About this topic

The Doomsday argument is a family of arguments about humanity’s likely survival. There are mainly two versions of the argument discussed in the literature, both of which appeal to a form of Copernican principle (or principle of typicality or mediocrity). A first version of the argument (endorsed by, e.g., John Leslie) dictates a probability shift in favor of theories that predict earlier end dates for our species assuming that we are a typical—rather than atypical—member of that group.

The other main version of the argument is sometimes referred to as the ‘delta-t argument,’ and it has provoked both outrage and genuine scientific interest. It claims to allow one to make a prediction about the total duration of any process of indefinite duration based only on the assumption that the moment of observation is randomly selected. A variant of this argument, which gives equivalent predictions, reasons in terms of one’s rank in a sequential process.

Key works An early version of the Doomsday argument, referred to as the 'Carter catastrophe', appeared in Carter & McCrea 1983. The Doomsday argument was then popularized by John Leslie 1990. The 'delta-t argument' was put forth by Richard Gott (1993, 1994). Several attempts to block the conclusions of this argument have been offered. In order to counter the consequence of what he called the 'self-sampling assumption,' Nick Bostrom 2002 suggested to adopt the 'self-indicating assumption.' In order to avoid conclusions that are entirely dependent on our reference class, Radford Neal 2006 argued that we ought to appeal to fully non-indexical conditioning to block the conclusions of the Doomsday argument. Benétreau-Dupin argued that only imprecise probabilities can avoid the conclusions of all versions of the Doomsday argument.
Introductions See Bostrom 2002 (§6-7) and Richmond 2006 for reviews. See Monton & Roush ms for Gott's version of the Doomsday argument.
Related categories

103 found
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  1. added 2018-12-16
    The Vulnerable World Hypothesis.Nick Bostrom - manuscript
    Scientific and technological progress might change people’s capabilities or incentives in ways that would destabilize civilization. For example, advances in DIY biohacking tools might make it easy for anybody with basic training in biology to kill millions; novel military technologies could trigger arms races in which whoever strikes first has a decisive advantage; or some economically advantageous process may be invented that produces disastrous negative global externalities that are hard to regulate. This paper introduces the concept of a vulnerable world: (...)
  2. added 2018-11-19
    Perspective Reasoning and the Solution to the Sleeping Beauty Problem.Xianda Gao - manuscript
    This paper proposes a new explanation for the paradoxes related to anthropic reasoning. Solutions to the Sleeping Beauty Problem and the Doomsday argument are discussed in detail. The main argument can be summarized as follows: -/- Our thoughts, reasonings and narratives inherently comes from a certain perspective. With each perspective there is a center, or using the term broadly, a self. The natural first-person perspective is most primitive. However we can also think and express from others’ perspectives with a theory (...)
  3. added 2018-11-11
    What, Precisely, is Carter's Doomsday Argument?Randall G. McCutcheon - manuscript
    Paying strict attention to Brandon Carter's several published renditions of anthropic reasoning, we present a ``nutshell'' version of the Doomsday argument that is truer to Carter's principles than the standard balls-and-urns or otherwise ``naive Bayesian'' versions that proliferate in the literature. At modest cost in terms of complication, the argument avoids commitment to many of the half-truths that have inspired so many to rise up against other toy versions, never adopting posterior outside of the convex hull of one's prior distribution (...)
  4. added 2018-10-15
    A Meta-Doomsday Argument: Uncertainty About the Validity of the Probabilistic Prediction of the End of the World.Alexey Turchin - manuscript
    Abstract: Four main forms of Doomsday Argument (DA) exist—Gott’s DA, Carter’s DA, Grace’s DA and Universal DA. All four forms use different probabilistic logic to predict that the end of the human civilization will happen unexpectedly soon based on our early location in human history. There are hundreds of publications about the validity of the Doomsday argument. Most of the attempts to disprove the Doomsday Argument have some weak points. As a result, we are uncertain about the validity of DA (...)
  5. added 2018-09-10
    John Leslie Infinite Minds . Pp. X+234. £27.50 , £14.99 . ISBN 0 19 924892 3 , 0 19 924893 1.Neil A. Manson - 2004 - Religious Studies 40 (4):499-502.
