The Myth of Inter-generational Justice

OXFORD: "Why do anything for posterity?" is an old rhetorical question, usually followed by "after all, posterity has never done anything for us." This supposedly absolves us from obligations to future generations. The opposite view is held by many social and environmental activists. We must respect the "rights" of future generations, they say, we must take account of their interests in accordance with the dictates of some principles of justice.

The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between. Future generations do not have any rights, but this does not absolve us from moral constraints on those of our policies that may affect their interests.

The reason why unborn people do not have any rights is that unborn people do not have anything. They do not have legs, or hair, or a taste for Mozart. They are not here; they do not exist; period. Unborn people should not be thought of as some special class waiting in the wings for the cue to bring them onstage.

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