The unexpected value of the future

Abstract

Various philosophers accept moral views that are impartial, additive, and risk-neutral with respect to moral betterness. But, if that risk neutrality is spelt out according to expected value theory alone, such views face a dire reductio ad absurdum. If the expected sum of value in humanity's future is undefined--if, e.g., the probability distribution over possible values of the future resembles the Pasadena game, or a Cauchy distribution--then those views say that no option is ever better than any other. And, as I argue, this holds in practice: our evidence supports such a probability distribution. Indeed, it supports a probability distribution that cannot be evaluated even if we adopt one of the various extensions of expected value theory proposed in the literature. Must we therefore reject all impartial, additive, risk-neutral moral theories? It turns out that we need not. I develop an alternative solution: a new method of extending expected value theory, which allows us to deal with this distribution and to salvage those moral views. I also examine how this solution affects one of the most notable implications of those views--namely, longtermism.

Author's Profile

Hayden Wilkinson
University of Oxford

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2022-12-20

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