    Due to his laborious efforts, there are two strands of contemporary philosophical literature with which John Leslie is closely identified. The first concerns cosmic fine-tuning, the design argument, and the anthropic principle ; the second, the so-called ‘Doomsday Argument ’ to the effect that we have good grounds for expecting the human race soon to perish. In this book – just released in paperback – Leslie concentrates on ideas he first began pursuing over thirty years ago, most notably in Value (...)
  6. added 2017-02-14
    John Leslie, The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction Reviewed By.Geoffrey Gorham - 1998 - Philosophy in Review 18 (2):122-124.
  7. added 2017-02-10
    Utility Conditionals as Consequential Arguments: A Random Sampling Experiment.Jean-François Bonnefon - 2012 - Thinking and Reasoning 18 (3):379 - 393.
    Research on reasoning about consequential arguments has been an active but piecemeal enterprise. Previous research considered in depth some subclasses ofconsequential arguments, but further understanding of consequential arguments requires that we address their greater variety, avoiding the risk of over-generalisation from specific examples. Ideally we ought to be able to systematically generate the set of consequential arguments, and then engage in random sampling of stimuli within that set. The current article aims at making steps in that direction, using the theory (...)
  8. added 2017-02-09
    Leslie, John. Infinite Minds: A Philosophical Cosmology.Carl N. Still - 2003 - Review of Metaphysics 57 (1):154-155.
  9. added 2017-02-09
    Random Sampling and the Principles of Estimation.Peter Urbach - 1988 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 89 (1):143 - 164.
  10. added 2017-02-08
    Steep Cliff Arguments.David B. Suits - 1999 - Argumentation 13 (2):127-138.
    In recent philosophical debates a number of arguments have been used which have so much in common that it is useful to study them as having a similar structure. Many arguments – Searle's Chinese Room, for example – make use of thought experiments in which we are told a story or given a narrative context such that we feel we are in comfortable surroundings. A new notion is then introduced which clashes with our ordinary habits and associations. As a result, (...)
  11. added 2017-02-07
    Nick Bostrom, Anthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy, Routledge, New York, 2002, Xiii +224 Pp. Price US $69, Hardcover, ISBN 0415938589. [REVIEW]W. Meijs - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 36 (3):586-589.
  12. added 2017-02-07
    Book Review:Universes John Leslie. [REVIEW]George Gale - 1993 - Philosophy of Science 60 (3):519-.
  13. added 2017-02-01
    How Unlikely is a Doomsday Catastrophe?, With Max Tegmark, Published In.Nick Bostrom - manuscript
  14. added 2017-01-31
    A Shooting-Room View of Doomsday.William Eckhardt - 1997 - Journal of Philosophy 94 (5):244.
  15. added 2017-01-30
    An Empirical Critique of Two Versions of the Doomsday Argument – Gott's Line and Leslie's Wedge.E. Sober - 2003 - Synthese 135 (3):415-430.
    I discuss two versions of the doomsday argument. According to "Gott's Line", the fact that the human race has existed for 200,000 years licences the prediction that it will last between 5100 and 7.8 million more years. According to "Leslie's Wedge", the fact that I currently exist is evidence that increases the plausibility of the hypothesis that the human race will come to an end sooner rather than later. Both arguments rest on substantive assumptions about the sampling process that underlies (...)
  16. added 2017-01-29
    The Doomsday Book.L. R. Taylor - 1971 - Journal of Biosocial Science 3 (2):239.
  17. added 2017-01-28
    LESLIE, JOHN "Value and Existence". [REVIEW]Colin Lyas - 1980 - Philosophy 55:275.
  18. added 2017-01-27
    Leslie, J.-The End of the World.A. G. Padgett - 1998 - Philosophical Books 39:222-224.
  19. added 2017-01-27
    A Shooting Room View Oj Doomsday, William Eckhardt.Temporal Horizons oj Justice - 1997 - Mind 106 (421).
  20. added 2017-01-26
    From Typical Areas to Random Sampling: Sampling Methods in Russia From 1875 to 1930.Martine Mespoulet - 2002 - Science in Context 15 (3):411-425.
  21. added 2017-01-24
    Reply to Leslie Stevenson1.Harold W. Noonan - 1982 - Philosophical Books 23 (1):7-12.
  22. added 2017-01-22
    Dropping Out From Doomsday.Raymond Wilson - 1975 - British Journal of Educational Studies 23 (3):255 - 264.
