Infinities In Ethics

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Infinities in ethics pose some difficult problems. For example, if we're in a big world,the universe is infinite, there are already infinite numbers of good and bad things. Adding or removing finitely many of them leaves infinitely many of both. This means aggregative consequentialist theories (those that maximize the sum of the values of individual structures) will be indifferent between any acts with merely finite effects. If you save the whales, there will be infinitely many whales, but if you don't save the whales, there will also be infinitely many whales.

  • Modifications of the "domain rule" that determines what values are to be aggregated (e.g., by discounting values far away in space and time)
  • Modifications of the "aggregation rule" that determines how these values are to be aggregated (e.g., by representing total value as a hyperreal number)
  • Modifications of the "selection rule" that uses the aggregation result to recommend an action (e.g., by ignoring very small probabilities)

Infinities in ethics pose some difficult problems. For example, if we're in a big world, there are already infinite numbers of good and bad things. Adding or removing finitely many of them leaves infinitely many of both. This means aggregative consequentialist theories (those that maximize the sum of the values of individual structures) will be indifferent between any acts with merely finite effects. For example, ifIf you save the whales, there will be infinitely many whales, but if you don't save the whales, there will also be infinitely many whales.

Infinities in ethics pose some difficult problems. For example, if we're in a big world, there are already infinite numbers of good and bad things. Adding or removing finitely many of them leaves infinitely many of both. This means aggregative consequentialist theories (those that maximize the sum of the values of individual structures) will be indifferent between any acts with merely finite effects. For example, if you save the whales, there will be infinitely many whales, but if you don't save the whales, there will also be infinitely many whales.

Nick Bostrom wrote a paper discussing various possible solutions to this problem of "infinitarian paralysis" (as well as the "fanaticism" problem of theories that would sacrifice anything for a small chance of an infinite payoff). The solutions fall into three classes:

For example, one could look at

  • Modifications of the density"domain rule" that determines what values are to be aggregated (e.g., by discounting values far away in space and time)
  • Modifications of value, usethe "aggregation rule" that determines how these values are to be aggregated (e.g., by representing total value as a hyperreal numbers, use discounting in time and space, or ignorenumber)
  • Modifications of the "selection rule" that uses the aggregation result to recommend an action (e.g., by ignoring very small probabilities. These solutions all have their own problems.

Infinities in ethics pose some difficult problems in ethics.problems. For example, if we're in a big world, there are already infinite numbers of good and bad things. Adding or removing finitely many of them leaves infinitely many of both. This means aggregative consequentialist theories (those that maximize the sum of the values of individual structures) will be indifferent between any acts with merely finite effects.

Infinities pose some difficult problems in ethics. For example, if we're in a big world, there are already infinite numbers of good and bad things. Adding or removing a finite numberfinitely many of them leaves infinitely many of both. This means aggregative consequentialist theories (those that maximize the sum of the values of individual structures) will be indifferent between any acts with merely finite effects.

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