"Prioritarianism, Population Ethics, and Competing Claims"
These are Derek Parfit’s last published words on prioritarianism: “the Prioritarian Principles that I have considered cannot be applied to cases in which, in the different possible outcomes, different people would exist. When we consider these cases, we need other principles.” Through a reflection on these remarks and their underlying justification, it is possible to deepen our understanding, both of Parfit’s conceptualisation and defence of prioritarianism, and of the place and force of prioritarian principles in distributive ethics. That is what I shall try to do in this lecture. I shall eventually reach the conclusion that Parfit stakes out an untenable position, both for him and more generally. There is not a plausible rationale for a prioritarianism that is restricted only to outcomes in which the same people exist, while also retaining the key features of Parfit’s elaborations and defences of the view and cohering with his other commitments. The principles that might be appealed to, in order to try to motivate such a restriction of prioritarianism to what Parfit calls ‘Same People’ cases, give rise to a different view -- one that is sensitive to the presence or absence of the competing claims of different individuals. Contrary to Parfit’s own conceptualisation and justification of prioritarianism, priority-weighting is justified when and because it matters how the worse off fare in comparison with others who are better off. Moreover, the competing claims of individuals are determined by gains and losses to individuals which are not fully captured by prioritarian weighting.