Right-sizing the human population?

OhherOhher Shipmate
edited June 29 in Purgatory
Contrary to what scary headlines might lead us to believe, humanity is not going extinct – at least not just yet. True, humans are expiring in unprecedented numbers at the moment, and you have my condolences if your loved ones are among them. But our species is not in imminent danger of disappearing, at least according to of disappearing (see https://www.census.gov/popclock/world).

Each of us individually, of course, will sooner or later vanish. Almost none of us--until or unless we fall direly ill--acts as though we anticipate this, even though it’s inevitable. Over and over. But I digress.

What, in fact, is the “right size” for earth’s human population?

Is 7 billion, 660 million about right? (We’re not there yet, but are closing in on it.)

The answer depends on what one considers essential for a decent human life. If all you need is enough calories to eat and potable water to drink plus room to stretch out your weary bones at day's end (and any number of our kind have endured such existences) , we can probably go on reproducing at out current rates (roughly 14 new people every 10 seconds) for quite a while. We’ll likely have to wave goodbye to a great many other plants and animals and alter our diets and customs substantially, but that’s life (little wry joke there).

Maybe, though, humans won’t stand for living cheek-by-jowl on gruel paste and water and zero privacy, fun, power struggles, etc. Maybe we’ll ratchet up our aggressive tendencies and start slaughtering each other off at scary rates.

But the question I really want to get at is this: what is actually an ideal level of human population? Do we want other creatures to share the planet with us? Do we want a variety of human lifestyles? How much Lebensraum (living space) do humans actually need, and for what kind of lifestyle? What’s the “carrying load” of this planet, and for what kind of human inhabitant?
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Comments

  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Unprecedented? We've not yet lost 500,000 lives to Covid. Between Hitler, the H1N1 flu, and Stalin alone, tens of millions if not over 100 million lives were lost in the 20th century.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    And add another 50 million or so for Mao. He killed vastly more of his country-people than Hitler and Stalin together.
  • OhherOhher Shipmate
    True enough; but those are human-generated activities over which humans (presumably) had at least some control.

    This threat doesn't fall into that category -- at least, not yet.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    1918 flu pandemic? (Wikipedia)
    The Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic, was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. Lasting February 1918 to April 1920, it infected 500 million people–about a third of the world's population at the time–in four successive waves. The death toll may have been anything from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.[3]

    (Emphasis mine.)
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Golden Key wrote: »
    1918 flu pandemic? (Wikipedia)
    The Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic, was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. Lasting February 1918 to April 1920, it infected 500 million people–about a third of the world's population at the time–in four successive waves. The death toll may have been anything from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.[3]

    (Emphasis mine.)

    Which I mentioned but Ohher missed it.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    And let's go back to the Black Plague. Even the 1918 flu has nothing on the Plague.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    mt--

    Yes. :) I wasn't sure *which* HN-1 you meant, so I went ahead.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    As to the basic point of the size of the human population:

    I think we probably have billions more than Earth can healthily cope with. PLEASE NOTE: I'm NOT saying we should get rid of anyone, stop particular people or groups from reproducing, etc.

    I don't know what it means, what (if anything) we should do now. Wealth redistribution/creation is part of it, I think: everyone matters (not a comment on BLM, just a fundamental touchstone for me); everyone should (at the very least) have ample amounts of the basics of life and some luxuries: healthy/safe food, water, shelter; education; freedom to choose their life, freedom to believe as they see fit; etc.

    Cultural values should be respected, unless the people affected truly want something else and know what they're getting into. E.g.:

    --Food should be in line with what people normally eat, which I understand makes a difference in the reception of emergency food programs--and in whether persons' bodies can cope with the food.

    --Shelter should also be a cultural fit. If people traditionally live in huts, developers shouldn't go in, bulldoze what's there, and plop houses down. If they traditionally simply live in the open jungle/forest, as some very remote tribes do, they shouldn't be expected to "upgrade".

    --Education is a little more complicated, ISTM. Mulling that one over.

    Etc.

    Has anyone here read the novel "Ishmael", by Daniel Quinn? It's about these sorts of things. It's...unusual. And it has a cult following. Useful for thinking through such things, whatever your viewpoint.
  • SusanDorisSusanDoris Shipmate
    My (older) son has been reading to me 'A History of the British Isles in 100 \places' by Neil Oliver and there are just two chapters left. We have been struck by the high number of people, mostly men, who have been killed or slaughtered in the innumerable battles which have taken place over the centuries, and it would have been interesting to have kept a tally as we went along, but that total still would not have been the number of unnecessary deaths because in the book, he is only talking about the deaths of those related to the particular place in that chapter. (It is, as I think I have mentioned somewhere, an extremely well written and interesting book.)

