Hein Berdinesen: Contractualism, consequentialism and future generations

In modern moral philosophy, appealing to so-called considered intuitions or beliefs remains a central part of accepted methodology. One tests a theory through thought experiments, paradoxes, or examples generating considered beliefs; if a claim cannot fulfill the requirements the results provided by the thought experiments, paradoxes or examples, this is considered sufficient reason for rejecting it. In other words: in order to justify a theory it must by necessity (in addition to being internally consistent) be consistent with considered beliefs. Any moral theory attempts to find a reflexive equilibrium between the two levels of intuition and theory, but this has up to date been a major challenge in the problem of future generations. I approach this challenge on the basis of the so-called Non-Identity Problem, which has been central in intergenerational ethics for a long time. It suggests that the indeterminate identity of future persons makes difficult a rights-based consistent claim that we have a responsibility for their well-being.

Keywords: Contractualism, Consequentialism, Future Generations, the Non-Identity Problem, Parfit, Rawls, Kumar, Harming, Wrongdoing