When faced with a choice, cost-benefit analysis asks:
- What are the possible outcomes?
- Who benefits and who is harmed in each of these outcomes?
- How much is the benefit or harm in each case?
(Sometimes the harm might be multi-dimensional — measured in money, health, outrage, opinions about what happens to others, & more. But you ultimately must reduce all of that to an actionable ranking of alternatives — mathematically, a total order ⪰.)
- What is the likelihood of each outcome?
This is a pretty reasonable way of doing things, I think. It lays out why hard choices are so hard.
(Should I harm this one in order to aid this one? Is it better to do this kind of harm, or that kind of harm? Etc.) I’ll write more about cost-benefit analysis, Pareto optimality, and morals another time.