    Relating this to the OP, we can speculate that if these people had not died, then the UK population would be vastly greater and who knows what the world population would have been without the huge numbers killed and slaughtered in battles. This is not of course to support war, but human nature, and the way humans behave, will not change, I think.

    I suppose education and contraception are the best ways to improve things, but I wonder what evolutionary biologists think about what would be an ideal, or sustainable, human population and how the evolutionary process works in this.

    If this post is too much of a tangent, please ignore!
  • I don't think war is a major factor in population control, outside of episodes that involve mass slaughter of the civilian population, simply because (as you say) most of those killed were men. It wasn't until WWI that the deaths in warfare left a substantial population imbalance. Prior to that a lot of women died in childbirth, in numbers that I'm sure dwarf male deaths in war. Population growth requires a lot of women; it doesn't require many men (insert Dr Strangelove reference here). There have been occasions where warfare has reduced the population substantially but it's rarely the battles themselves; it's disease, starvation and attacks on civilian populations. Of course I've also heard it suggested that wars are more likely when you've got a lot of young men sat around with little prospect of bettering themselves or even starting a family.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    And let's go back to the Black Plague. Even the 1918 flu has nothing on the Plague.

    My memory is that while the Black Plague probably originated in China, its real impact was in Europe, the Levant and North Africa. If that's so, its world-wide impact would almost certainly be much lower than the 1918 flu.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Golden Key wrote: »
    As to the basic point of the size of the human population:

    I think we probably have billions more than Earth can healthily cope with. PLEASE NOTE: I'm NOT saying we should get rid of anyone, stop particular people or groups from reproducing, etc.
    programs--and in whether persons' bodies can cope with the food

    I agree. On a local scale, the population here is now well over 25 million. Probably, the maximum the country can support is around 15 million, but the politicians still keep saying that we must grow, grow and grow.
  • SusanDorisSusanDoris Shipmate

    Added to the difficulties of considering population size what could be, if we thought about it all the time, an overwhelming thought, is the knowledge of the huge responsibility we humans have for trying to do something about it. I'm sure these same questions will continue to be asked for the foreseeable future.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    Golden Key wrote: »
    As to the basic point of the size of the human population:

    I think we probably have billions more than Earth can healthily cope with. PLEASE NOTE: I'm NOT saying we should get rid of anyone, stop particular people or groups from reproducing, etc.

    Personally, I think we should stop the super-rich from reproducing. Or at least the UK and US cabinet members.

    More seriously - I think the problems are not population per-se. If you educate women, they tend to have less children. If you improve the health provision, families do not feel they need to have many children to have one to survive. It is more about resource allocation than numbers.

    Deal with that - make sure everyone is secure and safe, assisted where they need to be, and the population of the world will stabalise. Probably on a lower figure than today.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    There probably are too many of us. However, I suspect most of us, when thinking about this and however much we deny it, in our hearts, are approaching it on the assumption that there are too many of them, whoever them is.

    The right size depends on what we think the good life is. If you're a hunter-gatherer and would like to remain one, homo sapiens would be a very thinly distributed and quite rare species. Attractive though features of the hunter-gatherer life might be in our imaginations, the world's carrying capacity for pre-agricultural hominids is pretty low. However, you'd also not be likely to be reading this thread.

    Trying to manage the carrying capacity of the whole earth wisely is certainly beyond the capabilities of the species as we organise ourselves at the moment. It's possible that we have to accept that it always will be.

    To achieve this, those running the show would need either to be able to convince everyone else that they could do it, or have a sufficiently heavy hand on the entire world's power structures that they could impose their dream by force. On past form, the world that anybody who could organise this would be likely to deliver, would be so unpleasant for the rest of us, that I don't think many of us would want to live there.

  • BoogieBoogie Shipmate
    I think various waves of various viruses may sort this problem out long term. The way we live is very conducive to ‘new’ viruses jumping species and spreading, as we’ve seen.

    🤔
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    There's a utilitarian paradox, attributable to Derek Parfitt. (It's a paradox because although he was unable to find the flaw in the reasoning he didn't like the conclusion.)

