Persson's Merely Possible Persons

Research paper by Krister Bykvist, Tim Campbell

Indexed on: 16 Nov '20Published on: 01 Dec '20Published in: Utilitas


All else being equal, creating a miserable person makes the world worse, and creating an ecstatic person makes it better. Such claims are easily justified if it can be better, or worse, for a person to exist than not to exist. But that seems to require that things can be better, or worse, for a person even in a world in which she does not exist. Ingmar Persson defends this seemingly paradoxical claim in his latest book, Inclusive Ethics. He argues that persons that never exist are merely possible beings for whom non-existence is worse than existence with a good life. We argue that Persson's argument, as stated in his book, has false premises and is invalid. We reconstruct the argument to make it valid, but the premises remain highly problematic. Finally, we argue, one can make sense of our procreative obligations without letting merely possible beings into the moral club.