The first of the three 2015 Annual Uehiro Lectures 'Why Worry About Future Generations'. Why should we care about what happens to human beings in the future, after we ourselves are long gone?
Most of us who live in contemporary liberal societies lack a rich set of evaluative resources for thinking about the human beings who will come after us. We do not possess a highly developed set of ideas about the value of human continuity, or about the values we hope will be realized in the future, or about the values and norms that should inform our own activities insofar as they affect future generations or depend on the expectation that there will be future generations. Yet we are hardly indifferent to the fate of our successors, and it is not uncommon for issues like climate change that implicate our attitudes toward the future to generate passionate interest and intense controversy. Much of the philosophical literature dealing with future generations focuses on issues of moral responsibility and approaches these issues from a broadly utilitarian perspective, devoting special attention to the puzzles of “population ethics”. In this lecture, I explain why I take a different approach. Rather than focusing exclusively on issues of moral responsibility, I want to consider the broader question of how future generations feature in or are related to our practical and evaluative thought as a whole. My aim is to explore the evaluative commitments that may be latent in our existing attitudes and may help to enrich our thinking about the significance that future generations have for us.