Presentation on theme: "Obligations to Distant People and Future Generations Based on Kernohan, A. (2012). Environmental ethics: An interactive introduction. Buffalo, NY: Broadview."— Presentation transcript:
Obligations to Distant People and Future Generations Based on Kernohan, A. (2012). Environmental ethics: An interactive introduction. Buffalo, NY: Broadview Press, Chapters 9 & 10. Prepared by D. G. Ross, Auburn University. Images copyright D. G. Ross, unless otherwise noted.
Do we have an obligation to people outside of our own national borders? Do we have an obligation to future generations? What does that obligation—if it exists—entail? Both of these questions ask us to once again consider the question of moral standing. To whom (or what) do we accord moral standing? D. G. Ross, Auburn University
Is physical distance relevant to our consideration of ethics? Should it be? D. G. Ross, Auburn University Do we only have—as libertarian philosophers have argued—a correlative duty toward negative rights of distant people, or do we owe them positive rights as well? Is nationality a morally arbitrary feature?
Kernohan suggests a model of “expanding circles of ethical concern” (p. 115). D. G. Ross, Auburn University Ecosystems Species Living Things Animals Future People Distant People Nearby People Self Chart modified from Kernohan p. 115
Including distant people leads to a model Garret Hardin equates to “living on a lifeboat.” Garret Hardin’s “Living on a Lifeboat” suggests that people living in rich nations should not help people living in poor nations as doing so would negatively impact the quality of life of those in rich nations. Hardin writes: If we divide the world crudely into rich nations and poor nations, two thirds of them are desperately poor, and only one third comparatively rich, with the United States the wealthiest of all. Metaphorically each rich nation can be seen as a lifeboat full of comparatively rich people. In the ocean outside each lifeboat swim the poor of the world, who would like to get in, or at least to share some of the wealth. What should the lifeboat passengers do? First, we must recognize the limited capacity of any lifeboat. For example, a nation's land has a limited capacity to support a population and as the current energy crisis has shown us, in some ways we have already exceeded the carrying capacity of our land. (http://www.garretthardinsociety.org/articles/art_lifeboat_ethics_case_against_helping_poor.html, par. 4 – 5)http://www.garretthardinsociety.org/articles/art_lifeboat_ethics_case_against_helping_poor.html D. G. Ross, Auburn University
Is the lifeboat analogy accurate? What if we conceptualize our own class as a lifeboat. Half of us are in the boat, and enough supplies to be comfortable. The rest are drowning. We can take half of those left on board, but our supplies will be drastically decreased, and, the longer we’re at sea, the less comfortable we’ll be. Do we take our full capacity? (Half of those left drowning, leaving the rest to their own devices.) If we do, how do we choose? If not, why not? What do we do? D. G. Ross, Auburn University
As Peter Singer offers, are we morally/ethically obligated to reduce our own comfort in order to elevate the comfort of those in need? He writes: […] if I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing. (1972, p. 231) Singer, P. (1972). Famine, affluence, and morality. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1, pp. 229 – 243. D. G. Ross, Auburn University
How is it not possible to help someone who is obviously in need? Study of the public stabbing death of Kitty Genovese (1964) has led to what is now known as the “Bystander Effect” or the “Genovese Effect.” Watch/Discuss: vbw vbw D. G. Ross, Auburn University
Kernohan outlines the Temporal Location Argument as one of the difficulties to suggesting that future generations have natural rights: 1.Correlative duties are always direct duties to some particular person. 2.If a particular person does not exist, then we cannot have duties to him or her. 3.Future people do not exist. 4.Therefore, agents have no correlative duties to future people. (Kernohan 2012, p. 127) D. G. Ross, Auburn University
Similarly, the Disappearing Beneficiaries Argument suggests that any actions we take towards the future change the future, thus, planning for the future is impossible, as our actions re-shape it. As a result, we have no correlative duties to future peoples because they not only do not exist, but we can also not plan for a particular “type” of person/peoples. D. G. Ross, Auburn University
Two other considerations of future generations involve the repugnant conclusion and the concept of a discount rate. The “Repugnant Conclusion” (posited by Derek Parfit), suggests that total utilitarianism implies that increasing aggregate happiness is good. Thus, adding a human life, so long as that life results in any small amount of happiness, even if doing so slightly decreases the value of others’ happiness ultimately increases total aggregate happiness. If we follow this trend long enough, we end up with a high total aggregate amount of happiness, though a very, very low level of personal happiness. Thoughts? Discount Rate: the theory that we try to make the minimum investment now for the largest possible outcome later—this theory is dependent on our belief that “value” (whatever that may be) will increase over time. D. G. Ross, Auburn University
Regardless of possibilities, is it ethical for us to agree that, no matter who (or what) inhabits the planet in the future, they will need clean air and water, plentiful food sources, and a livable climate? D. G. Ross, Auburn University We will preserve this for your children’s children’s children.