Bibliography of Suffering-Focused Views

Last updated: Aug. 2016

This is a subpage of our Open Research Questions.


Create and keep up-to-date an online bibliography of material that proposes, defends, or argues against suffering-focused views.

Priority: 8/10

Why create a bibliography?

A bibliography on a topic makes it easier for others to do research and write papers in the field. For example, it reduces the hurdle of doing research in the field because the researchers do not need to spend as much time finding literature. It also reduces that risk that a researcher does redundant work because of being unaware of a previous publication on the topic.

Example bibliographies

An interesting bibliography that is updated by a community was established by The Research Group on Neuroethics and Neurophilosophy at University of Mainz1:

During the last years the Research Group at the University of Mainz has established the first open, centrally governed and supervised Online-bibliography, which is kept complete and up-to-date by the neuroethics community itself – a ‚literature wikiography‘.

Another example is this simpler but useful bibliography on wild animal suffering.

Desirable features of a bibliography on suffering-focused views

  • The bibliography can include other material than texts, such as presentations.
  • It should distinguish among materials that propose or defend suffering-focused views and materials that argue against such views.
  • Views that argue against suffering-focused views would need to do so directly to be included in the bibliography. It is not sufficient that they propose or argue for a view that is incompatible with suffering-focused views.
  • As a first step, a bibliography on suffering-focused views need not be annotated; it would still be useful with just a list of material, similar to the bibliography on wild animal suffering mentioned above. Similarly, at a first stage, the bibliography need not have advanced search functions.
  • It would be good if it could be updated (at least partially) automatically or by a community, rather than only manually by one or a few responsible individuals.
  • Sources in different languages should likely be put in different sections.

To do

Learn about best practices for creating and maintaining a bibliography in a field. A complication is that ‘suffering-focused’ is not an established term, but rather our term for different views in diverse fields such as population ethics, axiology, and normative ethics.

Output format

Web page (or website).

