Is there a specific ethics for demography?

Francois Héran, Institut national d'études démographiques (INED)

Demographers have often to respect the codes of conduct of related sciences, but their own discipline raises also original ethical issues, due to three specificities: (i) the access to a totalizing standpoint, which enables to objectify massive attacks on the human rights, (ii) the capacity of elaborating perspectives for the next generations, which pushes back the horizons of the utilitarian calculus, (iii) the practice of very intensive surveys, implying new relationships with the persons. We shall analyze the impact of these transformations on the ethics of demography. The macro-micro dualism raises the question of the legitimacy of the blame for the macro-consequences of action often thrown on the micro-actors. We propose an ethical analysis of this practice. Last, the plurality of values poses two questions poses two issues to the demographers: what position is to be taken vis-à-vis the “absolutist ethics”? Is it legitimate to recommend social reforms mechanically derived from a demographic analysis?

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Presented in Session 74: Demography, human rights and ethics