What are our obligations towards generations?
If you do not mind, I would like to set aside the concepts of morality for a moment and look at the material facts.
An important material fact is that future desires have no ability to reach back through time. Future generations have no capacity to alter our interests - to make us into the type of people who will consider their welfare.
If our interests are not already in harmony with the interests of future generations, then the only people who can alter our current interests are those living at this time with us. The only way they can be motivated to bring our interests into alignment with future generations is if they already have a reason to do so.
The interests in the well-being of future generations has to be found in the present if they are going to have any effect at all on behavior.
If it is the case that, among humans, nobody has an interest in future generations, and nobody has a reason to promote an interest in future generations, then future generations are simply out of luck. That population will necessarily just shrug when the question of future generations comes up, and then change the subject to something they actually care about.
The only question that makes any practical sense is the question of whether we have an interest, or whether we have reason to create an interest, in the well-being of future generations.
Another material fact is that we do - many of us - have an interest in the well-being of future generations. Nature has given it to us in the form of an interest in the welfare of our children. Our interest in our children implies an interest in the well-being of their children - at the very least because it will be important to our children. Our interest in our friends implies an interest in the welfare of their children and grand children.
People with an interest in the well-being of future generations have reason to promote compatible interests in others. That is to say, they have reason to use rewards such as praise and punishments such as condemnation to promote interests in others that will serve the interests of future generations.
Furthermore, even without a regard for the interests of future generations, we have reason to promote in others a set of concern that will serve the interests of future generations. This is because we have reason to promote kindness and compassion in others towards people in the present - people such as ourselves, our friends and family, and our existing children. We have reason to make others averse to causing pain - an aversion that will make them reluctant to cause us pain, to cause pain to our friends and family, and to existing children. These desires and aversions will almost certainly impact people as they consider the effects of their actions on people not yet born.
We can get into a long discussion as to the degree to which we currently have reasons to promote interests in others compatible with the well-being of future generations.
However, if we were to claim that the interests of future generations have a built in ought-to-be-consideredness that compels us to consider those interests no matter what, we would be making a mistake. This claim simply is not true. There is no "ought to be consideredness" built into any desire - past, present, or future.
If a person wants others to act in a way that is compatible with the interests of future generations, here is one way to do this. (1) Give others an interest in doing that which is intrinsically right and an aversion to that which is intrinsically wrong, then (2) convince them that that it is intrinsically right to consider the interests of future generations and intrinsically wrong to fail to do so.
Similarly, one can (1) Give others a desire to serve God and an aversion to not doing so, and (2) convince them that God demands that they consider the interests of future generations.
Both of these courses of action will motivate people to act in ways that consider the interests of future generations. However, the usefulness of particular stories in molding the behavior of others does not make the stories true. No intrinsic value, and no divine value, exists as a matter of fact. The only thing that exists are current desires. Even future desires do not exist - at least not yet.
All of this leads to one simple and relevant facts. The interests in making current behavior compatible with the interests of future generations have to be found in the present. If they do not exist in the present, future generations are simply out of luck.
Sunday, December 27, 2015
What are our obligations towards generations?
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 10:30 AM