    Suppose we have a utopian paradise with a small number of people living happily. Now also suppose that there's a small island across the world in which people are living in a grim post-industrial society, where their lives are just barely worth living. Now their lives are worth living, if just barely, so the utopia world with them in is better than utopia world without them in. (We can put this in terms of Quality-Adjusted Life Years: their QALY are a small fraction of one, perhaps 1/1000, but still positive.)
    Now average out the standard of living between the utopians and the grim post-industrialists. Again, we're averaging, we this doesn't make the world worse. (The overall QALY total is the same.)
    Repeat, until you reach a densely overpopulated world in which everyone is living at a standard just barely worth living. Every step you take to get there from the utopia is either an improvement or neutral in terms of QALYs. Therefore, the ideal world is overpopulated.

    (I think the conclusion is that the utilitarian or QALY way of assessing the goodness of situations is fundamentally flawed outside certain bureaucratic contexts of limited scope.)
  • Gee D wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    And let's go back to the Black Plague. Even the 1918 flu has nothing on the Plague.

    My memory is that while the Black Plague probably originated in China, its real impact was in Europe, the Levant and North Africa. If that's so, its world-wide impact would almost certainly be much lower than the 1918 flu.

    I doubt that this is true at all. It's that history as you've been taught is Euro-centric. Proportionally, European contact with the Americas caused by far the worst disease related deaths. In some areas complete destruction of the indigenous population.

    Policies to deliberately destroy populations by killing them continued through the 19th century via extermination in the Americas with general approval, and in more secretive ways to present.

    Locally, this is a reference for me: https://uofrpress.ca/Books/C/Clearing-the-Plains Which shows both deliberate destruction of peoples and the less direct use of disease to take over territory. The world, what used to be called Christendom, has lied to itself so deeply, it doesn't understand how genocidally murderous it has always been. Individuals are possibly Christian, but societies are not "the people of God", neither are churches of our history except briefly.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    Dafyd:

    --Do the grim post-industrial society (GPIS) folks want things to be different? Are they aware that something else/better *might* be possible? Have they tried on their own, or are they just too worn down by all the problems they're facing?

    --Could the utopians (U) contribute resources from afar? Is there a way to get physical supplies to them, or virtual?

    --Do the GPIS folks know anyone else exists? Do the U?
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Here's someone doing a back-of-the-envelope estimate of the number of people required to maintain a late twentieth/early twenty-first century technological lifestyle.
    So. I ask: how many people does it take, as a minimum, to maintain our current level of technological civilization?

    I'd put an upper bound of about one billion on the range, because that encompasses basically the entire population of NAFTA and the EU, with Japan, Taiwan, and the industrial enterprise zones of China thrown in for good measure. (While China is significant, more than half of its population is still agrarian, hence not providing inputs to this system).

    I'd put a lower bound of 100 million on the range, too. The specialities required for a civil aviation sector alone may well run to half a million people; let's not underestimate the needs of raw material extraction and processing (from crude oil to yttrium and lanthanum), of a higher education/research sector to keep training the people we need in order to replenish small pools of working expertise, and so on. Hypothetically, we may only need 500 people in one particular niche, but that means training 20 of them a year to keep the pool going, plus future trainers, and an allowance for wastage and drop-outs by people who made a bad career choice. Higher education accounts for 1.8-3% of gross spending in the developed world, with primary and secondary education taking a whopping chunk on top of that (if you spent 10 years in a school with a staff:pupil ratio of 1:10, then you soaked up a person-year of time; there may be more labour going into pre-university education than goes into agriculture and industry combined).
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Gee D wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    And let's go back to the Black Plague. Even the 1918 flu has nothing on the Plague.

    My memory is that while the Black Plague probably originated in China, its real impact was in Europe, the Levant and North Africa. If that's so, its world-wide impact would almost certainly be much lower than the 1918 flu.

    I thought we were talking about deaths, not the widespreadity of deaths. Every day dying of various causes is far more widespread and therefore on your lights worse than Covid.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Gee D wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    And let's go back to the Black Plague. Even the 1918 flu has nothing on the Plague.

    My memory is that while the Black Plague probably originated in China, its real impact was in Europe, the Levant and North Africa. If that's so, its world-wide impact would almost certainly be much lower than the 1918 flu.

    I doubt that this is true at all. It's that history as you've been taught is Euro-centric. Proportionally, European contact with the Americas caused by far the worst disease related deaths. In some areas complete destruction of the indigenous population.