  23. added 2017-01-22
    Oliver Leslie Reiser 1895-1974.Gerald J. Massey - 1974 - Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 48:179 - 180.
  24. added 2017-01-17
    The Doomsday Argument and the Self-Indication Assumption: Reply to Olum.Nick Bostrom & Milan M. Ćirković - unknown
    In a recent paper in this journal, Ken Olum attempts to refute the Doomsday argument by appealing to the self-indication assumption, the idea that your very existence gives you reason to think that there are many observers. In contrast to earlier refutation attempts that use this strategy, Olum confronts and try to counter some of the objections that have been made against SIA. We argue that his defense of SIA is unsuccessful. This does not, however, mean that one has to (...)
  25. added 2016-12-08
    How and How Not to Make Predictions with Temporal Copernicanism.Kevin Nelson - 2009 - Synthese 166 (1):91-111.
    Gott (Nature 363:315–319, 1993) considers the problem of obtaining a probabilistic prediction for the duration of a process, given the observation that the process is currently underway and began a time t ago. He uses a temporal Copernican principle according to which the observation time can be treated as a random variable with uniform probability density. A simple rule follows: with a 95% probability.
  26. added 2016-12-08
    Reasoning About the Future: Doom and Beauty.Dennis Dieks - 2007 - Synthese 156 (3):427-439.
    According to the Doomsday Argument we have to rethink the probabilities we assign to a soon or not so soon extinction of mankind when we realize that we are living now, rather early in the history of mankind. Sleeping Beauty finds herself in a similar predicament: on learning the date of her first awakening, she is asked to re-evaluate the probabilities of her two possible future scenarios. In connection with Doom, I argue that it is wrong to assume that our (...)
  27. added 2016-12-08
    No Doomsday Argument Without Knowledge of Birth Rank: A Defense of Bostrom.D. J. Bradley - 2005 - Synthese 144 (1):91-100.
    The Doomsday Argument says we should increase our subjective probability that Doomsday will occur once we take into account how many humans have lived before us. One objection to this conclusion is that we should accept the Self-Indication Assumption (SIA): Given the fact that you exist, you should (other things equal) favor hypotheses according to which many observers exist over hypotheses on which few observers exist. Nick Bostrom argues that we should not accept the SIA, because it can be used (...)
  28. added 2016-12-08
    The Doomsday Argument Adam & Eve, UN++, and Quantum Joe.Nick Bostrom - 2001 - Synthese 127 (3):359-387.
    The Doomsday argument purports to show that the risk of the human species going extinct soon has been systematically underestimated. This argument has something in common with controversial forms of reasoning in other areas, including: game theoretic problems with imperfect recall, the methodology of cosmology, the epistomology of indexical belief, and the debate over so-called fine-tuning arguments for the design hypothesis. The common denominator is a certain premiss: the Self-Sampling Assumption. We present two strands of argument in favor of this (...)
  29. added 2016-12-05
    How to Predict Future Duration From Present Age.Bradley Monton & Brian Kierland - 2006 - Philosophical Quarterly 56 (222):16-38.
    The physicist J. Richard Gott has given an argument which, if good, allows one to make accurate predictions for the future longevity of a process, based solely on its present age. We show that there are problems with some of the details of Gott's argument, but we defend the core thesis: in many circumstances, the greater the present age of a process, the more likely a longer future duration.
  30. added 2016-11-09
    A Dilemma for the Doomsday Argument.Robert Northcott - 2016 - Ratio 29 (3):268-282.
    I present a new case in which the Doomsday Argument runs afoul of epistemic intuition much more strongly than before. This leads to a dilemma: in the new case either DA is committed to unacceptable counterintuitiveness and belief in miracles, or else it is irrelevant. I then explore under what conditions DA can escape this dilemma. The discussion turns on several issues that have not been much emphasised in previous work on DA: a concern that I label trumping; the degree (...)
  31. added 2016-01-15
    Self-Locating Priors and Cosmological Measures.Frank Arntzenius & Cian Dorr - 2017 - In Khalil Chamcham, John Barrow, Simon Saunders & Joe Silk (eds.), The Philosophy of Cosmology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 396-428.
