Postgraduates work in progress
Speaker: Dylan Balfour
Title: Why Consequentialists Are Always Getting Mugged
Abstract: By many plausible estimates, humanity could survive for at least another billion years. This means that, if we avoid extinction, the vast majority of humanity's value will lie in the far future. I will argue that this causes a novel problem for consequentialist moral theories which hold that we ought to maximise expected value.
The problem arises when we consider a phenomenon in decision theory known as Pascal's Mugging. A Pascal's Mugging (derived from Pascal's argument for the existence of God) occurs we are faced with the prospect of attaining huge amount of value, like saving humanity from extinction. Even a tiny probability that an action will bring about such value is enough to make that action dominant in expected value terms.
I will argue that we have, at the very least, highly tenuous evidence to suggest that many of our ordinary actions could have an effect on the far future of humanity, either by lowering extinction risk or changing the trajectory of humanity. Although it's incredibly unlikely that any action will have such an effect, the massive value of these outcomes is enough to generate a Pascal's Mugging. And, because consequentialism tells us to maximise expected value, this will entail some deeply unintuitive moral obligations.