    The Black Plague pre-dated European contact with the Americas by a couple of hundred years.

  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    I once read that the French revolution immediately followed by the Napoleonic wars lowered the height of the average French adult by about 2 inches.
  • Telford wrote: »
    I once read that the French revolution immediately followed by the Napoleonic wars lowered the height of the average French adult by about 2 inches.

    While I understand this implies malnutrition I did briefly have a mental image of Madame Guillotine's clients bringing the average down!
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    In Doris Lessing's science fiction, there are two advanced species in the galaxy. One is the ethereal, body-swapping Canopus, creatures that seem like a soul, migrating from one body to another. The other is Sirius, who are immortal, but who went through a period in the past of culling the populations on their subject planets. Its thought of a dark time, a mistake of rushed development that they let their planets get so overpopulated. Lessing is wonderfully vague about both societies.

    I don't think humanity will manage population control at all well. It would almost be a blessing for some sort of calamity to take the poisoned chalice away from our leaders. Who knows what nightmare solutions they will come up with. We will never be ready to make this decision.

  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    I'd not say it was wonderfully vague. Try dropping a few letters from the "wonderfully". I made it to the last volume of Four Gated City, enjoying what I was reading. Then I was unable to read any further, carefully put the book back in its place on the shelf, and still have not picked it up again some 30 years later.
  • Boogie wrote: »
    I think various waves of various viruses may sort this problem out long term. The way we live is very conducive to ‘new’ viruses jumping species and spreading, as we’ve seen.
    Though, to make a significant impact on population it would need to be something significantly more deadly than covid-19. At present, the worst hit nation has a death rate just shy of 1 per 1000 population - which if replicated globally would only kill 5-10 million people (and, most nations will do a better job of controlling the spread of the virus than the UK so probably won't even reach that number unless the virus keeps rolling through for years). The Spanish 'flu killed a few % of the world population in four waves, and is probably the most deadly virus humanity has ever experienced. Even that would only be a few years of population growth.
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    Gee D wrote: »
    I'd not say it was wonderfully vague. Try dropping a few letters from the "wonderfully". I made it to the last volume of Four Gated City, enjoying what I was reading. Then I was unable to read any further, carefully put the book back in its place on the shelf, and still have not picked it up again some 30 years later.

    The Four Gated City is the last in her Children of Violence series, the Martha Quest books. This is the Canopus in Argos series. You might well have the same reaction. I haven't read the Martha Quest books. Try Mara and Dann too, which is a migration story set in the far distant future, in a devolved human society.
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    Telford wrote: »
    I once read that the French revolution immediately followed by the Napoleonic wars lowered the height of the average French adult by about 2 inches.

    While I understand this implies malnutrition I did briefly have a mental image of Madame Guillotine's clients bringing the average down!

    Nothing to do with malnutitrion. It was down to the number of men killed in warfare
  • Telford wrote: »
    Telford wrote: »
    I once read that the French revolution immediately followed by the Napoleonic wars lowered the height of the average French adult by about 2 inches.

    While I understand this implies malnutrition I did briefly have a mental image of Madame Guillotine's clients bringing the average down!

    Nothing to do with malnutitrion. It was down to the number of men killed in warfare

    Oh, ok.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    edited June 30
    Simon Toad wrote: »
    Gee D wrote: »
    I'd not say it was wonderfully vague. Try dropping a few letters from the "wonderfully". I made it to the last volume of Four Gated City, enjoying what I was reading. Then I was unable to read any further, carefully put the book back in its place on the shelf, and still have not picked it up again some 30 years later.

    The Four Gated City is the last in her Children of Violence series, the Martha Quest books. This is the Canopus in Argos series. You might well have the same reaction. I haven't read the Martha Quest books. Try Mara and Dann too, which is a migration story set in the far distant future, in a devolved human society.

    Thanks for that correction, but having been so defeated and there being so many good books to read, I don't think I'll go back to her.

  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    Tangent alert

    I started the Martha Quest series many years ago, on the recommendation of a work colleague, when living in a country that didn't have television. I've marked it down ever since as one of the worst reads of my life. I got through about 2 volumes as some of the incidental characters were quite good company, but the central character was so antisympathetic that I couldn't stand spending time in her company any longer. As it was clear both that it was part-autobiographical and that 'you dear reader' were expected to identify with her plight, I've never touched anything by Lessing ever since.