    We develop a Bayesian framework for thinking about the way evidence about the here and now can bear on hypotheses about the qualitative character of the world as a whole, including hypotheses according to which the total population of the world is infinite. We show how this framework makes sense of the practice cosmologists have recently adopted in their reasoning about such hypotheses.
  32. added 2015-12-11
    The Role of the Protocol in Anthropic Reasoning.Joseph Y. Halpern - 2015 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 2:195-206.
    I show how thinking in terms of the protocol used can help clarify problems related to anthropic reasoning and self-location, such as the Doomsday Argument and the Sleeping Beauty Problem.
  33. added 2015-08-26
    The Quantum Doomsday Argument.Alastair Wilson - 2017 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 68 (2).
    If the most familiar overlapping interpretation of Everettian quantum mechanics is correct, then each of us is constantly splitting into multiple people. This consequence gives rise to the quantum doomsday argument, which threatens to draw crippling epistemic consequences from EQM. However, a diverging interpretation of EQM undermines the quantum doomsday argument completely. This appears to tell in favour of the diverging interpretation. But it is surprising that a metaphysical question that is apparently underdetermined by the physics should be settled by (...)
  34. added 2015-04-13
    The Mysteries of Self-Locating Belief and Anthropic Reasoning.Nick Bostrom - 2003 - The Harvard Review of Philosophy 11 (1):59-73.
    1. How big is the smallest fish in the pond? You take your wide-meshed fishing net and catch one hundred fishes, every one of which is greater than six inches long. Does this evidence support the hypothesis that no fish in the pond is much less than six inches long? Not if your wide-meshed net can’t actually catch smaller fish...
  35. added 2015-04-13
    Comment l'Urne de Carter et Leslie se Déverse dans celle de Hempel.Paul Franceschi - 1999 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 29 (1):139-156.
    Le philosophe mit le pied sur la première marche du futurotron. C'était la première fois qu'il utilisait cet appareil pour ses recherches. Bien qu'il vienne seulement d'être mis au point et qu'il ne soit encore qu'à l'état de prototype, ce futurotron pouvait décidément rendre de grands services. De nombreux chercheurs de différentes disciplines l'avaient d'ailleurs déjà utilisé de manière très fructueuse. Le philosophe prit place aux côtés du pilote sur le siège avant de la machine. - Quel est le principe (...)
  36. added 2015-04-13
    The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction By John Leslie. [REVIEW]Antony Flew - 1997 - Philosophy 72 (279):158-.
  37. added 2015-04-13
    Summer 1991: The "Monty Hall" Problem; Fall 1993: The Two Envelopes Puzzle; And Now: Doomsday.Arthur Falk - 1993 - Proceedings of the Heraclitean Society 17:64.
  38. added 2015-04-05
    The Doomsday Argument and the Self–Indication Assumption: Reply to Olum.Nick Bostrom & Milan M. Ćirković - 2003 - Philosophical Quarterly 53 (210):83-91.
    In a recent paper in this journal, Ken Olum attempts to refute the doomsday argument by appealing to the self–indication assumption (SIA) that your very existence gives you reason to think that there are many observers. Unlike earlier users of this strategy, Olum tries to counter objections that have been made against (SIA). We argue that his defence of (SIA) is unsuccessful. This does not, however, mean that one has to accept the doomsday argument (or the other counter–intuitive results that (...)
  39. added 2015-03-27
    How Unlikely is a Doomsday Catastrophe?Max Tegmark & Nick Bostrom - unknown
    One might think that since life here on Earth has survived for nearly 4 Gyr (Gigayears), such catastrophic events must be extremely rare. Unfortunately, such an argument is flawed, giving us a false sense of security. It fails to take into account the observation selection effect [6, 7] that precludes any observer from observing anything other than that their own species has survived up to the point where they make the observation. Even if the frequency of cosmic catastrophes were very (...)
  40. added 2015-02-10
    The Bayesian Who Knew Too Much.Yann Benétreau-Dupin - 2015 - Synthese 192 (5):1527-1542.
    In several papers, John Norton has argued that Bayesianism cannot handle ignorance adequately due to its inability to distinguish between neutral and disconfirming evidence. He argued that this inability sows confusion in, e.g., anthropic reasoning in cosmology or the Doomsday argument, by allowing one to draw unwarranted conclusions from a lack of knowledge. Norton has suggested criteria for a candidate for representation of neutral support. Imprecise credences (families of credal probability functions) constitute a Bayesian-friendly framework that allows us to avoid (...)
