SOPhiA 2018

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

SOPhiA ToolsDE-pageEN-page

Programme - Talk

Infinite Utility and Risk
(Ethics, English)

How should we evaluate worlds containing infinite populations? This is a crucial question for ethical consequentialists -- their judgements of acts are determined by evaluations of worlds, and some of our best physical theories now predict that our world will inevitably contain an infinite population (see Knobe et al., 2006; Gott, 2008; Carroll, 2017). It is also not an easy question to answer -- after all, standard analysis does not allow us to say that any infinite total value is greater than any other (of the same order of infinity).

Another crucial question is: how should we evaluate options involving infinite worlds, when we are not certain of which world will be produced? After all, we live in a risky and uncertain world, and ethical theories which judge only in cases of certainty are of no use to us (Jackson, 1991).

We have various answers to each question separately, but only one attempt has been made to answer both -- Arntzenius (2014) describes a principle which, first, takes expected utilities over finite regions (e.g., groups of people) and only then performs an expansionist aggregation.

In this paper, I demonstrate a substantive problem for Arntzenius' approach. There exists a decision scenario in which Arntzenius' method diverges sharply from the intuitively correct judgement -- one in which the method recommends that we favour an option which, for every probabilistic state of the world, has less total value.

To avoid this conclusion, we must reject expected utilities taken locally. We need a cardinal value for the world as a whole, or else we necessarily face this problem.

I show that we can develop a probabilistic criterion with a formal apparatus similar to Arntzenius and to Vallentyne & Kagan (1997). I present both a weak and a strong form of this criterion. The weak form is necessary to preserve our basic intuitions in finite cases. The strong form is far more complete but implies that evaluations are relative to the physical location of the agent.

Chair: Katharina Anna Sodoma
Time: 17:00-17:30, 12 September 2018 (Wednesday)
Location: SR 1.007

Hayden Wilkinson 
(University of Oxford, United Kingdom)

Hayden Wilkinson is a Researcher at the Global Priorities Institute at the University of Oxford and a current PhD student at the Australian National University. His work focuses on moral decision-making in an infinite cosmos, particularly under a consequentialist framework.

Testability and Meaning deco