On Theory X and What Matters Most

Published on 24 January 2022

One of Derek Parfit’s greatest legacies was the search for Theory X, a theory of population ethics that avoided all the implausible conclusions and paradoxes that have dogged the field since its inception: the Absurd Conclusion, the Repugnant Conclusion, the Non-Identity Problem, and the Mere Addition Paradox. In recent years, it has been argued that this search is doomed to failure and no satisfactory population axiology is possible. This chapter reviews Parfit’s life’s work in the field and argues that he provided all the necessary components for a Theory X. It then shows how these components can be combined together and applied to the global challenges Parfit argued matter most: preventing human extinction, managing catastrophic risks, and eradicating global poverty and suffering. Finally, it identifies a number of challenges facing his theory and suggests how these may be overcome.

This chapter appears in Ethics and Existence: The Legacy of Derek Parfit edited by Jeff McMahan, Tim Campbell, James Goodrich, and Ketan Ramakrishnan and published by OUP.

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