I think there are clear cases in which my future selves have rights against me (or I have duties to my future selves). For example, my future selves have the right to enjoy a healthy life and thus I have the duty to abstain from drug abuse. I may otherwise cause harm to my future selves, violating their rights. This is also reflected in discussions on intergenerational justice.

Now my question is whether there are some examples in which my future selves have duties to my current self?

  • But, if so, wouldn't it then be your current self that has a duty to live your current life so that you eventually become the kind of future self who fulfills their obligation (whatever that might be) to their past self (which would be your current self, i.e., you right now)? Thus, just an elaborate way of saying that you have an obligation to yourself.
    – user19423
    Jul 19, 2018 at 12:47
  • I do not have an answer, but that is an interesting idea. If you adopt the premise: "I am not the person I was, I am not the person I will be", then the question becomes pertinent.
    – MichaelK
    Jul 19, 2018 at 13:25
  • 1
    This comment is only tangentially philosophical. My opinion is that the behavioral economics literature will provide much greater insight than the philosophical. Behavioral economists have given much thought to questions concerning intertemporal choice which wiki defines as, "the process by which people make decisions about what and how much to do at various points in time, when choices at one time influence the possibilities available at other points in time," en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intertemporal_choice.
    – DJohnson
    Jul 19, 2018 at 14:27
  • 2
    You might find this little paper interesting. It is not an exact answer to your question perhaps, but it is something to add to your research. "Sartre On Our Responsibility for Dead Lives: Implications for Teaching History". bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Hist/HistGord.htm
    – Gordon
    Jul 19, 2018 at 14:54
  • Future selves are not causing anything to you, so no.
    – rus9384
    Jul 19, 2018 at 16:38

5 Answers 5


What about Burke's Social Contract For The Ages? As much as society is the balance of our momentary self-concerned needs with those of others, there is an extent to which we must balance our eras momentary or short-term needs with long-term concerns that reach beyond the lives of individuals and even nations - likely say climate change, or nuclear waste.

It is easy for us to dismiss our formative stages, our past idealism or whatever, naivety, immaturity etc. If we fail to integrate and accept them, we risk failing to understand and accept others, going through formative stages. This is brought in to sharper focus, when we think that our future self may look back on right now, and dismiss your current concerns as baseless, meaningless, trivial. I would say your future self has a duty to maintain continuity, connection, with your current mindset, to at least honor it as part of your path, and not to wipe out the memory or remains of it in a way the prevents any possible reconciliation, integration, or reinterpretation. If we don't understand history, we repeat it, or someone else does.


Usually rights, duties, morality, etc., involve the idea that the parties involved have choice, and the capability to understand morality. So usually we don't accord rights to, for example, house plants, because they can't make choices and can't understand the morality involved.

Your future selves don't exist.

Your past selves don't exist.

In order to be able to make choices or understand morality, an entity has to exist. In order to have rights, an entity has to exist. It is a misapplication of the term to try to accord them rights.

That does not mean there is no morality involved. But giving your past or future self rights is not the way to approach it.

  • 1
    No but your future self will exist. And your past self did exist. According to that thought, no rights violations against your person could ever be sought justice for, because the person wronged do not exist any more.
    – MichaelK
    Jul 19, 2018 at 14:42

I can't have a duty to something that doesn't exist, namely my future self. I can have, however, and would be well-advised to cultivate the virtue of prudence which would, among other things, take into account how things will be or are likely to be with me in the future.

My future self, by parity of reasoning, cannot have any obligations to my current self : what doesn't exist (my future self) cannot have obligations to anything, including my current self. If my current self is my self at time t1, then supposing at time t2 I still exist, my self at t2 can have no obligations to my self at t1 since my self at t1 will no longer exist and so cannot be the object of any obligations.

  • Can't have a duty to the future yourself? People are doing things they regret later, because they didn't know some stuff and acknowledged it when it was too late. So, maybe it's not the duty ot the future self, it's the duty to yourself in general if you even agree that you have any duties. Another things is that one cannot regret something that didn't happen (and only will happen), this nullifies the notion of duty to the past self.
    – rus9384
    Jul 19, 2018 at 21:12
  • They will not regret later if they take account of the future through the virtue of prudence. I accommodate care of the 'future self' in that way and it involves notion of duty to the non-existent. In any case the Question is the other way on : obligation of the future to the current self, not duty of the current self to the future.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jul 19, 2018 at 21:41
  • In this comment you agreed that analogy proposed in the answer does not work.
    – rus9384
    Jul 20, 2018 at 0:05
  • My comment should have read : 'They will not regret later if they take account of the future through the virtue of prudence. I accommodate care of the 'future self' in that way and it involves no notion of duty to the non-existent. In any case the Question is the other way on : obligation of the future to the current self, not duty of the current self to the future... Apologies for typo.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jul 20, 2018 at 7:05

In a physical sense, actions in the future have no impact on the past, so I assume you mean in terms of ambition and direction. I believe that people evolve over time and change whether positive or negative is natural. In a way, we become different people, and we owe others nothing.


The present self of an individual is to their old selves what their future selves are to their current self. The question can thus be rephrased as "does an individual's present self have duties to past selves?" - it's evident that the answer is no as their present self cannot affect their past self in any way. That is assuming that time does not have any quirks which enable a Back to the Future like scenario - so far as we know, this is not the case.

  • I made a small edit. You are welcome to roll this back or continue editing. You can see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link above my image. Would we expect our future selves to not self-destruct the species in some way? Jul 20, 2018 at 19:36
  • Thank you Frank. Hopefully our future selves don't self-destruct the species, but that only affects our present selves through expectations. Upon reflection, our future selves can "affect" (loosely speaking) our present selves but only through what out present selves expect our future selves to be like. Of course this is really our present selves doing the expecting.
    – user34274
    Jul 21, 2018 at 11:01

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