Pascal's Mugger Strikes Again

Utilitas 33 (1):118-124 (2021)
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In a well-known paper, Nick Bostrom presents a confrontation between a fictionalised Blaise Pascal and a mysterious mugger. The mugger persuades Pascal to hand over his wallet by exploiting Pascal's commitment to expected utility maximisation. He does so by offering Pascal an astronomically high reward such that, despite Pascal's low credence in the mugger's truthfulness, the expected utility of accepting the mugging is higher than rejecting it. In this article, I present another sort of high value, low credence mugging. This time, the mugger utilises research on existential risk and the long-term potential of humanity to exploit Pascal's expected-utility-maximising descendant. This mugging is more insidious than Bostrom's original as it relies on plausible facts about the long-term future, as well as realistic credences about how our everyday actions could, albeit with infinitesimally low likelihood, affect the future of humanity.

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Dylan Balfour
University of Edinburgh

Citations of this work

Decision theory and de minimis risk.Martin Smith - forthcoming - Erkenntnis:1-24.

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Pascal's mugging.Nick Bostrom - 2009 - Analysis 69 (3):443-445.

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