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Guest Post: The Problem of Large Distances in Value Holism

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My thanks to long-time reader Evan Dawson-Baglien for contributing the following guest post on 'The Problem of Large Distances in Value Holism':* * *Value holism in population ethics appeals to a number of strong moral intuitions that human beings possess. By allowing one to reject the principle of Mere Addition, it in turn allows one to reject the Repugnant Conclusion. It also allows rejection of smaller-scale versions of the Repugnant Conclusion which are perhaps even more repugnant, such as the idea that it is morally neutral to kill someone and replace them with a new person whose life will contain the same amount of utility as the first person’s remaining years.  However, value holism also conflicts with strong intuitions about the relevance of distant events to the creation of new people.  It seems strange to say that we need to have fewer children if we somehow discovered that there was a utopia beyond the light cone of our universe, or that the correctness of the Many Worlds Theory of quantum mechanics might have some bearing on the question in either direction. One solution that immediately springs to mind is to limit the contributory value of distant people and events in some way.  If the vast universe is divided into “blocks,” and only people and events in a single block have contributory value towards each other, impossibly distant events are no longer relevant to the value of local world as a whole.  It is important to find a non-arbitrary method of doing this that preserves important moral intuitions, such as agent neutrality and objectivity.  The method that seems most in line with these intuitions to me is causal connectivity, since whether things are causally connected is an objective fact not relative to any agent’s point of view.  It makes intuitive sense to argue that events so distant they have no causal connection with our world might not have any effect on the shape of the world as a whole. The danger of dividing. . .

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