The Relatively Infinite Value of the Environment

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 95 (2):328-353 (2017)
Some environmental ethicists and economists argue that attributing infinite value to the environment is a good way to represent an absolute obligation to protect it. Others argue against modelling the value of the environment in this way: the assignment of infinite value leads to immense technical and philosophical difficulties that undermine the environmentalist project. First, there is a problem of discrimination: saving a large region of habitat is better than saving a small region; yet if both outcomes have infinite value, then decision theory prescribes indifference. Second, there is a problem of swamping probabilities: an act with a small but positive probability of saving an endangered species appears to be on par with an act that has a high probability of achieving this outcome, since both have infinite expected value. Our paper shows that a relative concept of infinite value can be meaningfully defined, and provides a good model for securing the priority of the natural environment while avoiding the failures noted by sceptics about infinite value. Our claim is not that the relative infinity utility model gets every detail correct, but rather that it provides a rigorous philosophical framework for thinking about decisions affecting the environment.
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Reprint years 2017
DOI 10.1080/00048402.2016.1182196
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