Temporal Remoteness

The concerns that Partridge writes about all seem to have this central theme of what to do about moral obligations to those people who do not yet exist. Brain Barry reflects that people alive in hundreds of years can be made better off by us; however, but they cannot make us better off[1] may not be completely true. Although there may be no guaranty, what we do now may reflect how future generations view us. Honor is an important religious value to many Pagans. The idea that our honor may be impugned by those future generations because we do not engage in right relationships when we had the opportunity to do so can be seen as harm to those of us today. We can see this in our struggles with understanding the imperfections of our ancestors who, even though we may admire, we have to accept that they were human and thus intrinsically flawed.[2]

Judgment about our actions may be harsher by those distant generations. Some of the criteria that may be used to judge moral obligations are knowledge and capacity, which are directly related to science and technology. Our present society is better able to determine the probability for the outcomes of our action that our ancestors where. We are able to dramatically affect the world around us through this knowledge and technology and with this power is linked long range effect upon the environment and future generations but no previous ethical background with which to deal with it.[3] How we treat the environment, enact polices on population, and invests in just institutions[4] are a few suggested means thought which people affect the future.

“Honour and Integrity are qualities which enables someone to want to do something right and just,” Brendan Myers claims, “not because of the good consequences that may entail, and not because the act fulfils the requirement of some moral law. Rather, a person’s own sense of purpose and worth motivates her.”[5] Along with this, Myers suggests that honor evolves public and relationship concepts that a person acquires through actions.[6] Myers ideas are closely related to virtue ethics in which a person become virtuous by performing virtuous actions. 

There is one more crucial point that comes with knowledge and that is the ability to make choices. This is one of those places that Pagan religious philosophers can engage with John Rawls. Rawls examined and defended the moral principle that human begins need to be capable of obeying an ethical principle in order to be held morally accountable for it. We do not have an obligation to future generations if we are unable to do otherwise. Although Schwartz would claim that there is no value significance because we are affecting no individual’s life, I believe that we are obligated to choose the best of the potential lives. It may seem a bit simplistic; however, if I use a Rawls’ model, his original position, I would ask the question, ‘what is the best course of action if I was uncertain which generation I would exist,’ then I would answer that we should neither put an unreasonable strain upon this generation nor leave an unbearable cost to future generations.[7] This balance in moral consideration is one of the roots of fully honorable relationships of which Orr speaks.


[1] Brian Barry, “Justice Between Generation,” in Law, Morality and Society, ed. P.M.S. Hacker and J. Raz (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977). 

[2] An example in the US would be holding the framers of our Constitution in high regards even though they permitted the barbaric act of slavery to continue while expressing liberty and freedom that would only slowly be generalized to the wider population.

[3] Hans Jonas, “Technology and Responsibility: The Ethic of an Endangered Future,” in Responsibilities to Future Generations, ed. Ernest Partridge (New York: Prometheus Books, 1981).

[4] John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Massachusetts: The Belknap Press, 1971).

[5] Brendan Myers, The Other Side of Virtue (Winchester, UK: O Books, 2008), 49-50.

[6] Ibin, 45-46.

[7] John Rawls, “A Theory of Justice,” in Justice and Economic Distribution, ed, John Arthur and William H. Shaw (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc. 1978), 46.

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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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