, Volume 82, Issue 5, pp 1065–1084 | Cite as

Sustainability and the Infinite Future: A Case Study of a False Modeling Assumption in Environmental Economics

  • Daniel Steel
Original Research


This essay examines the issue of false assumptions in models via a case study of a prominent economic model of sustainable development, wherein the assumption of an infinite future plays a central role. Two proposals are found to be helpful for this case, one based on the concept of derivational robustness and the other on understanding. Both suggest that the assumption of an infinite future, while arguably legitimate in some applications of the model, is problematic with respect to what I call “Parfitian” welfare functions. This result is relevant to debates about discounting the future in economics and environmental ethics.


Discount Rate Environmental Ethic False Assumption Infinite Population Utility Stream 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I would like to thank Paul Bartha, Kareem Khalifa, Eric Schliesser, David Silver, Sean Valles, as well as audience members at the 2016 Philosophy of Social Science Roundtable and the 2016 Descartes Lectures at Tilburg University for helpful commentary and suggestions on earlier versions of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied EthicsUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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