Context-Dependent Betterness and the Mere Addition Paradox


Frick, Johann. “Context-Dependent Betterness and the Mere Addition Paradox”. Ethics and Existence: The Legacy of Derek Parfit, edited by Jeff McMahan, Tim Campbell, James Goodrich, and Ketan Ramakrishnan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Forthcoming. Print.


This paper proposes a new solution to Derek Parfit’s Mere Addition Paradox. I argue that the paradox trades on an ambiguity about the context of choice. There is a sense in which all three intuitive judgments about Parfit’s case are true, namely as pairwise comparisons in a two-possible case, i.e. in a choice situation where the option set contains only these two outcomes. The air of paradox arises from the assumption that these pairwise judgments carry over to a three-possible case, in which all three outcomes are possible. But this, I argue, is not the case. If sound, this argument shows how we can make sense of each of our pairwise intuitions in the Mere Addition Paradox, without incurring the cost of intransitivity within an option set. This solves the Mere Addition Paradox and blocks the argument towards the Repugnant Conclusion.