Galerie Fons Welters - Amsterdam

Repugnant Conclusion

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.

Tim Enthoven engages this ethical problem with images of people, dogs and domestic equipment, some of them taken from personal sources. For example, in the large work ‘Repugnant Conclusion’ he visualizes the problem by using a diagram, which he constructs by using images that shine a different light on the issue. Enthoven complicates the idea of using happiness as a measure by contrasting it with alternative values like ‘uniqueness’, ‘stackability’ and ‘suffering’. He plays 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 Enthoven hints at other repugnant conclusions.

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.

At the heart of Enthoven’s practice lies a cognitive dissonance: he approaches people and other animals with empathy, but simultaneously with a clinical distance. He explores the collision of system and individual, and their cross pollination. His work is at the transition of personal drama into psychopathology, and intimate sex acts into paraphilia and population ethics. Enthoven’s work is consciously devoid of humour.
By juxtaposing crisp, mundane images and abstract ideas he creates dark poetry. Bodies are building blocks, architecture is a metaphor for the mind.
His work is often handmade and labour intensive, and is characterized by a frequent use of repetition and a preference for systems.

Tim Enthoven (1985) is a visual artist who lives and works in Amsterdam. He received his MFA from the Yale University School of Art and a Bachelor of Design (Hons) in communication from Design Academy Eindhoven. He works with drawings, installations and books. In recent years Enthoven exhibited at Abrons Art Center and Yve Yang Gallery in New York City, Untitled Art Fair San Francisco, Antenna Space and West Bund Art Fair in Shanghai, Espacio Odeón in Bogotá, the Lisbon Architecture Triennial, and Annual Reportt in Copenhagen. He has published two books, his debut Binnenskamers in 2011 and The Tiny Tim in 2012. Enthoven is a regular contributor to publications such as The New York Times, The New Yorker and Le Monde. For his work he received multiple awards and grants, amongst which a Plantin Moretus Award, a D&AD award, an ADC Award, the Rene Smeets award, a Prins Bernhard Culture Fund scholarship and a Keep an Eye Grant.