More research questions on suffering-focused ethics

This is a subpage of our Open Research Questions. This page is outdated.

  • The Asymmetry. The Asymmetry is the claim that it decreases the value of an outcome to add individuals with bad lives but that it does not increase the value of an outcome to add individuals with good lives.1 It is sometimes said to be counterintuitive because it is said to be intuitive that adding individuals with very good lives makes an outcome better, all else equal. Is that really intuitive when one thinks thoroughly about it? What thought processes should one go through to get insights about this question? For example, which specific questions should one ask, and which situations and thought experiments should one contemplate? Priority 7/10.
  • Infinity in ethics. For example, if we avoid creating lab universes in an already infinite sea of universes, how much of a difference does this make, if any? Priority 6/10 (more).
  • Lexicality. Is there some kind and amount of badness such that an outcome that contains it is overall bad, regardless of the amount of good in the outcome? Priority 6/10 (more).
  • Suffering. What, more exactly, are the processes that should be called suffering in the morally and evaluatively relevant sense? For example, is the ability to introspect necessary for suffering?2 And is there suffering in fundamental physics? Priority 5/10.
  • Suffering-focused virtue ethics. Is it virtuous to focus on preventing or not causing suffering over, for example, increasing the amount of bliss or enabling the existence of more happy future individuals? Priority 4/10.


  1. This is the axiological version of the Asymmetry drawing upon Nils Holtug, ”Person-affecting Moralities.” In The Repugnant Conclusion, edited by Jesper Ryberg and Torbjörn Tännsjö, 129–61. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2004. The term ‘the Asymmetry’ comes from Jefferson McMahan, “Problems of Population Policy.” Ethics 92 (1981): 96–127. See page 100. McMahan formulates it in terms of reasons as opposed to Holtug who formulates it in terms of the value outcomes. Both versions are interesting to FRI.  (back)
  2. As for example Michael Tye has claimed.  (back)