Valuing the "afterlife"

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Topoi-An International Review of Philosophy

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To what extent do we value future generations? It may seem from our behavior that we don’t value future generations much at all, at least in relation to how much we value present generations. However, in his book Death and the Afterlife, Samuel Scheffler argues that we value the future even more than we value the present, even though this is not immediately apparent to us. If Scheffler’s argument is sound, then it has important ramifications: It would give us a strong motivation to put more energy into abating environmental crises like climate change, and it supports at least a limited form of ethical longtermism. However, in this paper, I show that Scheffler’s argument is fallacious. Scheffler claims that we do not regard the fact that we in the present generation will all die relatively soon as a catastrophe, but we do regard the non-existence of future generations as a catastrophe. But the particular scenario used by Scheffler to illustrate this point—the plot of the book The Children of Men—is one in which both the present generation will perish and there will be no future generations, and it is this conjunction that is catastrophic, thus giving no information about which is worse. I suggest other ways to compare our valuations of present and future generations, and recommend that philosophers who are interested in the moral psychology of how we value future generations ought to engage with social science, as it is an empirical issue.



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