At Fons Welters Gallery, Amsterdam, 26 April – 15 June 2019
The ‘repugnant conclusion’ is a problem in ethics first introduced by Derek Parfit in his book ‘Reasons and Persons’. With this he questioned commonsense ethical assumptions, like that increasing total and average happiness makes things better, but also for instance the idea that a smaller number of very happy people is preferable to a larger number of unhappy people.
In this presentation I engage this paradox with images of people, dogs and domestic equipment, some of them taken from personal sources. For example, in the large work ‘Repugnant Conclusion’ I visualize the problem by using a diagram, which I construct by using images that shine a different light on the issue. I complicate the idea of using happiness as a measure by contrasting it with alternative values like ‘uniqueness’, ‘stackability’ and ‘suffering’. In the work I play with these values by, for example, using printed images besides hand drawn ones, showing full compositions next to serene compositions, and by rendering objects in atypical materials. Moreover, by contrasting details with the bigger picture I hint at other repugnant conclusions.
Installation view of Repugnant Conclusion at Fons Welters Gallery, Amsterdam
Design for a Bookcase, 2019, 195 x 200 cm, gouache, pigment print and collage on colored paper, on panel
Design for a Garden Fence Panel, 2019, 45 x 54 cm, watercolors, pencil and pigment pen on paper
Design for a Gate, 2019, 45 x 36 cm, watercolors, pencil and pigment pen on paper
Patch of Giant Hogweed, 2019, 65 x 100 cm, pencil, gouache and felt tip on paper
Repugnant Conclusion, 2019, 195 x 200 cm, pencil, watercolours, felt tip and pigment print on paper, on panel
Mere Addition, 2019, 65 x 100 cm each, pencil, gouache, felt tip and watercolours on paper
About the ‘repugnant conclusion’:
To get to the ‘repugnant conclusion’ Parfit first imagines Society A: it consists of one billion extremely happy people. Society B on the other hand not only contains one billion very happy people, but in addition also contains one billion slightly happy people. In comparison society B is not obviously better than society A, but adding one billion extra people with lives worth living is also not necessarily worse. Then Parfit imagines society C. Society C consists of two billion pretty happy people: they are not extremely happy, but they are happier than slightly happy. Moreover, the total and average happiness in society C is bigger than in society B. With considerable certainty we thus can say that society C is better than society B. Subsequently Parfit notes that if society B is not worse than society A, and society C is obviously better than society B, society C with its two billion pretty happy people must transitively be better than society A with its one billion extremely happy people. Parfit states that if we keep repeating the same steps over and over we’ll eventually have to come to the repugnant conclusion that a gigantic society consisting of people whose lives are barely worth living is (transitively) better than a society consisting of a small number of very happy people.