Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
I propose a solution to what has been dubbed the Non-identity Problem. The Non-identity Problem arises for the moral assessment of actions that affect both the quality of life as well as the identities of the people who will come to exist in the future. To see how the problem arises, consider the case of a prospective mother. Because of a peculiar, temporary condition, if this woman conceives a child now, then the child she conceives will suffer from a serious disability. She will name this child Jane. If the woman waits two months to conceive, her condition will subside, and the child she will conceive will not have the disability. She will name this child Jonathan. Jonathan will have a better life than Jane because he will not suffer from the negative effects of the serious disability. It seems that conceiving Jane rather than Jonathan would be wrong. But note that Jane, though she would have a worse life than Jonathan, would have a life worth living. Also, Jane will only exist if the woman conceives now, since Jonathan will be conceived if the woman waits two months. Because Jane would not be worse off, it seems that she has no complaint about being conceived with a disability. We are in this way pressed to conclude that the woman does not act wrongly by conceiving a disabled child now rather than conceiving a non-disabled child later. The challenge of avoiding this absurd conclusion constitutes the Non-identity Problem.
I propose that we can avoid the absurd conclusion apparently entailed by the Non-identity Problem by appealing to a standing moral reason to promote the good, where the good includes all of the people who will or may come to exist. If we accept the existence of this moral reason, then the fact that Jonathan would have a better life than Jane generates a moral requirement to conceive Jonathan in the absence of other moral considerations. I argue that one can accept my proposal while retaining her other ordinary moral commitments, including the moral relevance of significant personal sacrifice and of constraints against harming.
Purves, Duncan, "Who Should Exist: A Welfare-based Solution to the Non-identity Problem" (2013). Philosophy Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 39.