Justice for Future Generations


Convenors:  Elizabeth Finneron-Burns and Erik Magnusson

Intergenerational ethics is of great practical importance and theoretical complexity. John Rawls said it subjects any ethical theory to ‘severe if not impossible tests’ and Brian Barry once called it ‘mind-bending.’ We continue to use up non-renewable resources at a high rate, the world’s population has been growing steadily, and we are pushing advances in the development of reproductive technologies. Such policies affect who exists in the future, how many people (if any) exist, and the quality of their lives. The workshop will bring scholars together to discuss what morality requires from us with respect to future people.


We would welcome discussion along the following broad themes:


(1)   Procreative Justice

One way we affect future people’s lives is by causing them to exist with excellent, average, or miserable lives. The issue could be approached from the perspective of the well-being of person being created, or the rights of the person choosing to reproduce. In the former case, papers could address whether or not we can harm or benefit by procreating, or whether the anti-natalist thesis (i.e. that procreation is all-things-considered wrong) is defensible. Or, they could examine whether it is possible to resolve the asymmetry problem wherein it is wrong to knowingly create a person with a miserable life, but it is not likewise morally required to create a person who will have an excellent life. For the latter, papers could ask if there is a duty or right to procreate, and if so, what is the nature of that duty/right? They could also ask whether we have special obligations to the children we create, and if so, how the content of those obligations might be arrived at. Additionally, papers might consider whether procreation is a special case, or whether procreative decision-making implicates certain values or other moral considerations that make it different than other types of future-regarding action.


(2)   Obligations to Future Generations

This theme explores obligations of justice to future people. Papers could take a number of approaches. They could seek to justify the existence of such obligations on the basis of future people’s rights-claims, utility, or through an extension of a social contract, for example. Or, they could try to fill in the content of those obligations—are they to ensure future people are better off than current people, or simply to ensure they have enough to live minimally decent lives? Underpinning these issues is the non-identity problem, which some see as a crushing blow to any attempt at resolving the question of intergenerational justice. Papers offering potential solutions to this problem would be welcome.


(3)   Ethical Considerations

Some issues are not strictly speaking matters of justice, but rather, of ethics or morality. For example, painlessly causing the extinction of the human race may be seen to be a bad thing since it deprives people of the pleasures of existing, but it would not wrong anyone in particular. What values are at play in our assessment that it would be a shame if there were no more human beings? Papers may approach this question by considering the role the ‘collective afterlife’ (Scheffler, 2013) plays in our lives. Is it even coherent to conceive of possible people’s interests, and if so, should they be taken into account when determining what to do?


(4)   Policy Issues

We also welcome papers that reflect on substantive policy issues in light of the philosophical questions raised above. Particular issues that are relevant to the topic at hand are climate change mitigation, natural resource depletion, debt accumulation and repayment, procreative autonomy, and the development, use, and provision of assisted reproductive technologies.

Please send abstracts (max. 500 words) to manceptfuturegenerations2014@gmail.com by June 15, 2014.