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Discussion Paper

Intergenerational Justice when Future Worlds Are Uncertain

Suppose that there exists a positive (exogenous) probability that at each date of a possibly infinite future, the human species will disappear. We postulate an Ethical Observer (EO) who must solve an intertemporal welfare maximization problem under this kind of uncertainty, with preferences that satisfy the expected utility hypothesis. Various social welfare criteria are expressed as alternative von Neumann-Morgenstern utility functions for the EO: utilitarianism, Rawlsianism, and an extension of the latter that corrects for the size of population.