Thanks for this, I suspected you might make a helpful comment! The procreation asymmetry is my long lost love. It’s what I used to believe quite strongly but ultimately I started to doubt it for the same reasons that I’ve outlined in this post.
My intuition is that giving up IIA is only slightly less barmy than giving up transitivity, but thanks for the suggested reading. I certainly feel like my thinking on population ethics can evolve further and I don’t rule out reconnecting with the procreation asymmetry.
For what it’s worth my current view is that the repugnant conclusion may only seem repugnant because we tend to think of ‘a life barely worth living’ as a pretty drab existence. I actually think that such a life is much ‘better’ than we intuitively think. I have a hunch that various biases are contributing to us overvaluing the quality of our lives in comparison to the zero level, something that David Benatar has written about. My thinking on this is very nascent though and there’s always the very repugnant conclusion to contend with which keeps me somewhat uneasy with total utilitarianism.
I think giving up IIA seems more plausible if you allow that value might be essentially comparative, and not something you can just measure in a given universe in isolation. Arrow’s impossibility theorem can also be avoided by giving it up. And standard intuitions when facing the repugnant conclusion itself (and hence similar impossibility theorems) seem best captured by an argument incompatible with IIA, i.e. whether or not it’s permissible to add the extra people depends on whether or not the more equal distribution of low welfare is an option.
It seems like most consequentialists assume IIA without even making this explicit, and I have yet to see a good argument for IIA. At least with transitivity, there are Dutch books/money pump arguments to show that you can be exploited if you reject it. Maybe there was some decisive argument in the past that lead to consensus on IIA and no one talks about it anymore, except when they want to reject it?
Another option to avoid the very repugnant conclusion but not the repugnant conclusion is to give (weak or strong) lexical priority to very bad lives or intense suffering. Center for Reducing Suffering has a few articles on lexicality. I’ve written a bit about how lexicality could look mathematically here without effectively ignoring everything that isn’t lexically dominating, and there’s also rank-discounted utilitarianism: see point 2 in this comment, this thread, or papers on “rank-discounted utilitarianism”.
Thanks for all of this. I think IIA is just something that seems intuitive. For example it would seem silly to me for someone to choose jam over peanut butter but then, on finding out that honey mustard was also an option, think that they should have chosen peanut butter. My support of IIA doesn’t really go beyond this intuitive feeling and perhaps I should think about it more.
Thanks for the readings about lexicality and rank-discounted utilitarianism. I’ll check it out.
I think IIA is more intuitive when you’re considering only the personal (self-regarding) preferences of a single individual like in your example, but even if IIA holds for each individual in a group, it need not for the group, especially when different people would exist, because these situations involve different interests. I think this is also plausibly true for all accounts of welfare or interests (maybe suitably modified), even hedonistic, since if someone never exists, they don’t have welfare or interests at all, which need not mean the same thing as welfare level 0.
If you find the (very) repugnant conclusion counterintuitive, this might be a sign that you’re stretching your intuition from this simple case too far.