Examples of sources to include in a bibliography on suffering-focused views

For suffering-focused views


  • Acton, H. B., and J. W. N. Watkins. “Symposium: Negative Utilitarianism.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes 37 (1963): 83–114.2
  • Alexander, Christopher. “Axioms of Morality and Ethics in Negative Utilitarianism.” Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research BCUR 2014 Special Issue. Ungated.
  • Anderson, Ronald E. Human Suffering and Quality of Life: Conceptualizing Stories and Statistics. Dordrecht: Springer, 2014. Ungated.3
  • Arrhenius, Gustaf, and Krister Bykvist. “Future Generations and Interpersonal Compensations : Moral Aspects of Energy Use.” Uppsala Prints and Preprints in Philosophy, 1995:21. Ungated.4
  • Benatar, David. Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Benatar's staff page at UCT includes a list of publications related to Better Never to Have Been and antinatalism (archived).
  • Brülde, Bengt. “Happiness, Morality, and Politics.” Journal of Happiness Studies 11 (2010): 567–83.5
  • Chao, Roger. “Negative Average Preference Utilitarianism.” Journal of Philosophy of Life 2 (2012): 55–66. Ungated.
  • Contestabile, Bruno. [Various works]
  • Fehige, Christoph. “A Pareto Principle for Possible People.” In Preferences, edited by Christoph Fehige and Ulla Wessels, 508–43. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1998. Ungated.
  • Frick, Johann David. “‘Making People Happy, Not Making Happy People’: A Defense of the Asymmetry Intuition in Population Ethics.” PhD diss., Harvard University, 2014. Ungated.
  • Geinster, Dan. “The Amoral Logic of Anti-Hurt (Modified Negative Utilitarianism).” (accessed Aug. 4, 2015).
  • Goodman, Charles. Consequences of Compassion: An Interpretation and Defense of Buddhist Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Hiz, Henry. “Praxiology, Society and Ethics.” In Praxiologies and the Philosophy of Economics 1, edited by J. Lee Auspitz, Wojciech W. Gasparski, Marek K. Mlicki, and Klemens Szaniawski, 421–30. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1992. Partly ungated via Google Books.6
  • Häyry, Matti. “A Rational Cure for Prereproductive Stress Syndrome.” Journal of Medical Ethics 30 (2004): 377–78.
  • ———. “The Rational Cure for Prereproductive Stress Syndrome Revisited.” Journal of Medical Ethics 31 (2005): 606–7.
  • ———. “An Analysis of Some Arguments for and Against Human Reproduction.” In Arguments and Analysis in Bioethics, edited by Häyry et al., 167–76. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 2010.
  • Kadlec, Erich. “Popper’s ‘Negative Utilitarianism’: From Utopia to Reality.” In Karl Popper’s Response to 1938, edited by Peter Markl and Erich Kadlec, 107–21. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2008.7
  • Karlsen, Dagfinn Sjaastad. “Is God Our Benefactor? An Argument from Suffering.” Journal of Philosophy of Life 3 (2013): 145–67. Ungated.
  • Kotarbiński, Tadeusz.8
  • Larock, Marc. “Possible Preferences and the Harm of Existence.” MPhil thesis, University of St. Andrews, 2009. Ungated. See pages 18–23.
  • Leighton, Jonathan. The Battle for Compassion: Ethics in an Apathetic Universe. Algora Publishing, 2011. Chapter 9 is Ungated.
  • Mayerfeld, Jamie. “The Moral Asymmetry of Happiness and Suffering.” Southern Journal of Philosophy 34 (1996): 317–38.
  • ———. Suffering and Moral Responsibility. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Meacham, Christopher J.G. “Person-Affecting Views and Saturating Counterpart Relations.” Philosophical Studies 158 (2012): 257–87. Ungated.
  • Mendola, Joseph. “An Ordinal Modification of Classical Utilitarianism.” Erkenntnis 33 (1990): 73–88.9
  • ———. Goodness and Justice: A Consequentialist Moral Theory. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Metzinger, Thomas. Being No One: The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity. MIT Press, 2003.10
  • Narveson, Jan. “Utilitarianism and New Generations.” Mind 76 (1967): 62–72. Ungated.
  • Ohlsson, Ragnar. “The Moral Import of Evil: On Counterbalancing Death, Suffering, and Degradation.” PhD diss., Stockholm University, 1979.11
  • Pearce, David. Various works including The Hedonistic Imperative and The Abolitionist Project.
  • Roberts, Melinda A. “Person-based Consequentialism and the Procreation Obligation.” In The Repugnant Conclusion, edited by Jesper Ryberg and Torbjörn Tännsjö, 99–128. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2004.
  • ———. “The Asymmetry: A Solution.” Theoria 77 (2011): 333–67.
  • Ryder, Richard D. “Painism.” In Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, 2nd ed., edited by Marc Bekoff, 402–3. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2009.
  • ———. “Painism Defended.” Think 14, no. 41 (2015): 47–55.
  • ———. “Painism versus Utilitarianism.” Think 8, no. 21 (2009): 85–89.
  • Schopenhauer, Arthur. [Various works]
  • Tomasik, Brian. [Various works]
  • Tranöy, Knut Erik. “Asymmetries in Ethics.” Inquiry 10 (1967): 351–72.12
  • Vetter, Hermann. “Utilitarianism and New Generations.” Mind 80, no. 318 (1971): 301-302. Ungated.
  • Walker, A. D. M. “Negative Utilitarianism.” Mind 83 (1974): 424–28.
  • Wolf, Clark. “O Repugnance, Where is Thy Sting?” In The Repugnant Conclusion, edited by Jesper Ryberg and Torbjörn Tännsjö, 61–80. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2004. Ungated.
  • ———. “Person-Affecting Utilitarianism and Population Policy; Or, Sissy Jupe's Theory of Social Choice.” In Contingent Future Persons, edited by Nick Fotion and Jan C. Heller, 99–122. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1997. Archived. Archived Sep. 24, 2015.
  • ———. “Social Choice and Normative Population Theory: A Person Affecting Solution to Parfit's Mere Addition Paradox.” Philosophical Studies 81 (1996): 263–82. Archived.


  • Fricke, Fabian. “Verschiedene Versionen des negativen Utilitarismus.” Kriterion 15 (2002): 13–27. Ungated.


  • Bergström, Lars. “Pessimismens Konsekvenser.” In En Filosofibok Tillägnad Anders Wedberg, 24–34. Stockholm: Bonniers, 1978.13
  • Bergström, Lars(?). “Mänsklighetens Undergång.” Notice in Filosofisk Tidskrift Nov. 9, 2015. Ungated
  • Hedenius, Ingemar. Fyra Dygder. Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Förlag, 1955.
  • ———. Livets Mening. Stockholm: Aldus, 1964.14
  • ———. “Pessimismen Omigen.” In Frågor Om Livets Mening, edited by Lars Bergström, 150–169. Uppsala: Filosofiska studier, 1984.15
  • Petersson, Bo. “Ingemar Hedenius Moralfilosofi: Normativ Etik.” Filosofisk Tidskrift 30, no. 2 (2009): 57–76.


