Diachronic Choice in Ethics




Lernpass, Chris

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This thesis builds on a rich body of work in decision theory, and on recently emerging work in normative ethics to discuss how a range of popular moral theories extend to decisions that unfold in a series of choices over time. We will see that such diachronic choices give us a good testing ground for moral theories. In some cases, I will argue that the implications of a given theory in the diachronic setting give us good reasons to reject that theory. In other cases, reflection on the implications of a given theory in diachronic choices gives us a better understanding of that theory, and of the costs that come with accepting it. Chapter 1 is an introduction with two aims. The first one is to provide context for the thesis. The second is to give a short summary of each subsequent chapter. Chapter 2 presents an objection to the Ex Ante Complaint Model, which provides a nonconsequentialist account of how to resolve risky interpersonal tradeoffs. The guiding idea of the Ex Ante Complaint Model is that any objection that an individual may raise against a risky act is based in the prospect that the act gives to the individual before it is chosen. I argue that this Model has unacceptable implications when it is applied to decisions that unfold in a sequence of choices over time. Chapter 3 presents a more general version of the argument from Chapter 2 that also applies to Complaints-Based Views beyond the Ex Ante Complaint Model. The guiding idea of Complaints-Based Views is that the moral permissibility of an act depends on the complaints that the people affected can raise against it. Many Complaints-Based Views subscribe to the idea that no person has a complaint against an act if the act gives each person affected a prospect that is at least as good as the prospect of any other act. I argue that Complaints-Based Views that subscribe to this idea have unacceptable implications when they are applied to decisions that unfold in a sequence of choices over time. Chapter 4 discusses diachronic objections to Weak Nonaggregationism, which is a family of moral views on the interpersonal aggregation of harms. Critics have argued that it must be rejected due to its implications in decisions that unfold in a series of choices over time. This chapter outlines and defends an extension of Weak Nonaggregationism to diachronic choices that resists these otherwise damaging objections. Chapter 5 explores how views in the ethics of procreation that satisfy two intuitively compelling claims apply to decisions that unfold in a series of choices over time. The first of these claims is the Saving vs Creating Asymmetry: other things equal, we have significantly stronger moral reasons to save or extend lives than to bring happy people into existence. The second claim is the Procreation Asymmetry: there are moral reasons not to create miserable people but, other things equal, no moral reasons to create happy people. Considered independently, both asymmetries are intuitively compelling. Moreover, they also form a very natural combination of claims. However, I will show that views that satisfy both asymmetries have bad implications in choices that unfold in a series of decisions over time. This, I argue, gives us strong reasons to reject such views. Chapter 6 concerns the ethics of supererogation. A question about supererogation that has garnered some attention recently is: how much discretion does morality give us to act sub-optimally when we go beyond what is required of us? In this chapter, I discuss a moderate answer to this question, which holds that we have limited discretion to act sub-optimally when do more than what is required of us. I explore how this moderate view may be extended to diachronic choices, and what implications these extensions may have for the ethics of charitable giving.






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