  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    It sounds like I was very lucky to have only read her sci-fi! I have the Martha Quest books, as I'm a bit of a collector, but have never read them.
  • Death rates per million population worldwide Belgium rates the worst at 851. UK is second with 650. USA is down the list with just more than half the death rate of the UK. Data from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1104709/coronavirus-deaths-worldwide-per-million-inhabitants/

    I should the inquiry that's eventually held will whitewash those in power and deflect blame to lesser mortals.

    For comparison, the death rate in my province is 11 per million population. Canada as a whole is 271. Australia and New Zealand are around 4.

    Low total infection rate is reflected in low death rates it would seem. Canadian risks for death are elderly people in long term care in eastern Canada (Québec and Ontario). I should think the inquiry that's eventually held will whitewash those in power and deflect blame to lesser mortals. With the developing Canadian understanding that substandard wages, low staff ratios mean many care aides worked in 2 or 3 facilities as for-profit care homes employ part time workers for low pay to avoid paying for benefits packages and make money for shareholders and owners.

    If we were morbid and awful enough we could do a world wide Corona death pool like the celeb one in Circus. I think we'll get control, the virus will continue in the global south and because that's brown people, save Aus and NZ, we'll lose interest. Like the lack of push re Ebola. If we truly cared for others we'd have addressed malaria before Bill Gates got interested. (So fuck off us)
    Gee D wrote: »
    Gee D wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    And let's go back to the Black Plague. Even the 1918 flu has nothing on the Plague.

    My memory is that while the Black Plague probably originated in China, its real impact was in Europe, the Levant and North Africa. If that's so, its world-wide impact would almost certainly be much lower than the 1918 flu.

    I doubt that this is true at all. It's that history as you've been taught is Euro-centric. Proportionally, European contact with the Americas caused by far the worst disease related deaths. In some areas complete destruction of the indigenous population.

    The Black Plague pre-dated European contact with the Americas by a couple of hundred years.

    That's not the infection which destroyed the indigenous peoples here. Smallpox, measles, mumps, flu, others. In some cases 100% mortality of communities and nations. There were successive waves of infections. Destruction of peoples.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    NP-NP - I know that, but the posts above referred specifically to the Black Death and not other diseases.
  • RussRuss Shipmate
    Dafyd wrote: »
    Now average out the standard of living between the utopians and the grim post-industrialists. Again, we're averaging, we this doesn't make the world worse. (The overall QALY total is the same.)
    Repeat, until you reach a densely overpopulated world in which everyone is living at a standard just barely worth living. Every step you take to get there from the utopia is either an improvement or neutral in terms of QALYs. Therefore, the ideal world is overpopulated.

    Sorry, @Dafyd , not quite following the argument here.

    Is this saying that a utilitarian necessarily thinks it a good or neutral thing for the GPI republic to invade utopia because it increases the invaders' quality of life more than it decreases the quality of life of the utopians ?

    And for those who remain behind to breed themselves down to the same level of population-density-induced misery that they had before ?

    And for those who do settle in utopia to cause a permanent increase in the population density there ?

  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Do the grim post-industrial society (GPIS) folks want things to be different? Are they aware that something else/better *might* be possible? Have they tried on their own, or are they just too worn down by all the problems they're facing?

    Could the utopians (U) contribute resources from afar? Is there a way to get physical supplies to them, or virtual?

    Do the GPIS folks know anyone else exists? Do the U?
    This is a philosophical thought experiment. Assume that people are doing the best they can with the resources available and assume the other answers can be folded into the quality of life of the respective populations.
    Russ wrote: »
    Dafyd wrote: »
    Now average out the standard of living between the utopians and the grim post-industrialists. Again, we're averaging, we this doesn't make the world worse. (The overall QALY total is the same.)
    Is this saying that a utilitarian necessarily thinks it a good or neutral thing for the GPI republic to invade utopia because it increases the invaders' quality of life more than it decreases the quality of life of the utopians ?
    There's nothing about 'invading'.

    We're asking what the ideal human population is. We can imagine that each successive stage in our argument is the end result of a different possible future history if we like. Imagine that Hari Selden, from Asimov's Foundation Series is trying to set up a future galactic utopia and trying to decide what it should be like by maximising the total utility or QALY across the galaxy. The question for utilitarians is whether each stage is better or at least equally good as the one preceding it. If you're not a utilitarian the paradox just shows that there's something wrong with the ways utilitarians measure the goodness of a state of affairs.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host, Epiphanies Host
    Agreeing with Alan Cresswell.

