The Journal of Ethics

, Volume 17, Issue 1–2, pp 5–35 | Cite as

Causing People to Exist and Saving People’s Lives

  • Jeff McMahan


Most people are skeptical of the claim that the expectation that a person would have a life that would be well worth living provides a reason to cause that person to exist. In this essay I argue that to cause such a person to exist would be to confer a benefit of a noncomparative kind and that there is a moral reason to bestow benefits of this kind. But this conclusion raises many problems, among which is that it must be determined how the benefits conferred on people by causing them to exist weigh against comparable benefits conferred on existing people. In particular, might the reason to cause people to exist ever outweigh the reason to save the lives of existing people?


The asymmetry Benefit Future people Harm The No-Difference View The Non-Identity Problem Possible people 



I am extremely grateful to Todd May, Melinda Roberts, Yu-Ting Su, Victor Tadros, and Rivka Weinberg for generous written comments on an earlier draft of this essay. I owe an even greater debt to Derek Parfit, who not only gave me two sets of detailed and illuminating written comments but also discussed them with me at length.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA

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