  41. added 2015-02-10
    Assessing the “Bayesian Shift” in the Doomsday Argument.Ben O’Neill - 2014 - Journal of Philosophy 111 (4):198-218.
  42. added 2015-02-10
    Elements of Dialectical Contextualism.Dr Paul Franceschi - unknown
    In what follows, I strive to present the elements of a philosophical doctrine, which can be defined as dialectical contextualism. I proceed first to define the elements of this doctrine: dualities and polar contraries, the principle of dialectical indifference and the one-sidedness bias. I emphasize then the special importance of this doctrine in one specific field of meta-philosophy: the methodology for solving philosophical paradoxes. Finally, I describe several applications of this methodology on the following paradoxes: Hempel's paradox, the surprise examination (...)
  43. added 2015-02-10
    A Note on the Simulation Argument.Peter J. Lewis - unknown
    The point of this note is to compare the Doomsday Argument to the Simulation Argument. The latter, I maintain, is a better argument than the former.
  44. added 2015-02-10
    A Complete Theory of Everything (Will Be Subjective).Marcus Hutter - 2010 - Algorithms 3 (4):329-350.
    Increasingly encompassing models have been suggested for our world. Theories range from generally accepted to increasingly speculative to apparently bogus. The progression of theories from ego- to geo- to helio-centric models to universe and multiverse theories and beyond was accompanied by a dramatic increase in the sizes of the postulated worlds, with humans being expelled from their center to ever more remote and random locations. Rather than leading to a true theory of everything, this trend faces a turning point after (...)
  45. added 2015-02-10
    Cosmology and Inductive Inference: A Bayesian Failure.John D. Norton - unknown
    A probabilistic logic of induction is unable to separate cleanly neutral support from disfavoring evidence (or ignorance from disbelief). Thus, the use of probabilistic representations may introduce spurious results stemming from its expressive inadequacy. That such spurious results arise in the Bayesian “doomsday argument” is shown by a reanalysis that employs fragments of an inductive logic able to represent evidential neutrality. Further, the improper introduction of inductive probabilities is illustrated with the “self-sampling assumption.”.
  46. added 2015-02-10
    Apocalypse Now Does The Matrix: Anthropic Adventures From Doomsday to Simulation.Alasdair Richmond - 2008 - Think 6 (17-18):29-40.
    Following on from Nick Bostrom's discussion of the Doomsday argument, Alasdair Richmond considers how anthropic reasoning can lead from Doomsday to some odd conclusions about computation and our place in reality.
  47. added 2015-02-10
    Anthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy.Nick Bostrom - 2002 - Routledge.
    _Anthropic Bias_ explores how to reason when you suspect that your evidence is biased by "observation selection effects"--that is, evidence that has been filtered by the precondition that there be some suitably positioned observer to "have" the evidence. This conundrum--sometimes alluded to as "the anthropic principle," "self-locating belief," or "indexical information"--turns out to be a surprisingly perplexing and intellectually stimulating challenge, one abounding with important implications for many areas in science and philosophy. There are the philosophical thought experiments and paradoxes: (...)
  48. added 2015-02-10
    Millenarismo secolarizzato e percezione del rischio.Nicola Bruno - 1999 - Etica E Politica 1 (1).
    According to the Carter-Leslie "doomsday argument", the probability of the world ending soon is larger than people think. The argument exploits Bayesian reasoning to compute the posterior probability of the world ending at some near point in the future, given the rank of our generation in the human race, and given assumptions about the prior probability of the world ending at that point. The doomsday argument appears flawed both in its logical structure and in its assumptions about millenaristic beliefs . (...)
  49. added 2015-02-10
    Apocalypse Not Just Now.Mark Greenberg - 1999 - London Review of Books 21 (13):19-22.
    John Leslie comes to tell us that the end of the world is closer than we think. His book is no ordinary millennial manifesto, however. Leslie is a sophisticated philosopher of science, and the source of his message is not divine revelation, apocalyptic fantasy or anxiety about the year-2000 computer problem, but ‘the Doomsday Argument’ – an a priori argument that seeks support in probability..
  50. added 2015-02-10
    A Solution to the Doomsday Argument.P. Franceschi - 1998 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 28 (2):227-246.
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