Re-Population Paradox

The re-population paradox is a vexing problem with theoretical views on applied ethics; however, Pagans often bases their beliefs in experience and intuition. Davidson’s ‘precautionary’ approach seems well match for Pagan Ethics in general and for dealing with this particular problem.[1] In Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics, Orr claims “[n]othing is separate. Every thought, every action, vibrates through the web.”[2] What we do matters and has consequences not only for ourselves and the world we live in today but also for those future generations.

“Though it is important to prepare for the future, to be honourable in our actions bearing in mind the road ahead,” Orr writes, “ a *Pagan [sic] does not live for the future, not dependent upon it. To do so would be to live without authenticity, not adequately present and therefore unable to make fully honourable relationships.”[3] What is it to be mindful of the future but not to live for it? Orr seems to have in mind that Pagans are concerned with building honorable relationships today in order to live fully. How does this philosophy relate to our obligations to future generations?

To begin with Orr may be writing only about how we live our lives within our own lifetime: but the idea of making fully honorable relationships may be of practical concern for our ethical consideration of future generations. By ensuring that we are in right relationship with our environment and others today, I think our obligations to future generations should, at least in part, be met. It seems inconsistent to think that we could engage in honorable relationships today that could adversely affect those in future generations. To accept unsustainable growth in nonrenewable energies would seem non-honorable. For how are we able to create a relationship dependent on nonrenewable energies; that is, those types of energies that tend to cause ecological destruction, which would be considered honorable not only to future generations but to the bonds we forge between our current relationship and environment. To act honorably is to ensure that we are informed and make choices that, as Orr suggest, create “the relationships through which life naturally flows.”[4]

As the distance between us and future generations increases there is more uncertainty as to what our obligation are to ‘distant’ future generations is and needs to be tempered with our obligation to intervening generations. When generations become more distant, we do not know what they would want. That they may not value the same ideals, goods, lifestyles, or socialites we do.[5] However, while matters of taste will change, are future humans to be thought of as so very different to us as to think that such things as a healthy environment or the basic wellbeing of other humans would not be valued? Orr claims that “nature is a beautifully self-crafted and ever-changing web of simple energy and consciousness.”[6] Because of the interconnected nature of reality, actions that seem informed and prudent may have unforeseen consequences. We can never know with absolute certainty that our actions today will not in some way harm others.[7]

There are other considerations regarding the re-population paradox. Many pagans believe in some form of reincarnation so that in some sense future generations are actually known to us now—even including ourselves. Although I do not intend making the argument in this paper that our ethical considerations to future generations should be predicated on reincarnation, it could provide fruitful grounds on a theoretical model to engage ethically for those who would be born in the distant future. This approach may work well with John Rawls ideas of justice as fairness and his original position.[8] Both of these ideas are found in Rawls, A Theory of Justice and are worthy of consideration for those who explore Pagan religious philosophy and ethics. Sadly, this will need to be a topic for another time.


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

[2] Emma Restall Orr, Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics (Winchester, UK: O Books, 2007), 33.

[3] Ibid, 217

[4] Emma Restall Orr, Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics (Winchester, UK: O Books, 2007), 96-97

[5] Based upon Martin P. Golding ideas in “Obligations to Future Generations,” The Monist 56 (1972).

[6] Emma Restall Orr, Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics (Winchester, UK: O Books, 2007), 143.

[7] John J. Coughlin, Ethics and the Craft: The History, Evolution, and Practice of Wiccan Ethics (New York: Waning Moon Publications, 2009), 7.

[8] John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Massachusetts: The Belknap Press, 1971). There is also the consideration of group decision based on non-hierarchal roles.

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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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