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However, the nature of the moral difficulty arising out of non-reciprocation in this case can be accounted for through reference to the idea of a free-rider, getting a free ride on the intergenerational railway without buying his ticket, and therefore taking advantage without any counterpart of the sacrifices made by all the preceding generations. Firstly, if we refuse to dissociate the existence of an obligation to the initial benefactor and that of an obligation to the third party beneficiary, the justificatory maxim presupposes the idea that we have obligations to past generations, i.

It is in fact those obligations which are the source of our obligations to the next generation. However, for a state to justify its sustainable development policies by reason of obligations to the dead is a challenge to the liberal requirement of neutrality on the part of the state towards various metaphysical conceptions and views of the good life. It can be demonstrated that such obligations to the dead only make sense if it is postulated that the dead do exist in a sense that is morally relevant.

Yet, we do not all subscribe to this postulate, which makes it difficult to see it as metaphysically unproblematic Gosseries, a: chap. How could we then explain what the problem would if a first generation were to squander from the outset a considerable part of the capital available to it? For that matter, were we to view each generation as a first generation insofar as the goods it invented or discovered are concerned, it would become immediately apparent that the present difficulty is necessarily devoid of practical implications.

It should also be underlined that descending indirect reciprocity is not the only possible form of the idea of reciprocity in the intergenerational realm.


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For the sake of comprehensiveness, let us also point at the ascending indirect reciprocity idea relevant for example to explain the logic of pay-as-you-go retirement schemes as well as at the double reciprocity concept Cosandey, which involves direct reciprocity transfers between generations. However, these two alternative forms of intergenerational reciprocity are not directly relevant to the environmental field which constitutes our focus point here Gosseries, a.

The simplest method for such a purpose consists in testing the idea of reciprocity in an intragenerational context. Take for example the case of a person with multiple congenital disabilities. Let us accept the idea that she will give us less in return for what we as a society gave to her—which is not meant to deny the benefits we may of course derive from her company.

Given such an example, the limitations of the idea of reciprocity are clear. As regards justification, is it because that person or someone else gave or will give us something that we feel obliged to care for this dependent person as a matter of justice? The reply is probably negative for many of us. And on the substantive side, should I measure the dimension of what I owe this disabled person on the basis of what he or she gives me in return? Here again, the answer will be in the negative for many of us.

This suggests that for many of us, over and beyond internal consistency difficulties, the idea of reciprocity is not fully capable of reflecting intuitions of justice in general and in the intergenerational context in particular. Yet, it is not identical, both in logic what justifies the existence of obligations and by its demands for instance, the idea of guaranteeing the promised transfers between actors in a cooperative game. The point therefore is to demonstrate that it is rational—in a narrow sense—to be fair and that rules of justice must be justified by reason of rationality—in this same narrow sense.

In practice, this requires the demonstration that gains may result from cooperation between individuals and that these gains can make every one of us net beneficiaries of such cooperation.

Intergenerational Justice

A key difficulty in this respect is related to the issue of intergenerational overlap Gauthier, chap. The fact that not all generations are—not even temporarily—contemporary is a challenge on two counts. Firstly, does this not threaten the very possibility of the benefits of cooperation being mutual? Because if benefits are real but are only in favour of certain generations, so that others are net contributors, a theory of mutual advantage would be incapable of justifying that all generations should submit to a common rule of justice.

Replying to this question amounts to asking to what extent the possibility of descending benefits from one generation to the next and ascending benefits from one generation to the previous one depends on these generations overlapping with one another. Furthermore, not only must it be possible for benefits to be mutual, but there must also be a guarantee that the conditions exist for the rule of cooperation to be effectively respected by each generation.

In this case again, the non-contemporary nature of many generations in respect of each other challenges the possibility of enforcing respect of a given rule of intergenerational transfer. The degree to which a threat of ascending or descending sanctions can remain credible in the absence of intergenerational overlap therefore remains to be ascertained.

