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  1. How Much Should Governments Pay to Prevent Catastrophes? Longtermism's Limited Role.Carl Shulman & Elliott Thornley - forthcoming - In Jacob Barrett, Hilary Greaves & David Thorstad (eds.), Essays on Longtermism. Oxford University Press.
    Longtermists have argued that humanity should significantly increase its efforts to prevent catastrophes like nuclear wars, pandemics, and AI disasters. But one prominent longtermist argument overshoots this conclusion: the argument also implies that humanity should reduce the risk of existential catastrophe even at extreme cost to the present generation. This overshoot means that democratic governments cannot use the longtermist argument to guide their catastrophe policy. In this paper, we show that the case for preventing catastrophe does not depend on longtermism. (...)
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  2. The procreation asymmetry, improvable-life avoidance and impairable-life acceptance.Elliott Thornley - 2023 - Analysis 83 (3):517-526.
    Many philosophers are attracted to a complaints-based theory of the procreation asymmetry, according to which creating a person with a bad life is wrong (all else equal) because that person can complain about your act, whereas declining to create a person who would have a good life is not wrong (all else equal) because that person never exists and so cannot complain about your act. In this paper, I present two problems for such theories: the problem of impairable-life acceptance and (...)
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  3. Critical Levels, Critical Ranges, and Imprecise Exchange Rates in Population Axiology.Elliott Thornley - 2022 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 22 (3):382–414.
    According to Critical-Level Views in population axiology, an extra life improves a population only if that life’s welfare exceeds some fixed ‘critical level.’ An extra life at the critical level leaves the new population equally good as the original. According to Critical-Range Views, an extra life improves a population only if that life’s welfare exceeds some fixed ‘critical range.’ An extra life within the critical range leaves the new population incommensurable with the original. -/- In this paper, I sharpen some (...)
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  4. A dilemma for lexical and Archimedean views in population axiology.Elliott Thornley - 2022 - Economics and Philosophy 38 (3):395-415.
    Lexical views in population axiology can avoid the Repugnant Conclusion without violating Transitivity or Separability. However, they imply a dilemma: either some good life is better than any number of slightly worse lives, or else the ‘at least as good as’ relation on populations is radically incomplete. In this paper, I argue that Archimedean views face an analogous dilemma. I thus conclude that the lexical dilemma gives us little reason to prefer Archimedean views. Even if we give up on lexicality, (...)
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  5. The impossibility of a satisfactory population prospect axiology (independently of Finite Fine-Grainedness).Elliott Thornley - 2021 - Philosophical Studies 178 (11):3671-3695.
    Arrhenius’s impossibility theorems purport to demonstrate that no population axiology can satisfy each of a small number of intuitively compelling adequacy conditions. However, it has recently been pointed out that each theorem depends on a dubious assumption: Finite Fine-Grainedness. This assumption states that there exists a finite sequence of slight welfare differences between any two welfare levels. Denying Finite Fine-Grainedness makes room for a lexical population axiology which satisfies all of the compelling adequacy conditions in each theorem. Therefore, Arrhenius’s theorems (...)
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  6. A Non-Identity Dilemma for Person-Affecting Views.Elliott Thornley - manuscript
    Person-affecting views in population ethics state that (in cases where all else is equal) we’re permitted but not required to create people who would enjoy good lives. In this paper, I present an argument against every possible variety of person-affecting view. The argument takes the form of a dilemma. Narrow person-affecting views must embrace at least one of three implausible verdicts in a case that I call ‘Expanded Non-Identity.’ Wide person-affecting views run into trouble in a case that I call (...)
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  7. The Shutdown Problem: Incomplete Preferences as a Solution.Elliott Thornley - manuscript
    I explain and motivate the shutdown problem: the problem of creating artificial agents that (1) shut down when a shutdown button is pressed, (2) don’t try to prevent or cause the pressing of the shutdown button, and (3) otherwise pursue goals competently. I then propose a solution: train agents to have incomplete preferences. Specifically, I propose that we train agents to lack a preference between every pair of different-length trajectories. I suggest a way to train such agents using reinforcement learning: (...)
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  8. Critical-Set Views, Biographical Identity, and the Long Term.Elliott Thornley - forthcoming - Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
    Critical-set views avoid the Repugnant Conclusion by subtracting some constant from the welfare score of each life in a population. These views are thus sensitive to facts about biographical identity: identity between lives. In this paper, I argue that questions of biographical identity give us reason to reject critical-set views and embrace the total view. I end with a practical implication. If we shift our credences towards the total view, we should also shift our efforts towards ensuring that humanity survives (...)
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  9. The Shutdown Problem: An AI Engineering Puzzle for Decision Theorists.Elliott Thornley - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies.
    I explain the shutdown problem: the problem of designing artificial agents that (1) shut down when a shutdown button is pressed, (2) don’t try to prevent or cause the pressing of the shutdown button, and (3) otherwise pursue goals competently. I prove three theorems that make the difficulty precise. These theorems show that agents satisfying some innocuous-seeming conditions will often try to prevent or cause the pressing of the shutdown button, even in cases where it’s costly to do so. And (...)
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  10. Is global consequentialism more expressive than act consequentialism?Elliott Thornley - 2022 - Analysis 82 (1):75-84.
    Act consequentialism states that an act is right if and only if the expected value of its outcome is at least as great as the expected value of any other act’s outcome. Two objections to this view are as follows. The first is that act consequentialism cannot account for our normative ambivalence in cases where agents perform the right act out of bad motives. The second is that act consequentialism is silent on questions of character: questions like ‘What are the (...)
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  11. The Moral Case for Long-Term Thinking.Hilary Greaves, William MacAskill & Elliott Thornley - forthcoming - In Natalie Cargill & Tyler M. John (eds.), The Long View: Essays on Policy, Philanthropy, and the Long-Term Future. London: FIRST. pp. 19-28.
    This chapter makes the case for strong longtermism: the claim that, in many situations, impact on the long-run future is the most important feature of our actions. Our case begins with the observation that an astronomical number of people could exist in the aeons to come. Even on conservative estimates, the expected future population is enormous. We then add a moral claim: all the consequences of our actions matter. In particular, the moral importance of what happens does not depend on (...)
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  12.  41
    Erratum to: Is global consequentialism more expressive than act consequentialism?Elliott Thornley - 2022 - Analysis 82 (2):299-299.
  13. Papers in Population Ethics.Elliott Thornley - 2023 - Dissertation, University of Oxford
    This thesis consists of a series of papers in population ethics: a subfield of normative ethics concerned with the distinctive issues that arise in cases where our actions can affect the identities or number of people of who ever exist. Each paper can be read independently of the others. In Chapter 1, I present a dilemma for Archimedean views in population axiology: roughly, those views on which adding enough good lives to a population can make that population better than any (...)
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