Social Choice and Welfare

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 79–88 | Cite as

Should we be very cautious or extremely cautious on measures that may involve our destruction?

On the finiteness of our expected welfare
  • Y.-K. Ng


For decisions (e.g. nuclear power development, environmental protection, genetic engineering) that may affect the probabilities of the continued survival of the human race, whether we should be very cautious or extremely cautious (defined as refusing to undertake anything that may reduce our survival probabilities) depends on whether our expected welfare is finite or infinite. If it is infinite, a paradox arises in the trade-off between our own expected welfare and that of future generations, since a small fraction (probability change) of infinity is still infinite. However, limitations on population size and average welfare suggest a finite expected welfare but the possibility of transforming our own selves perhaps by genetic engineering increases our expected welfare tremendously but still finite.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Chipman JS (1960) The foundation of utility. Econometrica 28: 193–224Google Scholar
  2. Hawking SW (1988) A brief history of time. Bantam, LondonGoogle Scholar
  3. Ng Y-K (1983a) Welfare economics: introduction and development of basic concepts, 2nd Edn., Macmillan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  4. Ng Y-K (1983b) Some broader issues of social choice. In: Pattanaik PK, Salles M (eds). Social choice and welfare. North-Holland, Amsterdam, pp. 151–174Google Scholar
  5. Ng Y-K (1984) Expected subjective utility: Is the Neumann-Morgenstern utility the same as the Neoclassicals'? Soc Choice Welfare 1: 177–186Google Scholar
  6. Ng Y-K (1986) On the welfare economics of population control. Popul Develop Rev 12: 247–266Google Scholar
  7. Ng Y-K (1989) What should we do about future generations? The impossibility of Parfit's Theory X. Econ Philos 5: 135–253Google Scholar
  8. Ng Y-K (1990) Utilitarianism and interpersonal comparison: some implications of a materialist solution to the world knot (typescript)Google Scholar
  9. Ng Y-K (forthcoming) Welfarism and utilitarianism: a rehabilitation (Utilitas)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Y.-K. Ng
    • 1
  1. 1.Monash UniversityClaytonAustralia

Personalised recommendations