/home/lecreumo/public html/wp content/uploads/2023/09/capture decran le 2023 10 02 a 144440

Moral Theory and the Challenge of Future People

27 October 2023 – 28 October 2023 all-day
Seminar room of the Bieler School of Environment, McGill University
3534 University

Emil Andersson (McGill University) and Iwao Hirose (McGill University), for the research team in Value Theory and the Philosophy of Public Policy at McGill University, will host a two-day conference on the moral challenge of future people, broadly construed.


9:00 am Welcome (Friday, October 27)
9:15 am Jens Gillessen (Marburg): “Moral Contractualism and Potentially Future People”
10:30 am Break
10:45 am Ingrid V. Albrecht (Lawrence): “Partiality and Future People”
12:00 Lunch
2:00 pm Michal Masny (Berkely): “Extension and Replacement”
3:15 pm Break
3:30 pm Anja Karnein (Binghamton): ”Cooperation Across Time”
9:00 am Welcome (Saturday, October 28)
9:15 am Per Algander (Umeå): “The Intuition of Neutrality and Deontic Stability”
10:30 am Break
10:45 am Beth Hupfer (High Point): “From Bednets to Rocket Ships: Efficiency in the Long-Term and Neglect for the Present”
12:00 Lunch
2:00 pm Giacomo Floris (York): “Intergenerational Moral Inequality and the Long-Term Future”
3:15 pm Break
3:30 pm Emil Andersson (McGill): “On Skepticism about Intergenerational Legitimacy”


This workshop is open for everyone. But registration is required as the space is limited. To register, please send an email, no later than October 20, to Emil Andersson: emil.andersson@mail.mcgill.ca


As John Rawls once remarked, the question of justice between generations “subjects any ethical theory to severe if not impossible tests”. One of the difficulties is, of course, to correctly determine what our duties of justice towards future people are. But for social contract theory, where justice is understood as the fair terms of cooperation among the participants of a joint practice, the more fundamental challenge is to make sense of the very idea of intergenerational cooperation. If justice requires some form or reciprocal cooperation, can our duties to future people really be duties of justice at all? Rather than a mere problem of extension, the case of future people puts the social contract approach as such into question.

However, though modern moral philosophy has confirmed the severity of the challenge, it has also shown that it goes well beyond the topic of intergenerational justice. In particular, the fact that our actions affect who will be born, and how many people there will be, raises deep questions for moral theory as such. It has proven to be extremely difficult to find a normative theory that not only successfully deals with the non-identity problem, but at the same time also avoids implausible results such as the repugnant conclusion. Thus, the challenge of future people not only raises difficult theoretical problems for the main approaches to moral theory – deontological as well as teleological ones – but also puts many of our most deeply held intuitions into question. An appreciation of the moral significance of future people may also lead to radical conclusions regarding what our most pressing political problems are, and what we ought to do.