Future generations

What moral obligations do we have towards future generations – to people who are yet to be born, and to merely possible people whose existence (or non-existence) depends on how we decide to act now? In this module we explore this question in detail by examining both a series of case studies and some of the main concepts and theories that philosophers use when thinking about these issues

Question considered normally include:

• Is there a moral obligation to refrain from having children (e.g. for environmental reasons) and what measures may governments take to encourage or enforce population control? Conversely, might there be a moral obligation to have (more) children?

• Should we use selection techniques to minimise the incidence of genetic disorders and disabilities in future populations? Should parents be allowed to use these techniques to determine the characteristics of their future children?

• How should we weigh quality against quantity of life? Would a world with a relatively small number of ‘happier’ people be preferable to one with many more ‘less happy’ ones?

• When considering long-term environmental issues (e.g. climate change, nuclear power) and long-term financial issues (e.g. national debt and pensions) how should we balance the interests and rights of people who exist now against those of future people?

• When considering the future, how should the interests of non-human creatures be weighed against those of humans? How strong are our moral obligations to prevent extinctions, and to preserve wildernesses? Would considerably extending the human life span (to 150 years or beyond) be defensible if this meant that fewer ‘new’ people could be born?