Public Reason: Vol. 3, No. 1, June 2011
Ontology and the Paradox of Future Generations
Dennis Earl

The following three propositions are inconsistent: (I) We have moral obligations to future generations, (II) Future generations do not exist, (III) In order to have moral obligations to X, X must exist. All three propositions are prima facie plausible. There are really two paradoxes here, one for obligations involving moral rights, and another for moral duties. The paper argues that (II) and (III) are true, thus (I) is false—we have no moral obligations to future generations. The paper considers the available views on the ontology of future generations, as well as various versions of Parfit’s person-affecting principle, by way of defending the plausibility of (II) and (III), respectively.

Key words: future generations, future people, possible people, person-affecting principle.


Earl, Dennis. 2011. Ontology and the Paradox of Future Generations. Public Reason 3 (1): 60-72.