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Can discounting be justified?
by Dieter Birnbacher
International Journal of Sustainable Development (IJSD), Vol. 6, No. 1, 2003


Abstract: Discounting is a problem because of the striking discrepancy between, on the one hand, its impact on the results of economic cost–benefit analyses and, in consequence, on economic and political planning, and, on the other, its doubtful rational and moral justification. Starting from the diagnosis that the controversy about discounting suffers from considerable intransparency, the paper makes an attempt to structure the debate by distinguishing four main types of discounting and by assessing the philosophical merits and demerits of the arguments on both sides. While utility discounting is criticised, on a principle level, with arguments familiar from the philosophical tradition from Epicurus to Parfit, it is cautiously defended, on a consequentialist line of reasoning, as a pragmatic option suited to a world of limited altruism.

Online publication date: Mon, 05-Apr-2004


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