2.83 Population Ethics

Category: Ethics

Keywords: consequentialism, consequentialist, projects, worse, scanlon, lives, restrictions, parfit, aid, overall, benefit, williams, promote, cost, nagel

Number of Articles: 291
Percentage of Total: 0.9%
Rank: 55th

Weighted Number of Articles: 250.3
Percentage of Total: 0.8%
Rank: 68th

Mean Publication Year: 1993.7
Weighted Mean Publication Year: 1991.8
Median Publication Year: 1995
Modal Publication Year: 2003

Topic with Most Overlap: Ordinary Language (0.0552)
Topic this Overlaps Most With: Abortion and Self-Defence (0.0325)
Topic with Least Overlap: Psychology (9e-05)
Topic this Overlaps Least With: Psychology (0.00017)

A scatterplot showing which proportion of articles each year are in the population ethicstopic. The x-axis shows the year, the y-axis measures the proportion of articles each year in this topic. There is one dot per year. The highest value is in 1998 when 2.5% of articles were in this topic. The lowest value is in 1903 when 0.0% of articles were in this topic. The full table that provides the data for this graph is available in Table A.83 in Appendix A.

Figure 2.190: Population ethics.

A set of twelve scatterplots showing the proportion of articles in each journal in each year that are in the Population Ethicstopic. There is one scatterplot for each of the twelve journals that are the focus of this book. In each scatterplot, the x-axis is the year, and the y-axis is the proportion of articles in that year in that journal in this topic. Here are the average values for each of the twelve scatterplots - these tell you on average how much of the journal is dedicated to this topic. Mind - 0.3%. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society - 0.4%. Ethics - 2.8%. Philosophical Review - 0.5%. Analysis - 0.7%. Philosophy and Public Affairs - 7.6%. Journal of Philosophy - 0.7%. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research - 0.6%. Philosophy of Science - 0.1%. Noûs - 1.0%. The Philosophical Quarterly - 0.8%. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science - 0.1%. The topic reaches its zenith in year 1996 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 3.4% of the articles. And it hits a minimum in year 1903 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 0.0% of the articles.

Figure 2.191: Population ethics articles in each journal.

Table 2.201: Characteristic articles of the population ethics topic.
Table 2.202: Highly cited articles in the population ethics topic.


I’ve called this population ethics, but it’s really contemporary utilitarianism. For various reasons the term consequentialism became more popular over this time period, and the model doesn’t really know that this is a near synonym for ‘utilitarianism’, so it puts the consequentialist articles and the utilitarian articles in separate categories. I didn’t feel like naming the topic after what is something of a terminological change. I could have called it numbers and ethics, which would have been accurate enough if a little frivolous. Instead, I focused on Parfit’s centrality to the topic and called it population ethics.

It’s mildly surprising to me that “Famine, Affluence and Morality” is in here. Of course, it is a consequentialist article. But most of this topic lives at a much higher level of abstraction. Partially what happened was that the model I’m using didn’t really settle on a single applied ethics topics. Other runs of the model had topics where “Famine, Affluence and Morality” and “A Defense of Abortion” as twin pillars of a big applied ethics topic. But here they got split, and so Singer’s paper ends up with quite a bit of high theory around it.

And I know I’m being repetitive on this, but it’s just shocking to me to see how little of this work is turning up in the “generalist” journals. The left-two columns in the graph suggest this was an incredibly niche, minor part of contemporary philosophy, with perhaps a small bubble of interest in the 1990s and early 2000s that had faded. And that would be completely the wrong picture. That’s why I felt it was essential to include the “specialist” journals in this study; it’s not possible to get an accurate picture of the discipline without them.