Why should we care about anyone other than ourselves, or people who don’t even exist? Some ethical theories:

Duty or rule-based / deontological ethics

At least some acts are morally obligatory regardless of their consequences for human welfare, e g, “Duty for duty's sake,” “Virtue is its own reward,” and “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”

-       Kantian: universalisable - act only according to that maxim by which you can also will that it would become a universal law; act in such a way that you always treat humanity, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end

-       Divine command theory: most religions have a version, e g the 10 commandments...

Utilitarianism: determines right from wrong by focusing on outcomes, consequences. Utilitarianism holds that the most ethical choice is the one that will produce the greatest good or greatest happiness for the greatest number. Variations: Rule Utilitarianism; Negative Utilitarianism

Existentialism: the philosophical belief we are each responsible for creating purpose or meaning in our own lives. Our individual purpose and meaning is not given to us by Gods, governments, teachers or other authorities.

Intuitionism: the belief that there are objective moral truths in life and that human beings can understand these truths intuitively.

Virtue ethics: an action is only right if it is an action that a virtuous person would carry out in the same circumstances; a virtuous person is a person who acts virtuously; a person acts virtuously if they "possess and live the virtues needed to live well”.


Pros and cons of each? Application to future generations?

Should the fact that future generations are likely to outnumber present generations (unless something goes terribly wrong on our planet) influence our thinking? 

How predictable are the desires of future generations?

Further reading


Simon Blackburn Ethics A Very Short Introduction

Nigel Warburton Philosophy The Basics

Julian Baggini Ethics The Big Questions

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ climate-change apology to his future great-great-granddaughter - https://time.com/collection/earth-awards-2023/6272884/antonio-guterres-climate-change-apology-great-great-granddaughter/