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Guest lecture

Should we value population

Event series: 

Professor John Broome

University of Oxford

John Broome, White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford. Previously Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and Professor of Economics at the University of Bristol. Presently Erskine Visiting Fellow at the University of Canterbury. Books: The Microeconomics of Capitalism (1983); Weighing Goods (1991); Counting the Cost of Global Warming (1992); Ethics Out of Economics (1999); Weighing Lives (2004). Present research is on normativity, rationality and reasoning.


A great many decisions of policy will affect the future population of the world. Policies that respond to global warming are conspicuous examples. But the effect on population is never taken into account when we evaluate those policies. I think this is because most of us believe intuitively that changing the world's population is ethically neutral. However, this intuition must be mistaken: it cannot be fitted into a coherent account of value. Changes in population must have either a positive or a negative value. This poses a serious problem for evaluating policies.

Last updated: 
Monday, 19 November 2007