Paradox of Repugnant Conclusion

What is Paradox Of Repugnant Conclusion?

Imagine you have to choose between two options: a world where a million people live really happy lives, or one where a billion people live but only have a tiny bit of happiness. The Paradox of the Repugnant Conclusion is a tough question that asks which of these options is better. It was thought up by Derek Parfit, a smart thinker who wrote about it in his 1984 book “Reasons and Persons.” This idea makes us scratch our heads because we think more happy people are better, but we also believe people should have more than just a little happiness in their lives.

The Paradox of the Repugnant Conclusion is like a brain teaser for things that really matter – how we decide if something is good or bad when it comes to the happiness of a whole bunch of people. It’s hard because, on one hand, we want the most happiness for the most people. But on the other hand, it doesn’t feel right if that happiness is barely anything.

Key Arguments

  • If we have a huge crowd of people whose lives are just okay, their tiny bits of happiness all added up might be more than the happiness of a small group of super happy people. This is puzzling because we usually think happiness matters more than just the number of people.
  • The “Mere Addition Paradox” says that if you add more people who have lives worth living, it shouldn’t make things worse. But when you keep adding more and more people with just okay lives, eventually, you get a ton of not-so-happy people. That seems wrong, which makes it a real head-scratcher.
  • This question pokes at the idea of total happiness, making us wonder if having the biggest amount of happiness is what we should go for, even if it means everyone only has a little slice of happiness.

Answer or Resolution (if any)

  • Some thinkers say we should abandon the idea of total happiness and instead aim for “average happiness,” which means we prefer having a smaller number of really happy people. But this has problems too. For example, it could mean preventing the birth of people who would have had decent lives or saying it’s okay to have only a few super happy people left after a disaster.
  • An idea called “threshold utility” proposes only having more people if everyone’s happiness is above a certain level. This could keep anyone from living a life that’s just barely worth it.
  • There are even folks who think we need to start from scratch with a brand-new way of thinking about what’s good or bad, not just counting how much happiness there is all together.

Major Criticism

One big complaint about the Paradox of the Repugnant Conclusion is that it’s all about an imaginary situation that doesn’t seem very likely to happen. Some say we should focus on moral guidelines that work for real life, not just weird scenarios. Another point people make is that this paradox just shows the limitations of thinking that the total amount of happiness is all that matters. Also, some disagree with the idea that adding lives that are barely good enough to the world is actually a positive thing, which is what the paradox seems to suggest.

Practical Applications (if any)

  • Public Policy: Governments have to think about how their decisions might affect how many people live and what their lives are like. This paradox makes us question whether we should try to make everyone a bit happy or make a few people really happy.
  • Environmental Ethics: When we talk about who gets what resources and how many people the Earth can handle, it’s kind of like the paradox. We have to weigh out having a good life against having many lives.
  • Family Planning: Deciding to have more kids is a personal way this paradox shows up. We have to consider if more kids add to the overall happiness of the family and society, even if it might mean things are tougher for each person.

Related Topics

  • Utilitarianism: This is the idea that the best thing to do is what makes the most happiness for the most people. It’s tied to our paradox because it’s all about adding up happiness.
  • Population Ethics: This field of study deals with what’s right or wrong when it comes to questions about how many people there should be. Our paradox is a big puzzle in this area.
  • Ethical Frameworks: These are like different rule books for figuring out what’s right and wrong. The Repugnant Conclusion challenges us to think about whether our current rule books need a rewrite when it comes to big groups of people and their happiness.


The Paradox of the Repugnant Conclusion stirs up a lot of tough questions about how we should think about the happiness of many people. It doesn’t really have easy answers or clear ways to use it in the real world, but it sure gets us talking and thinking hard about how we decide what’s best in tricky situations. By wrestling with this paradox, we get better at figuring out what we truly value when it comes to growing populations and well-being.

At the end of the day, the Paradox of the Repugnant Conclusion shows us that answering tough moral questions is never black and white. It encourages us to get a deeper understanding of how to balance happiness, tough times, and the sheer number of people in our moral decisions. It’s an invitation to get smarter about making choices that really matter.