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Research at St Andrews

The worseness of nonexistence

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Open Access Status

  • Embargoed (until 21/03/21)


School/Research organisations


Most believe that it is worse for a person to die than to continue to exist with a good life. At the same time, many believe that it is not worse for a merely possible person never to exist than to exist with a good life. I argue that if the underlying properties that make us the sort of thing we essentially are can come in small degrees, then to maintain this commonly held pair of beliefs we will have to embrace an implausible sort of evaluative hypersensitivity to slight nonevaluative differences. Avoidance of such hypersensitivity pressures us to accept that it can be worse for merely possible people never to exist. If this conclusion is correct, then the standard basis for giving no or less priority to merely possible persons would disappear (i.e., that things cannot be better or worse for them). Though defenders of Person-Affecting Views and their opponents may still disagree in theory, they could arrive at the same answers to many monumentally important practical questions.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSaving people from the harm of death
EditorsEspen Gamlund, Carl Tollef Solberg
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780190921415
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2019

Publication series

NamePopulation-level bioethics

    Research areas

  • Comparativism, Death, Hypersensitivity, Indeterminacy, Nonexistence, Person-Affecting Views, Personal identity, Population ethics, Reductionism

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