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Suppose we want to do the most good we can with a particular sum of money, but we cannot be certain of the consequences of different ways of making use of it. This article explores how our attitudes towards risk and ambiguity bear on what we should do. It shows that risk-avoidance and ambiguity-aversion can each provide good reason to divide our money between various charitable organizations rather than to give it all to the most promising one. It also shows how different attitudes towards risk and ambiguity affect whether we should give to an organization which does a small amount of good for certain or to one which does a large amount of good with some small or unknown probability.
The good of those who are worse off matters more to the overall good than the good of those who are better off does. But being worse off than one’s fellows is not itself bad; nor is inequality itself bad; nor do differences in well-being matter more when well-being is lower in an absolute sense. Instead, the good of the relatively worse-off weighs more heavily in the overall good than the good of the relatively better-off does, in virtue of the fact that the former are relatively worse off. This paper articulates and defends the view just described.
I have claimed that risk-weighted expected utility (REU) maximizers are rational, and that their preferences cannot be captured by expected utility (EU) theory. Richard Pettigrew and Rachael Briggs have recently challenged these claims. Both authors argue that only EU-maximizers are rational. In addition, Pettigrew argues that the preferences of REU-maximizers can indeed be captured by EU theory, and Briggs argues that REU-maximizers lose a valuable tool for simplifying their decision problems. I hold that their arguments do not succeed and that my original claims still stand. However, their arguments do highlight some costs of REU theory.