  • Longueira Monelos, Angel. “El sufrimiento animal y la extinción.” Ágora: Papeles de Filosofía 30 (2011): 43–56. Ungated.16

Not categorized

  • Beiser, Frederick C. Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860–1900. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • Coates, Ken. Anti-Natalism: Rejectionist Philosophy from Buddhism to Benatar. First Edition Design Pub., 2014.
  • Hurka, Thomas. “Asymmetries in Value.” Noûs 44, no. 2 (2010): 199–223.

Against suffering-focused views


  • Arrhenius, Gustaf. “Future Generations: A Challenge for Moral Theory.” PhD diss., Uppsala University, 2000. Ungated.
  • Danielsson, Sven. “Between the Repugnant and the Gloomy? Some Preferentialisms.” In Odds and Ends, edited by Sten Lindström, Rysiek Sliwinski, and Jan Österberg. Uppsala, 1996.
  • Griffin, James. “Is Unhappiness Morally More Important Than Happiness?” Philosophical Quarterly 29 (1979): 47–55.
  • Holtug, Nils. “Person-Affecting Moralities.” In The Repugnant Conclusion, edited by Jesper Ryberg and Torbjörn Tännsjö, 129–61. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2004.
  • Kappel, Klemens. “On Frustrationism and Satisfactionism.” In Preference and Value, edited by Wlodek Rabinowicz. Lund, 1996.
  • Leslie, John. “Why Not Let Life Become Extinct?” Philosophy 58, no. 225 (1983): 329–38.
  • ———. The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction. New York: Routledge, 1998.
  • Ord, Toby. “Why I'm Not a Negative Utilitarian.” 2013. Ungated. Archived Sep. 24, 2015.
  • Parfit, Derek. On What Matters, vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.17
  • Ryberg, Jesper. “Is the Repugnant Conclusion Repugnant?” Philosophical Papers 25 (1996): 161–77. See pages 165–66.
  • Sikora, R. I. “Is it Wrong to Prevent the Existence of Future Generations?” In Obligations to Future Generations, edited by R. I. Sikora and Brian Barry, 112–66. Philadelphia: The White Horse Press, 1978.
  • ———. “Negative Utilitarianism: Not Dead Yet.” Mind 85 (1976): 587–88.
  • Smart, J. J. C. “An Outline of a System of Utilitarian Ethics.” In Utilitarianism: For and Against, edited by J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams, 3–74. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973. See ch. 5 “Negative Utilitarianism.”18
  • ———. “Negative Utilitarianism.” In Freedom and Rationality: Essays in Honor of John Watkins, edited by Fred D'Agostino and I. C. Jarvie, 35–46. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1989.
  • Smart, R. N. “Negative Utilitarianism.” Mind 67 (1958): 542–43. Ungated. Archived Sep. 24, 2015.


  • Tännsjö, Torbjörn. Filosofisk Tröst: En Bok om Döden. Stockholm: Thales, 2015.

