Sacrificing the Patrol: Utilitarianism, Future Generations and Infinity

Economics and Philosophy 13 (2):159-174 (1997)
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Abstract

Many people believe that we have responsibility towards the distant future, but exactly how far this responsibility reaches and how we can find a reasonable ethical foundation for it has not been answered in any definitive manner. Future people have no power over us, they form no part of our moral community and it is unclear how we can represent them in a possible original position. All these problems can be circumvented when you take an impersonal decision criterion like maximizing total or average utility. Such a sum-ranking criterion is neutral with respect to distance in time or space: my utility, my neighbour's and that of our descendants all carry the same weight. This makes future people an integral part of present decisions. Time-neutrality was defended by, among others, Sidgwick, Pigou and Ramsey.

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References found in this work

The methods of ethics.Henry Sidgwick - 1874 - Bristol, U.K.: Thoemmes Press. Edited by Emily Elizabeth Constance Jones.
Utilitarianism: For and Against.J. J. C. Smart & Bernard Williams - 1973 - Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Bernard Williams.
Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong.Fred Feldman & J. L. Mackie - 1979 - Philosophical Review 88 (1):134.
The Methods of Ethics.Henry Sidgwick - 1890 - International Journal of Ethics 1 (1):120-121.

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