Who Speaks for Future Generations?

Who speaks for future generations? When I say that ‘we should protect the environment for the future,’ what moral or legal authority do I speak from? By future persons, individuals or generations, I mean those who live non-concurrent lives to our own and more generally, those who live in the distant future such as two hundred years from now. This time frame would not be so far removed from today as to render any present action completely unpredictable nor to close as to include those people that we may personally know.

One topic that I want to further discuss is when our judgments (intuitions) are not in line with our theoretical consideration. In such a case we may not be able to trust either of them.[1] Marc D. Davidson suggests “even if no satisfactory theoretical underpinning of future generations’ rights yet exist, governments nevertheless are justified to act as if those generations do have such rights.”[2] His practical scheme is calls the ‘precautionary’ approach.[3] In dealing with theoretical ethics, this precautionary approach offers a method of being more inclusive in our moral considerations.

In general, Pagans seem to be more inclusive of our moral obligations. Such inclusiveness includes animals, plants, and the environment. Pagans who often value personal experience over theatrical understanding[4] should be inclined to Davidson’s precautionary approach. Perhaps, Pagans in general should—and many do act upon—what they see as moral or ethical considerations. What then is the role of us who study religious philosophy? Ernest Partridge suggest that philosophers should engage with policy analysis in order to bring understanding about moral responsibility,[5] and modern people have the knowledge and power to be responsible to future generations[6].  In thinking about the problem of responsibilities to future generations, Partridge rightly points out some of the problems with dealing with rights of future persons. Such problems include the re-population paradox, temporal remoteness, incapacity, non-actuality, and indeterminacy.[7] My role within religious philosophy is to engage with moral consideration about future generations that may help inform, both myself and my fellow Pagans, on what obligations there may be and why.


[1] “Reflective disequilibrium” is the term used by John Rawls, in A Theory of Justice (Massachusetts: The Belknap Press, 1971).

[2] Marc D. Davidson, “Wrongful Harm to Future Generations: The Case of Climate Change,” Environmental Values 17.4 (2008), 473.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Pagans tend to show prioritization of experience over belief. Margot Adler was one of the first to write on Paganism being experience based. She wrote that “belief has never seemed very relevant to the experiences and processes of the groups that call themselves, collectively, the Neo-Pagan movement” from Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon (New York: Penguin, 2006), 20). Also, Margot Adler suggested this with “belief has never seemed very relevant to the Neo-Pagan movement” from Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, 19. Also see, Barbara Jane Davy, Introduction to Pagan Studies (Lanham, MD: Altamira Press, 2007).

[5] Ernest Partridge, ed., introduction to Responsibilities to Future Generations (New York: Prometheus Books, 1981), 15.

[6] Ibid, 4-5.

[7] Ernest Partridge, “On the Rights of Future Generations,” in Upstream/Downstream: Issues in Environmental Ethics, ed. D. Scherer (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990).

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About William Blumberg

I engage in religious philosophy within a Pagan context. I serve on the Board of Directors of Cherry Hill Seminary and the Conference on Current Pagan Studies.
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