More sources

For more sources and context, see


  1.  (back)
  2. Watkins writes, “I AM anti-evil rather than pro-good, and I regard all suffering as bad. So I am a sort of negative utilitarian (though I also regard as bad some things which need not involve suffering). But in my case this negativism is part of a wide moral negativism; and it is with the latter that I shall be mainly concerned. I shall come back to negative utilitarianism only towards the end of Section IV. I shall try to indicate how this wider negativism might yield an affirmative answer to the question: is argument over conflicting moral principles possible?—and how it suggests a modified version of negative utilitarianism.... My aim is the same as Acton’s—to show that ‘the negative principle ... is not merely a matter of irrational choice, but that there are reasons for it’.” Page 95.  (back)
  3. See also the related website  (back)
  4. Arrhenius and Bykvist develop a taxonomy of negative utilitarian views. “Our point of departure was the firm intuition that unhappiness and suffering have greater weight than happiness. By taking this stand we revealed ourselves as members of the negative utilitarian family. The problem was then to find out which members of this family we want to join, and to spell out why we do not want to be as some of our siblings” (page 115). They distinguish among 16 kinds of negative utilitarianism, and end up proposing Weak Unequal-weighted Negativism (pages 30, 38, 50). They present arguments against different versions of negative utilitarianism. The resulting principle they propose appears to be such a weak form of negative utilitarianism that it is unclear whether it qualifies as a ‘suffering-focused’ view.  (back)
  5. On page 576, Brülde desribes the case of Dax Cowart as follows: “There might be similar intrapersonal moral thresholds, i.e. sufferings that are so intense that they cannot be outweighed by intense future (or past) happiness. A possible example of this is the case of Dax [Cowart] from 1973 (cf. Anderson et al.1996). As a result of an accident, Dax suffered from such terrible burns that he himself wanted to die, but against his own will, he was subjected to a series of painful treatments that eventually made it possible for him to return to a normal life. In Dax’s own view, it wasn’t worth it. In spite of his being rather satisfied with his present life, he doesn’t think that his present happiness can compensate for all the suffering he had to endure.” And on page 577, Brülde writes that “there may well be sufferings that are so intense that no trade-offs are possible, neither in the intrapersonal nor the interpersonal case.”  (back)
  6. “There is much misery in the world. People suffer pain and torture, they are hungry, cold, exhausted, ill, humiliated, and afraid. To act ethically is to lessen such misfortunes for as many peoples as possible: nothing else belongs in ethics” (page 421). “Utilitarianism failed, but what is sometimes called ‘negative utilitarianism’ avoids many of the shortcomings of classical utilitarianism. It is a good candidate for an ethics that expresses the Enlightenment tradition” (page 423).  (back)
  7. “NU [Negative Utilitarianism] thus offers a theory in every way superior to CU [Classical Utilitarianism] both in the field of social pragmatism and as a standard of moral correctness of behaviour between human beings” (p. 119).  (back)
  8. See Lazari-Pawłowska, Ija. “The Ethical Teaching of Tadeusz Kotarbiński.” Dialectics and Humanism: The Polish Philosophical Quarterly 1 (1977): 53-65. Lazari-Pawłowska’s description of Kotarbiński’s ethics includes: “How should a human being live on this planet ‘infinitely beautiful and up to now infinitely terrible’? He should preserve his courage and soothe suffering.” (P. 54.) “Kotarbiński tends to stress, as the subject of aspiration, the minimalization of evil and not the extension of good. [...] Instead of generosity in creating happiness, he demands the relief of suffering.” (P. 58.) Wlodek Rabinowicz introduces and translates to English Kotarbiński’s 1914 paper “Utilitarianism and The Ethics of Pity” in Rabinowicz, “Kotarbinski's Early Criticism of Utilitarianism.” Utilitas 12 (2000): 79-84. Rabinowicz writes that “Kotarbinski prefigures several trenchant criticisms of utilitarianism that have been made in later years. Thus, utilitarianism is accused by him of ignoring the difference between promoting happiness and preventing suffering, of not recognizing supererogatory actions, of being an impartial, agent-neutral ethical view, of ignoring genuine moral dilemmas (situations in which we reach an ‘ethical zero’, as he puts it). The modern reader will find these criticisms quite familiar. But how familiar were they way back in 1914? Or is history repeating itself and we are simply rediscovering forgotten insights?” (p. 80).  (back)
  9. Mendola says that the principle that he develops “is a kind of maximin rule.... The principle also resembles a form of utilitarianism which is familiar from the work of Popper and the Smart brothers, negative utilitarianism. That too suggests we should concern ourselves before all else with the elimination of pain.” Page 86.  (back)
