Infinity in ethics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L138-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2001
Retrieved March 27, 2023, from

Article Summary

Puzzles can arise in ethical theory (as well as decision theory) when infinity is involved. The puzzles arise primarily in theories – such as consequentialist theories – that appeal to the value of actions or states of affairs. One important question is whether one source of value (such as major aesthetic pleasures) can be infinitely more valuable than another (such as minor gustatory pleasures). Another question concerns what morality requires when there is an infinite number of feasible options and no option is maximally valuable. In such cases, morality can demand no more than that we ‘almost maximize’ or (more weakly) that we do enough, or ‘satisfice’. An ethical puzzle can arise when time is infinitely long. Is a state of affairs with two units of value at each time more valuable than a state of affairs with one unit at each time (even though both produce infinite amounts of value)? Other related puzzles can arise when time is finite but infinitely divisible. It should be noted that related puzzles can also arise when probabilities are involved.

    Citing this article:
    Vallentyne, Peter. Infinity in ethics, 2001, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L138-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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