During my college days, between playing Hearts, going to the movies and actually studying for exams I spent many late nights hanging around with classmates taking seriously our generation’s philosophical role as “tomorrow’s leaders.”
We had been taught that we had a moral duty to create a better future, that it was our responsibility to add to the continuum of social and economical achievements of the generations that preceded us. We were honour-bound to apply our best efforts toward solving what were described philosophically as ‘futurity problems.’
Over beers at the local pub we would tap our teeth with the stem of the briar pipe we could never get to light but carried around for effect, and spout off about Kantian ethics, Consequentialism, Deontology versus Utilitarianism and Parfit’s paradox.
We determined that the lives of future people depended on the actions of the current society a propos three interconnected areas of policy: nourishing or ruining the environment; seismic alterations in the size and composition of the population; and economic policies relating to technological, industrial and cultural aspects of societal progress.
We took the ethically superior position that our generation was morally required to leave intact the future generations’ pristine seas, forests, rivers, soil and atmosphere.
We declared it was our moral duty not to impose upon future generations hardship caused by population problems, such as nuclear wars, disproportionate distribution of resources and inequitable opportunities for strata of populations.
We concluded that the world’s standard of living in the future was more than a matter of technology and material goods, but included as equally important, arts and sciences, political and legal institutions and spiritual and moral values.
Today vapes have replaced the orthodontic nightmare of the briar bowl pipe but the philosophical discussion is more relevant than ever before! Do we have a moral responsibility to the people who will live in the future!?
In years past our generation typically responded with a resounding “Yes, of course! We fought a gruesome war in commitment to that philosophy!”
I cannot say that is true in 2018. The prevailing political system leans more and more to serving the people who seek and wield power to the detriment of the needs of the growing majority of the populace.
The dweebs and dorks from the liberal arts college have lost out to the heirs and trust fund legatees from the business school. The decisive argument of the college debate has swung to the sons and daughters of the real estate moguls and corporate tycoons who take the position that winning the competition supersedes compassion for the losers. And today, despite the consequences looming on the horizon, these self-anointed Masters of the Universe refute history and the principles we were taught.
This is the essential challenge facing those of us who revere the political process. And once again our generation—we sages, teachers and philosophers with the perspective that only comes with age—must confront those who threaten our cherished institutions.
Our societal task and basic patriarchal duty is to pass on to our sons and daughters the ideals that we held as irrefutable: duty, moral obligation, and right action.
Academic debate over morality as intrinsic or instrumental makes for a lively graduate seminar for philosophy majors but in the real world, society’s responsibility to the generations that follow is undeniable.
Immanuel Kant - celebrated the idea that human reason was sufficient to understand, interpret, and restructure the world.
Consequentalism - the theory that human actions derive their moral worth solely from their outcomes or consequences; the theory that ethical decisions should be made on the basis of the expected outcome or consequences of the action.
Deontology - ethics branch dealing with duty, moral obligation, and right action.
Utilitarianism - the ethical doctrine that virtue is based on utility, and that conduct should be directed toward promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest number of persons.
Parfit’s paradox – ‘The Repugnant Conclusion’ highlights a problem in an area of philosophy known as population ethics.
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