Population ethical intuitions
We investigated lay people's population ethical intuitions (N = 4,374), i.e., their moral evaluations of populations that differ in size and composition. First, we found that people place greater relative weight on, and are more sensitive to, suffering compared to happiness. Participants, on average, believed that more happy people are needed to outweigh a given amount of unhappy people in a population (Studies 1a-c). Second, we found that—in contrast to so-called person-affecting views—people
... o not consider the creation of new people as morally neutral. Participants considered it good to create a new happy person and bad to create a new unhappy person (Study 2). Third, we found that people take into account both the average level (averagism) and the total level (totalism) of happiness when evaluating populations. Participants preferred populations with greater total happiness levels when the average level remained constant (Study 3) and populations with greater average happiness levels when the total level remained constant (Study 4). When the two principles were in conflict, participants' preferences lay in between the recommendations of the two principles, suggesting that both are applied simultaneously (Study 5). In certain cases, participants even showed averagist preferences when averagism disfavors adding more happy people and favors adding more unhappy people to a population (Study 6). However, when participants were prompted to reflect as opposed to rely on their intuitions, their preferences became more totalist (Studies 5-6). Our findings have implications for moral psychology, philosophy and policy making.