    Some figures re actual net global population growth. In the first 6 months of this year the net population of the earth has increased by 40 million; 70 million births, 30 million deaths. (Worldometer data)

    Which puts the COVID-19 death total in proportion. Even allowing for under reporting and possible further waves, COVID-19 will be way less significant in its population impact than the Black Death was.

    It would take something like a persistent global Ebola-lethal-like contagious disease to produce significant reduction in world population. Even then, current capabilities would produce remedial and preventive treatment fairly quickly.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    edited July 2
    Question: Did anyone read the second half of my post upthread? And has anyone else read the book "Ishmael" that I mentioned there? It's good for thinking through this stuff.

    Thx.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host, Epiphanies Host
    This link seems to work better, GK, unless I misunderstand your intention?

    Do you want me to correct your link?
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    edited July 2
    Barnabas--

    Whoops! Yes, please do correct it.

    Thx much! :)

    (So done, a little late - B62)
  • RussRuss Shipmate
    Dafyd wrote: »
    We're asking what the ideal human population is. We can imagine that each successive stage in our argument is the end result of a different possible future history if we like. Imagine that Hari Selden, from Asimov's Foundation Series is trying to set up a future galactic utopia and trying to decide what it should be like by maximising the total utility or QALY across the galaxy. The question for utilitarians is whether each stage is better or at least equally good as the one preceding it. If you're not a utilitarian the paradox just shows that there's something wrong with the ways utilitarians measure the goodness of a state of affairs.

    I think the question ("ideal population") necessarily implies some form of utilitarian framework.

    There may or may not be a philosophical mis-step in valuing the existence of an additional human being at the same rate as one values additional years of life for an existing human being (QALY). But that's not the main point.

    If I've understood you right, the argument is:

    Premise 1 - given any population level, it is conceivable that resources may be so arranged that one island would benefit from additional population. (A vacant half-acre in utopia that could beneficially be occupied).

    Premise 2 - any rearrangement of resources (thinking particularly of living-space) is utility-neutral. Life is a zero-sum game - what one person gains, another loses.

    And the conclusion - that population increase is always beneficial - follows logically. By a process equivalent to inviting new population to settle the vacant plot on utopia and then packing them off to the other place...

    But I suggest to you that premise 2 is false. That clearing the slums to create a vacant half-acre could conceivably be something that utilitarians would agree was a Bad Thing.
  • Russ wrote: »
    I think the question ("ideal population") necessarily implies some form of utilitarian framework.

    There may or may not be a philosophical mis-step in valuing the existence of an additional human being at the same rate as one values additional years of life for an existing human being (QALY). But that's not the main point.

    Actually, I think this is a fundamental point, that underpins the whole edifice. Why should the thing that our hypothetical utilitarian want to maximize be the total utility and not the average utility?
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    Why should the thing that our hypothetical utilitarian want to maximize be the total utility and not the average utility?
    One can increase average utility by killing off anyone sufficiently far below the average that their fate doesn't worry too many of the survivors.

  • InterloperInterloper Shipmate Posts: 9
    I have always found the hedonistic calculus of utilitarianism rather alarming. Suppose five young people are dying through lack of donor organs. Then an overall increase in Quality Adjusted Life Years might be achieved by killing me for spare parts.
  • Dafyd wrote: »
    Why should the thing that our hypothetical utilitarian want to maximize be the total utility and not the average utility?
    One can increase average utility by killing off anyone sufficiently far below the average that their fate doesn't worry too many of the survivors.

    Doesn't that depend on how you write your sums?

    It seems obvious to me that your average before and after a particular action has to include the same people. I think that avoids the slaughterhouse you suggest here, because you'd have to include the dead people in your post-culling average.

    It is less obvious that the same logic applies to people who would otherwise not have existed.
  • GarasuGarasu Shipmate
    Provided at least one of the survivors gains more utility than the utility held by the culled individuals...?
  • Garasu wrote: »
    Provided at least one of the survivors gains more utility than the utility held by the culled individuals...?

    Hmm. How does your utility change in the transition between a society where people are not culled for being substandard, and one where you, or someone you love, might be deemed surplus to requirements?
  • GarasuGarasu Shipmate
    Technically, that's part of the utility calculation.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Reminds me of the story by Ursula K. LeGuin about the society that was endlessly prosperous and happy and law-abiding, provided they kept a small girl child chained in a dungeon. They figured that was just the price she had to pay for their happiness.
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