Decisions about climate change, pension systems and other long-term issues affect not only the present but also future generations. Among the difficult questions raised by such intergenerational decisions, the following stands out as particularly controversial: how can the method of time discounting be applied to intergenerational decisions? In an intergenerational context, time discounting is the method of weighting costs and benefits to future generations less than those to the present one. This method is widely employed in public policy decisions with a large time-scale. Famously, there is widespread disagreement about intergenerational discounting, in particular about its social scientific foundations and its conceptual and ethical justification. This project in the philosophy of economics seeks to develop sound foundations for intergenerational discounting by employing approaches in measurement theory from philosophy of science, such as the representational theory of measurement. The project asks what kind of qualitative concepts a discounting factor expresses and under which conditions it is well founded.
The proposed research has four objectives. Firstly, the project will provide general axiomatic foundations for intergenerational discounting, outlining the conditions that have to be met in order to establish discounting factors. Secondly, the project will assess conceptual motivations for intergenerational discounting that have been put forward in the literature on the social discount rate on the basis of the general axiomatic foundations, such as those that appeal to pure time preference, uncertainty, and the growth rate. Thirdly, the project will examine to what extent a distinction between facts and values can be upheld in intergenerational discounting, determining the scope of value-free discounting. Fourthly, these results will be applied to the current debates in economics and public policy about intergenerational discounting and climate change.
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