Perfectionism and the Repugnant Conclusion

Published on 05 March 2019


The Repugnant Conclusion and its paradoxes pose a significant problem for outcome evaluation. Derek Parfit has suggested that we may be able to resolve this problem by accepting a view he calls ‘Perfectionism’, which gives lexically superior value to ‘the best things in life’. In this paper, I explore perfectionism and its potential to solve this problem. I argue that perfectionism provides neither a sufficient means of avoiding the Repugnant Conclusion nor a full explanation of its repugnance. This is because even lives that are ‘barely worth living’ may contain the best things in life if they also contain sufficient ‘bad things’, such as suffering or frustration. Therefore, perfectionism can only fully explain or avoid the Repugnant Conclusion if combined with other claims, such as that bad things have an asymmetrical value relative to many good things. This combined view faces the objection that any such asymmetry implies Parfit’s 'Ridiculous Conclusion'. However, I argue that perfectionism itself faces very similar objections, and that these are question-begging against both views. Finally, I show how the combined view that I propose not only explains and avoids the Repugnant Conclusion but also allows us to escape many of its paradoxes as well.

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