On the Buddhist Truths and the Paradoxes in
B.Contestabile firstname.lastname@example.org First version 2007 Last version 2013
Starting point of this paper is the following citation concerning the state of contemporary population ethics:
“Most discussion in population ethics has concentrated on how to evaluate populations in regard to their goodness, that is, how to order populations by the relations “is better than” and “is as good as”. This field has been riddled with paradoxes which purport to show that our considered beliefs are inconsistent in cases where the number of people and their welfare varies.” [Arrhenius 2004, 201].
Type of problem
The best known and most discussed example shattering our intuitions is Parfit’s
▪ What is at the source of the Mere Addition Paradox?
▪ Why are paradoxes unavoidable in population ethics?
▪ The comparison of classical utilitarian and Buddhist intuitions demonstrates the close tie between intuitions and interests. The perplexing Buddhist intuition about non-existence can be explained (except for metaphysical reasons) by a radically different priority given to survival.
▪ The method of measuring the quality of life is not decisive for the existence of paradoxes. The Buddhist axiology changes but doesn’t remove counter-intuitive combinations.
▪ If the conflict of interest (quantity versus quality) is described within a two parameter model, it causes conflicting intuitions. In axiologies which favour quantity (utilitarianism) or quality (perfectionism) the conflicting intuitions inevitably lead to paradoxes.
▪ In order to find a compromise one would have to find a universal interest and a corresponding universal intuition. The obvious candidate to meet this request is sympathy. But since there is no universal consensus on the desirable degree of sympathy, the normative force of such an approach is limited.
The full text was published 2010 in
The preference for non-existence
There are two intuitions relating to the preference for non-existence:
1. Non-existence as a perfect state 
2. Non-existence as the smaller evil .
For a more detailed analysis of the latter intuition, see The Denial of the World in Contemporary Metaphors.
For ethics which is based on the preference for non-existence, see Hostility and the Minimization of Suffering.
Quantity versus quality
According to the first Noble Truth there is an unresolvable conflict between the classical utilitarian interest to expand life and the Buddhist interest to avoid suffering. The interest to expand life stands for the quantity (size) of the population: the interest to avoid suffering stands for the quality of life 
Utilitarianism doesn’t have a preference for quantity. The total can be augmented by an improvement of quality as well. But the fact that the improvement of quality takes more energy than the multiplication of the same quality favours expansion at the cost of quality.
▪ Generics are less expensive than the original.
▪ It is more efficient to copy an invention than to invest in research.
▪ It is easier to procreate than to improve the quality of life.
The biological root of the classical utilitarian intuition could be the replication of genes, which is a maximization function as well [Dawkins].
1. In classical utilitarianism it is possible to compensate a loss in the quality of life by the number of people. The expansion of a population at the cost of quality is known as Repugnant Conclusion [Parfit, 387-390].
2. In cases where the population size is no issue – like the Speed Limit example [110-111] – it is more efficient to improve the welfare of the happy majority than the one of the suffering minority. A small improvement of the majority’s quality of life has the same effect as a big improvement of the minority’s quality.
Insofar as the Speed Limit example is concerned with the distribution of welfare among a fixed number of people; it does not contribute to population ethics [Arrhenius, 110]. Its relevance for population ethics concerns the comparison with an empty population. For details about this comparison, see The Denial of the World in Contemporary Metaphors.
Furthermore, the Speed Limit example is useful to introduce the concept of incommensurability.
According to Arrhenius the only way to avoid paradoxes is by questioning commensurability and breaking out of the two-parameter model. 
The aggregation of incommensurable preferences is the most general approach to solve conflicts of interest (like quantity versus quality). The “repugnancy” of a population  can be considered to be a matter of individual preference. A majority-definition of “repugnancy” is then derived by aggregating the individual preferences for each combination of population-size and welfare. If the individuals are well informed about the consequences of a certain population policy and if they can freely express their attitude towards risk, the aggregation of their preferences delivers an inter-subjective criterion to decide between policies. The focus shifts to forecasting and educational advertising.
▪ There is a theoretical hurdle in the process of aggregation. Incommensurable preferences lead to Arrovian impossibility theorems [Arrhenius 2000]. No voting system can convert the ranked preferences of individuals into a community-wide ranking while also meeting a certain set of reasonable criteria [Arrow]. In practice this theoretical obstacle can be bypassed. The arrovian impossibility theorem only becomes effective if three or more options are at stake – not if the voters have to confirm or decline a specific policy.
▪ A more disturbing problem is the protection of minorities. Under certain circumstances the aggregation of preferences allows exterminating a minority by majority decision [Hare, 121-122]. Theories of justice [Rawls] prevent the worst cases of abuse, but in less evident cases (like the Speed Limit example) the problem reappears. The majority decides what kinds of suffering are tolerable.
1. Arrhenius Gustav (2000), Future Generations, A Challenge for Moral Theory, FD-Diss., Uppsala University, Dept. of Philosopy, Uppsala: University Printers
2. Arrow Kenneth J. (1966), Social Choice and Individual Values, Wiley, New York
3. Hare Richard Mervyn (1976), Ethical Theory and Utilitarianism, Contemporary British Philosophy, H.D. Lewis Ed.
4. Parfit Derek (1984), Reasons and Persons, Clarendon Press, Oxford
5. Rawls John (1971), A Theory of Justice, Belknap Publishers, Cambridge