Economics and Philosophy 33 (3):441-473 (2017)

J. Paul Kelleher
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Several areas of welfare economics seek to evaluate states of affairs as a function of interpersonally comparable individual utilities. The aim is to map each state of affairs onto a vector of individual utilities, and then to produce an ordering of these vectors that can be represented by a mathematical function assigning a real number to each. When this approach is used in intertemporal contexts, a central theoretical question concerns the evaluative weight to be applied to utility coming at different times. This question concerns the rate of pure time preference, which is one key determinant of the social discount rate. This article argues that the standard philosophical account of pure time preference is mistaken, because it ascribes to economists a methodological commitment they need not, and often do not, accept. This in turn undercuts the most common philosophical objection to pure time preference, which traces at least to Rawls’s A Theory of Justice. The article then evaluates three further objections to pure time preference, concluding that it might still be defensible under certain circumstances. The article closes by articulating a final argument that is suggested by the “Social, Economic and Ethical Concepts and Methods” chapter of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. If this further argument is sound, it would constitute a decisive objection to pure time preference as it currently figures in much intertemporal welfare economics.
Keywords Discounting  welfare economics  climate change
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DOI 10.1017/S0266267117000074
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References found in this work BETA

Weighing Lives.John Broome - 2004 - Oxford University Press.
Consequentialize This.Campbell Brown - 2011 - Ethics 121 (4):749-771.

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Citations of this work BETA

Principled Utility Discounting Under Risk.Kian Mintz-Woo - 2019 - Moral Philosophy and Politics 6 (1):89-112.
Time Discounting, Consistency, and Special Obligations: A Defence of Robust Temporalism.Harry R. Lloyd - 2021 - Global Priorities Institute, Working Papers 2021 (11):1-38.
What Do Climate Change Winners Owe, and to Whom?Kian Mintz-Woo & Justin Leroux - forthcoming - Economics and Philosophy:1-22.
The Social Cost of Carbon From Theory to Trump.J. Paul Kelleher - forthcoming - In Ravi Kanbur & Henry Shue (eds.), Climate Justice: Integrating Economics and Philosophy. Oxford University Press.

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