It is a basic assumption we should care about the future. Fossil fuels, green energy, deforestation, protecting endangered species, resource conservation, financial savings, healthcare, transformative education, and the development and use of biological, chemical, and nuclear weaponry not only can affect present generations but future ones too. But do we have ethical duties to future generations? If so, do these include rights to certain goods and resources? if so, in what amounts?
Moreover, what do we mean by “future generations?” This term alone is ambiguous. Do we mean immediate future only like grandchildren? What about the remote future such as descendants hundreds of years from now? Do we mean all human beings who will ever exist from this present moment forward or all human beings who will exist after everyone is now alive is dead?
Now, egoists believe we have no ethical duties to future generations because we have no ethical duties (or at least no direct ethical duties) to other people as well). We are incurably self-interested, and thus, the only ethical duty anyone ever has is to seek his or her own long-term self-interest and advantage.
Others claim that we do not have any ethical duties to future generations because, on religious grounds, the world will soon come to an end. I’ve heard it expressed this way, “Why polish the ship if we know it is going down?”
Some claim future generations cannot have rights, since only existing things can have rights, and future generations do not exist. This is called “the non-existence argument.”
Still, others contend it is impossible to know what sorts of conditions future generations might want or need, or even whether the human race will still exist in the remote future-thus making it meaningless to talk of duties to future generations. This is labeled as the “ignorance argument.”
Even though some will reject the non-existence argument and the ignorant argument, they do embrace what is described as the “different-people argument.” Proponents of this position argue that people in the distant future can’t be harmed by our actions today because those people wouldn’t even have existed if we had taken different actions. It is sorta like the Butterfly Effect or if you like Sci-fi storylines involving “time-change.” What we do in history will cause different things to happen in the future.
For example, if it were not for World War II, we would not have the “Baby Boomer” generation. Or let’s say the United States refuses for the next 25 years to delay in fighting climate change. Consequently, by not addressing climate change now, the US becomes a leading cause of a massive sea-level rise in 2450 AD. In other words, the policy of delay caused massive consequences in 2450 AD. But, many if not all of the people alive on the plant in 2450 AD would not have even existed if the US had adopted a different policy. How, then, could the US have harmed them?
QUESTION: From our study of existentialism, what does it mean (a) “to live in existence” and how does that correlate with the (b) existential notion of free will, (c) personal accountability, and (d) the presence of angst? Be sure to mention the major contributions of existential thinkers like Soren Kierkegaard, John-Paul Sarte, and Albert Camus in your writing. ( 6 to 7 paragraphs needed.)
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