Systems of ethics that address intergenerational issues should provide guidance on how to balance the interests of those people nearing the end of their lives, those just beginning, and those in between, and also on how to balance the interests of those people alive now and those who will be in the future (if those who are alive now don't mess things up too badly).

What are the current schools of thought on these issues? (Or, if giving a summary is difficult, where is a good place to learn about current thought on these issues?)

(Note that while this has always been an important part of ethics, it is particularly critical now that we are able to affect our environment in such dramatic ways; in previous centuries, the answer "act morally now, and the future will sort itself out" would sound plausible. This century, however, that sounds far too naive.)

  • Well there are those of us who do not believe that is naive. What is true always is always true. The difference is we have become a generation of excusers where we make excuses for acting immorally and call them moral. My dad used to tell me that if you have 2 choices and you are unsure which is the "Right" thing to do then it is probably the harder one.
    – Chad
    Aug 8, 2011 at 20:00
  • @Chad - Fair enough, but there are things that you might think are moral (you want to burn copper because it makes pretty colors and you can sell people copper-burning lamps, and he has a copper mine, and sells you copper) that would only look immoral on dramatically different timescales (future generations might want to use that copper for electronics without having to recover the copper oxide all over the place).
    – Rex Kerr
    Aug 8, 2011 at 22:57
  • That is a perfect example of excuse making. To consume wastefully when there are renewable sources that will do the same thing is not moral. Profit is never a motive for morality. Though what is missing is to teach our children to live morally as well.
    – Chad
    Aug 9, 2011 at 13:18
  • 1
    @Chad - You're assuming that it's obvious that non-renewable consumption is "wasteful". I don't think that's been true throughout history.
    – Rex Kerr
    Aug 9, 2011 at 14:25
  • Through out history items of value have been reused. From stonework that makes up the ancient buildings in rome, to the metals that were used for weapons and tools. It was only in recent times where it became much easier for the common man to attain these things that we began gluttonous waste. But the vice of gluttony goes back at least as far as ancient Greece.
    – Chad
    Aug 9, 2011 at 14:40

1 Answer 1


You can find a brief overview of the current literature in the bibliography here.

  • 1
    Thanks! But the text itself seems to focus on a rather odd set of issues, neglects directional reciprocity ("pay it forward"), etc. etc.. Are only the references a good overview, or is the article supposed to be a good overview itself?
    – Rex Kerr
    Aug 8, 2011 at 18:51
  • Any chance I could persuade you to unpack this a little bit? :)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Aug 24, 2011 at 2:13

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