Wednesday, June 22, 2011


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As a committed utilitarian, I feel that an action is morally right (and thus my obligation) if and only if that action produces the most good and value for those entities X of all the alternative actions available to me. With this in mind, I am concerned about how a utilitarian should respond to the problem of future generations. Before we proceed to determine our obligations to future generations as a utilitarian, one must answer the following questions. The first question is what sort of things are good and have value? That is does the experience of pleasure have values? Perhaps what has value is objective and is not reducible to a single thing such as pleasure. So such things as friendship, knowledge, artistic skill, play, romantic love, and physical well being all have value. The second question is what sort of entities count and which ones must we consider? Do we consider all people that are alive now or all persons that will exist in the future and what about animals do we include them? By answering these questions one will be able to determine whether or not it is their moral obligation to look out future generations.

According to Williams we should care about future people equally. What happens to people in future generations matters. The problem here is that caring about future people may make utilitarianism too demanding. Utilitarianism will be so demanding that it will be hard to live up too. It requires too much personal sacrifice now in order to promote interests of people in future generations. Utilitarianism may be too demanding because it may be hard to share resources right now with people, so how about the people of future generations. One might consider advocating virtue or character consequentalism if they are feeling that utilitarianism is too demanding. By doing this a utilitarian would perform an action that is morally right (and thus their obligation) if and only if that action promotes or is promoted by a set of character dispositions the inculcation of which would produce the most good/value for members of a society. Other utilitarians, such as G.E. Moore and J.J.C. Smart, may respond by saying that you can keep utilitarianism, including caring about future generations, but you can ignore future people in your deliberations about what to do. They argued that there are two factors one being that of knowledge and the other of the causal effects of my actions. Pertaining to the idea of knowledge they say that it is difficult to predict the future of people because of lack of knowledge. We don’t know enough about the future to predict what will happen we are only affected by our present actions. With the causal effects of my actions, they wonder will my actions have an effect on the future of people 00 years from now. Williams says that we can predict in most cases what effects our actions will have. Therefore we need to consider resources and how as a utilitarian we can conserve them for future generations.

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Let us take into account right now resource conservation for future generations. First we have sustainable resources (also known as interest-bearing resources), which are resources like crop species, fish species, genetic variation, etc. which are instrumental in changing energy available for consumption (as food, shelter, clothing, etc.) and which are such that their capacity to supply energy for future consumption is not decreased by utilization of some of the energy that they supply (Williams, Oxford, 1). These resources are sometimes called renewable resources because they can be restored or will, technically, grow back. The opposite of sustainable resources is exhaustible resources, like fossil fuels, which are resources that once they are used cannot be brought back. With exhaustible resources the ability to supply energy for future consumption is decreased by every unit of energy that is consumed (Williams, Oxford, 1). Meaning that the more we use them the less we are going to have for future generations. Dealing with the sustainable resource problem is much easier because we know that eventually they will come back. On the other hand exhaustible resources once used are gone and we have no means of getting them back.

Destructive utilization of these resources, sustainable and exhaustible resources, may result in a lowered capacity to provide energy of future consumption (Williams, Oxford, ). Destructive utilization may be direct and indirect. An example of indirect utilization would be ocean polluting, meaning a company is able to dump poisonous wastes into the ocean. An example of direct destruction would be whale catching, for instance if there are a hundred whales why not harvest them all, after a while they will come back. Destruction also allows for irreversible and reversible effects. An irreversible effect would be one in which a species has become extinct, well we can longer harvest it if it is not around any longer. A reversible effect would be when the closing of a fishery allows an over fished species to recover (Williams, Oxford, 1). The utilitarian theory shows that we need to stop our destructive behavior in order to look out for future generations.

A way in which a utilitarian might proceed with the sustainable resource problem is to mandate the policy of maximizing present sustainable yield. The amount that we can harvest at a given population size without driving the population size down is determined by the rate at which the population can replace the harvested organisms which is the growth rate (Williams, Oxford, ). The maximum sustainable yield is to equal the maximum growth rate. By meeting its maximum sustainable yield resources will be able to give future generations interest-bearing resources that have met their maximum sustainable yield.

A way that we may precede with the exhaustible resource problem is take into consideration the example used in class as the class being a pie and everyone being a piece of the pie. The less people there are the more piece of the pie that one gets, but years from now the pieces of the pie are going to increase meaning less pieces for everyone else to enjoy. Take for instance oil refineries; the more oil that we use the less there will be for future generations to enjoy in the future. As a committed utilitarian my policy suggestion is we only use the amount that we are able to enjoy, this way we still are able to enjoy oil, but future generations will also be able to enjoy the same. I think by doing that we are able to save some of the pieces of the pie for other future generations to enjoy because once its gone we can’t get it back.

We are constantly going to have problems facing us about future generations, but I think that if we do what morally makes us happy, as a utilitarian would do, we will undoubtedly be looking out for future generations. Our obligations concerning future generations may be demanding as utilitarianism, but we can learn to share resources and make the most for caring about future generations.

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