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K-State Today

October 21, 2021

Philosophy department to host colloquium Friday, Oct. 22

Submitted by Shay Logan

On Friday, Oct. 22, at 2:30 p.m., the philosophy department will host a Zoom lecture by Christian Tarsney of the Global Priorities Institute at the University of Oxford. 

Tarsney's talk is titled "Non-Additive Axiologies in Large Worlds." Those interested in attending should send an email to salogan@k-state.edu to request login details. 

Abstract: Is the overall value of a possible world just the sum of values contributed by each value-bearing entity in that world (e.g., the welfare of each sentient being)? Additively separable axiologies (like total utilitarianism) say "yes," but non-additive axiologies (like average utilitarianism) say "no." This distinction is practically important: additive axiologies assign great importance to large changes in population size, suggesting among other things that the present generation should be willing to make enormous sacrifices to help humanity avoid premature extinction and ensure the existence of a large future population. Many non-additive axiologies, on the other hand, do not support this kind of reasoning. In this paper, however, we show that when there is a large enough "background population" unaffected by our choices, a wide range of non-additive axiologies converge in their practical implications with some additive axiology — for instance, average utilitarianism converges to critical-level utilitarianism. We further argue that real-world background populations may be large enough to make these limited results practically significant. This means that arguments from the astronomical scale of the potential future population for the overwhelming importance of avoiding premature extinction, and other arguments in practical ethics that seem to presuppose additive separability, may be truth-preserving in practice whether or not we accept additive separability as a basic axiological principle.