Summary of "Why Posterity Matters: Environmental Policies and Future Generations"

Summary of

Why Posterity Matters: Environmental Policies and Future Generations

 by Avner de-Shalit

Summary written by T.A. O'Lonergan, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Why Posterity Matters: Environmental Policies and Future Generations, Avner de-Shalit, (London: Routledge, 1995) 155pp.

Why Posterity Matters: Environmental Policies and Future Generations is required reading for PHIL 5140 as taught by Professor Dale Jamieson. This work is of interest to those who are concerned with the effect of contemporary environmental policy on future generations. de-Shalit begins his book with an explanation of a "trans- generational community" and an examination of the possibility of this re-conceptualization of community supporting obligations to future generations. Thus, de-Shalit hopes that a communitarian theory writ-large will support both positive and negative obligations to even remote generations. The author asserts that lack of temporal continuity between remote generations is not problematic because they have; cultural interaction and moral similarity.

Chapter two focuses upon applications of the theory of trans-generational communities. Chapter three examines Utilitarian theory and the not-yet-born. de-Shalit addresses Utilitarian theory and population policy and questions of trans-generational distribution. In support of his views that Utilitarianism is more trans-generational friendly than other moral theories, and that it would disallow discounting, the author quotes Sidgwick: "... the time at which a man exists cannot affect the value of his happiness from a universal point of view."

Contractarian theories, specifically that of John Rawls, are examined in chapter four. Theories of mutual advantage and the multi-generational context, and theories of justice as impartiality and inter-generational justice are examined. In the next chapter, the controversial question of the rights of future people are addressed. Specifically, the author examines: human rights and welfare rights. de-Shalit concludes with a chapter which succinctly presents the advantages to his communitarian theory of inter- generational justice. The most promising of these advantages is that de-Shalit's theory releases the present generation from: dependence upon impossible information about future generations, the ontological issue of potential versus actual persons and: the theory is non-atomistic and assists the present generation in identifying the content of our obligations to future generations.

Why Posterity Matters: Environmental Policies and Future Generations offers a new theory which seems intuitively appealing and a promising move toward structuring substantive obligations to future generations.