It would be perfectly possible to imagine that it is rational for each generation to submit to a rule, which would nevertheless be compatible with a gradual deterioration of the stock of resources transferred by each generation to the next. There is an ongoing debate on this point Heath, ; Arrhenius, , but it has not reached a point where clear conclusions can be drawn see Gauthier, pp It is however obvious that any serious attempt at articulating a theory of justice from the angle of mutual advantage cannot elude an in-depth examination of such difficulties.

It is characterised not only by its preoccupation with people's welfare utilitas in Latin but more particularly with the idea that a fair organisation of society is one which maximises the aggregate welfare of its members See e. This is why we can refer to it as an aggregative theory. There are several unsound reasons for criticising utilitarianism. Yet, it is entirely true that this theory of justice is not primarily concerned with the distribution of welfare among the members of society.

What matters is the size of the welfare pie from which society as a whole will benefit, not the relative size of the pieces of that pie each member will be receiving. Hence, sacrificing entirely the well-being of a few people to the point for example where they are reduced to slavery making it possible to maximise society's well-being as a whole by the fact that a large portion of society would benefit from the slavery imposed on a tiny minority , could be the policy advocated by utilitarians in specific circumstances.

Therefore, more than any other theory of justice, this one is likely to lead to sacrificial consequences, although in its more elaborate versions, it does try as best it can to avoid such counterintuitive outcomes. Giving up the consumption of part of our capital today may enable us—provided it is wisely invested—to consume much more of that capital at some more or less distant future time. Consider a bag of seeds, part of which could be either consumed immediately or sown so as to multiply its volume.

Justice for Future Generations

If you are a utilitarian, savings in generational terms are not just authorised; they are required since the goal is to maximise the size of the intergenerational welfare pie. This means that the first generations in history have to tighten their belts and invest for the benefit of future generations.

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A point worthy of mention is that the idea of productive investment, which is central to this theory, is not necessarily linked to the number of generations following us—at least for investments whose return does not depend solely on human activity, but rather to the fact that they will be arriving after us.

On the one hand, it is realistic to postulate some intergenerational altruism due partly to the fact that the succession of generations is also linked to biological parent-to-child relations which inevitably generate a certain degree of altruism. It is also plausible to postulate that this altruism is asymmetric, being stronger from parent to child than from child to parent. If such a descending altruism is taken into account, an extra degree—and in this case a purely voluntary one—of saving may be added to the obligation to save referred to above. In other words, descending altruism could further intensify the generational savings trend already present in the utilitarian model.

Nevertheless, it does not necessarily lead to an additional welfare differential if the actors themselves derive well-being from these altruistic acts. On the other hand, the utilitarian conclusion becomes more worrying if it is accepted that the number of coming generations is, if not infinite, at least indefinite. For one way of interpreting utilitarianism consists in forcing us into everlasting sacrifices, since there is no way of knowing where they should stop.

Such a sacrifice would ultimately be to no one's benefit, since every generation would be obliged to save given the permanent uncertainty as to how many generations would follow. Let us therefore emphasise two factors pointing in the opposite direction. The underlying idea is that the more a person has of a given good e. This means that if we have an extra apple, it should be given to the one who has less apples if we aim at maximizing the additional welfare generated by this apple. But more importantly, there is another idea, the one of a social discount rate. This has been the subject of extensive philosophical debate for decades see e.


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And one recent instance is to be found in the discussions surrounding the Stern report on the economics of climate change Stern, The idea is simple: if the rate is positive, a unit of future welfare will be granted less value than the same welfare unit produced today.

A discount rate of this kind can meet certain concerns besides addressing the single "sacrificial" issue mentioned above.

Climate Change and Intergenerational Justice

For example, it would be possible to give a lower discounted value to a future welfare unit because of the uncertainty as to its actual future existence. In fact, the idea can be put forward that at that level it is still only an attempt—an ad hoc Rawls, and rather ineffective one—to reduce the size of a problem—i. The reason why such outcomes seem especially unacceptable to many of us probably has to do with the fact that our conception of justice generally involves a distributive motive besides or instead of an aggregative one.

