Pareto Principles in Infinite Ethics

Dissertation, New York University (2018)
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It is possible that the world contains infinitely many agents that have positive and negative levels of well-being. Theories have been developed to ethically rank such worlds based on the well-being levels of the agents in those worlds or other qualitative properties of the worlds in question, such as the distribution of agents across spacetime. In this thesis I argue that such ethical rankings ought to be consistent with the Pareto principle, which says that if two worlds contain the same agents and some agents are better off in the first world than they are in the second and no agents are worse off than they are in the second, then the first world is better than the second. I show that if we accept four axioms – the Pareto principle, transitivity, an axiom stating that populations of worlds can be permuted, and the claim that if the ‘at least as good as’ relation holds between two worlds then it holds between qualitative duplicates of this world pair – then we must conclude that there is ubiquitous incomparability between infinite worlds. I show that this is true even if the populations of infinite worlds are disjoint or overlapping, and that we cannot use any qualitative properties of world pairs to rank these worlds. Finally, I argue that this incomparability result generates puzzles for both consequentialist and non-consequentialist theories of objective and subjective permissibility.

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Amanda Askell
New York University


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