What ethical obligations, if any, do we have to the people of the future? This piece from Philosophy Now (UK) argues that we do need to weigh the consequences of our actions on future people, regardless of the ethical framework we invoke.
"Must we take future people into account when judging the rightness or wrongness of our actions? In some ways it seems a bit absurd to be concerned about people who don’t exist. For example, we don’t fret about what deforestation will do to the local (non-existent) hobbit population. Because hobbits do not exist, nothing we do would affect them. Yet it seems to me that there’s a crucial difference between a non-existent hobbit and a not-yet-existent human being: the former will never exist, whereas the latter (probably) will. As such, future human beings belong to a special class of not-existent entities. We could call this class ‘pending subjects’, and define them roughly as a group of people who would deserve ethical consideration if they existed, and in all likelihood will exist someday. ... I suggest that we must take future subjects into account regardless of the ethical system we use. Here I will distinguish two main categories of ethical systems: deontology and consequentialism. A deontological system is any ethical system which believes that actions can be inherently right or wrong regardless of their consequences. For example, a deontologist might suppose that because we have a duty to always tell the truth, lying is never permissible, even in extreme circumstances. A consequentialist system, on the other hand, is a system in which the consequences of one’s actions are the main concern for ethical evaluation, taking precedence over either the actions themselves or the intentions for performing them. ... I wish to demonstrate that both of these ways are inherently concerned with future subjects."
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