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Non-identity, sufficiency and exploitation

Rendall, Matthew



In this article I advance a solution to the non-identity problem based on distributive justice. Drawing on a seminal article by Gregory Kavka, I argue that in our everyday decisions about creating people, we widely recognize three principles. First, we should not conceive children whose lives are not worth living. Second, we believe that children, whenever possible, should enjoy a certain minimum level of well-being. This is consistent with what is known as the sufficiency view. Third, we believe children should receive their fair share of benefits and burdens. It is wrong to take more than our share, even if we do not reduce them to disease or destitution, and even if they would willingly waive their rights. When groups are threatened with extortion, we often render their rights inalienable. We should do so here. The rights of our descendants are not ones we would allow them to “waive.”

These are plausible population principles not only toward our own children, but also toward more distant generations. In addition, they capture many people’s intuitions about animals. In the pre-refereed version of this paper (but not in the forthcoming published version) I develop an argument about the 'logic of the larder'. Some people argue that we do animals a favor by raising and eating them. I argue that here too we ought to ensure that as large a proportion as possible enjoy lives well worth living. In contrast to humans, most animals do not seek to accumulate beyond the level of sufficiency. Fairness requires only that their lives should be sufficient. The lives of many farm animals, however, are not sufficient. Moreover, much animal husbandry indirectly risks bringing both people and wild animals below sufficiency. By causing wild and domesticated animals to lead impoverished lives—and profiting at their expense—we take more than our fair share, just as we do from future people.


Rendall, M. (2011). Non-identity, sufficiency and exploitation. Journal of Political Philosophy, 19(2),

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2011
Deposit Date Oct 28, 2010
Publicly Available Date Jan 1, 2011
Journal Journal of Political Philosophy
Print ISSN 0963-8016
Electronic ISSN 1467-9760
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Issue 2
Keywords Non-identity problem
Sufficiency view
Logic of the Larder
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is the accepted version of the following article: Rendall, M., Non-identity, sufficiency and exploitation, Journal of Political Philosophy, 19(2), (2011), 229-247, which has been published in final form at:


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