On the Wrongness of Human Extinction

Published on 21 February 2020


In recent papers, Elizabeth Finneron-Burns and Johann Frick have both argued that it is not a wrong-making feature of human extinction that it would cause many potential people with lives worth living never to be born, and hence that causing human extinction would be, in at least one way, less wrong than many have thought. In making these arguments, both assume that merely possible future people cannot be harmed by their nonexistence, and thus do not have any claim to be brought into existence. In this paper, we raise objections to their arguments and suggest that there is nothing inherent in the moral theories they put forward that implies future people cannot have this sort of ‘existential’ claim. In doing so, we draw on the work of Derek Parfit, who argued, in a recent paper, that coming into existence benefits a person in that it is ‘good for’ them, even if it is not ‘better for’ them than non-existence. We also find that many of their objections to the view that it is wrong not to bring future people into existence rest on the assumption that, were these people to have claims on us, these must be equivalent to the claims that existing people have to be benefitted. However, we show that Parfit’s work demonstrates how this is not the case.

Most people agree that human extinction would be very bad and that causing, or failing to prevent it would, therefore, be very wrong. However, the reasons why it would be wrong, and the precise degree of its wrongness, remain a topic of debate amongst philosophers.

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