This time, it is neo-Lockean rather than neo-Hobbesian, and is commonly referred to as libertarianism. Briefly, libertarian views are building on two core features: On the one hand, a definition and a strong protection of self-ownership; on the other, a particular way of broaching the subject of ownership of external resources—in contrast to internal resources which are part of self-ownership.

In this way, libertarians aim at guaranteeing, both against state and third party intervention, a strong protection for people's physical integrity as well as e. What is of particular interest here, however, is the status of external resources. We need in this respect to determine how to allocate to members of society the property of the goods we have inherited.

Future Generations

Some libertarians would incline to allocate ownership of such property on the basis of a rule of the "first come, first served" variety, which for that matter is a rule in use in various sectors of society, for instance as regards intellectual property rights. Others would have us subordinate legitimacy of appropriation to complying with so-called "Lockean" provisos.

In general, the difference between those two major approaches will reflect, coexist with or result in differences in perceptions of the initial patrimonial status of external resources. For some, generally right-wing people, arable land initially does not belong to anyone, hence the use of the first come, first served principle. For others, generally more left-wing, the initial status of external resources would be that of collective property, which would explain the need for respecting a Lockean proviso.

Let us be more direct in our formulation: "At least where there is as much which is left in common for others".

Applied to the intergenerational domain, this could give us for example Arneson's formulation: "The continued legitimacy of private ownership from the standpoint of self-ownership depends on each successive generation obtaining the equivalent of a per capita share of unimproved, undegraded land" Arneson, Let us outline three versions applicable to the intergenerational domain. A first possible interpretation is: each generation should leave to the next at least as much or the equivalent of what the first prehistoric generation initially appropriated for itself.

For those who consider that the basket of goods inherited from the immediately previous generation exceeds far and away the value of what the prehistoric generation would have had access to, this formulation of the proviso may appear too lax. For it would authorise the entire generation to dissave, inasmuch as the resources transmitted in fine to the next generation are in no way less substantial, as regards their productive potential, than the resources available to the first prehistoric generation.

In effect, that formulation could be amended in two ways. Let us imagine that the generation before us was the first to be victim of a minor ice age which will continue for two generations. Ex hypothesi, this overall has a negative impact as regards land productivity, biodiversity, etc. Should the present generation compensate for the difference — originating in natural events — between the value of the prehistoric world and what it has in effect become due to natural circumstances?

For a Lockean, there is no particular reason why this should be so. What matters as a reference scenario to implement such a Lockean proviso, is to be able to identify what other people's situation would have been in my absence — in this case, the situation of any previous generation if it had been the first. The following alternative formulation therefore seems commendable: each generation must leave to the next at least as much as what the next generation could have appropriated in the absence of any previous generation, or preferably 2 , what the coming generation would otherwise have inherited if no previous generation had by its actions brought about a net improvement or a net deterioration.

Using the above proviso, there would be an obligation to save. Now why should the current generation bear the cost of compensating for deteriorations brought about by the activity of previous generations and for which they are in no way responsible, or at least no more so than the coming generation in whose favour it seeks to meet its obligations? Conversely, for those who consider that the cultural capital inherited from our ancestors considerably increases the productive potential of natural resources which the next generation would have inherited in the absence of any previous generation, the degree to which such a formulation authorises anew a very significant margin of dissavings becomes apparent.

This third interpretation takes into account not just the natural improvements or deteriorations that have occurred since prehistoric times. It also includes the accumulated product of the physical and intellectual activities of the generations which preceded the current one. The only thing we need to do then is to consider what would have been the situation of each generation in terms of external resources both natural and cultural , not in the absence of all previous generations, but rather in the absence of the single preceding generation.

This implies, for example, that any climate change resulting from strictly historical emissions i. While what would be defended in this case by a proponent of indirect reciprocity is not entirely clear, the egalitarian view would clearly differ here from the Lockean one. And the specificity of the Lockean approach is to focus on the question of knowing to what extent my existence deprives someone else of something he could otherwise have benefited from. At the same time, he considers that moving away, be it minimally, from the initial condition of prehistoric men is necessary, not just for reasons of efficiency, but even for reasons of justice.

How can both these concerns be accommodated?