person-hood (one that has a strong appeal to our moral intuition) and show that the formulation, when put to work in economies with finite resources, commends agreeable population policies. The introduction of person-hood in population ethics raises the spectre of intransitivity of ethical relations between states of affair. He will show however that the notion of person-hood leads to shifting population domains, meaning that the "intransitivity" is illusory.


15 January 2016 12:00 - 13:30

Further Information


Oxford Martin School

Old Indian Institute
34 Broad Street (corner of Holywell and Catte Streets)