  10. See Sections 8.2 and 8.3. Negative utilitarianism is discussed on pages 570 and 622. A key passage from p. 622 is, “in terms of a fundamental solidarity of all suffering beings against suffering, something that almost all of us should be able to agree on is what I will term the “principle of negative utilitarianism”: Whatever else our exact ethical commitments and specific positive goals are, we can and should certainly all agree that, in principle, and whenever possible, the overall amount of conscious suffering in all beings capable of conscious suffering should be minimized. I know that it is impossible to give any truly conclusive argument in favor of this principle. And, of course, there exist all kinds of theoretical complications—for example, individual rights, long-term preferences, and epistemic indeterminacy. But the underlying intuition is something that can be shared by almost everybody: We can all agree that no additional suffering should be created without need. Albert Camus once spoke about the solidarity of all finite beings against death, and in just the same sense there should be a solidarity of all sentient beings capable of suffering against suffering. Out of this solidarity we should not do anything that would increase the overall amount of suffering and confusion in the universe—let alone something that highly likely will have this effect right from the beginning.”  (back)
  11. Bengt Brülde describes Ohlsson's view in this dissertation as follows: “Ohlsson (1979) argues that if a suffering is so severe that the person would rather be dead, this suffering cannot be compensated for even by large increases in the happiness of others.” Quote from page 576 in Brülde, Bengt. “Happiness, Morality, and Politics.” Journal of Happiness Studies 11 (2010): 567–83.  (back)
  12. “Ethical notions such as good and bad, are often treated as though they were ‘symmetric’ in the sense of having the same moral ‘weight’, one in a positive the other in a negative sense. I argue that they are in fact ‘asymmetric’ and that the negative members of such pairs of notions are more fundamental and definite, logically speaking, and operationally more important than the positive members.” Page 351. And “In explicating what he terms ‘a wide moral negativism’, [J . W. N.] Watkins comes particularly close to my own position.” Page 352.  (back)
  13. A key passage can be found on pages 25–26 where Bergström writes, “already the evil that we know of is, according to [Ingemar] Hedenius, so evil that it cannot be counterbalanced by any good. He calls this position ‘the norm of the weight of evil’.... A circumstance that speaks in favor of the norm of the weight of evil is that it seems that suffering can be added up in a different way than happiness. As far as I can see, it makes no greater difference whether after us and until the extinction of humanity there would come 10 or 100 completely happy generations, but it makes a substantial difference whether after us there would come 10 or 100 unhappy generations. As long as all humans are happy it is rather insignificant how many they are, but the more who suffer or are unhappy the worse it is.” (Our translation; i.e. translation by Simon Knutsson.) Original passage in Swedish: “redan det onda som vi känner till är, enligt [Ingemar] Hedenius, så ont att det inte kan uppvägas av något som helst gott. Denna ståndpunkt kallar han ’normen om det ondas vikt’.... En omständighet som talar för normen om det ondas vikt är att lidande tycks kunna adderas på ett annat sätt än lycka. Såvitt jag kan se spelar det ingen större roll om det efter oss och fram till mänsklighetens utdöende skulle komma 10 eller 100 fullkomligt lyckliga generationer, men det spelar en avsevärd roll om det efter oss skulle komma 10 eller 100 olyckliga generationer. Så länge alla människor är lyckliga så är det rätt oväsentligt hur många de är, men ju fler som lider eller är olyckliga desto värre är det.”  (back)
  14. The key quote can be found on page 24: “The worst in life, the fate of the completely unhappy, the uninterrupted, infernalistic suffering, the hopeless humiliation, a child who is slowly tormented to death—I cannot see that all beauty in the world or even the most exceptional thoughts can “counterbalance” such, and neither that other humans’ happiness or culture can.” (Our translation; i.e. translation by Simon Knutsson.) Original passage in Swedish: “Det värsta i livet, de fullkomligt olyckligas öde, det oavbrutna, infernalistiska lidandet, den hopplösa förnedringen, ett barn som långsamt plågas till döds — jag kan inte se att all skönhet i världen eller ens de utomordentligaste tankar kan “uppväga” sådant, och inte heller att andra människors lycka och kultur kan göra det.”  (back)
  15. Series: Filosofiska studier utgivna av Filosofiska föreningen och Filosofiska institutionen vid Uppsala universitet 36. This is the second print edition. It was first published 1979 by Prisma.  (back)
  16. English abstract: “Is suffering a negative intrinsic value, i. e., something that, in itself, is worse to feel than not to feel? If we give an affirmative answer we must confront a difficult uneasy question: could it be better for somebody to exist and to suffer —if, for example, his life contains enjoyment— rather than not to exist? I’m going to defend that the right answer to this question is ‘No’. I will base my argument on a conception of the interests and in a particular axiology. Moreover, I will assume that we have certain duties which imply that we must prima facie reduce the total number of animals that will ever exist.” Page 43.  (back)
  17. See chapter 36 “What Matters Most.”  (back)
  18. J. J. C. Smart refers agreeingly to the criticism of negative utilitarianism in R. N. Smart, “Negative Utilitarianism.”  (back)