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“What We Owe the Future is not Ours (Alone) to Give” by Dr. Valerie Soon
11 Sep 2023

Online Research Seminar

Longtermists argue that impact on the far future is the most important feature of our actions today. We should therefore allocate scarce resources toward the future rather than to present causes, so long as doing so does not violate the side-constraint against harm. Critics charge that this strong form of longtermism neglects urgent present causes, such as global poverty. Call this the diachronic tradeoff: we must make a tough choice about when to allocate resources. In this paper, I argue that as long as longtermists wish to respect the side-constraint against harm, the existence of historical and ongoing injustice curtails the ambitions of longtermism. Given moral uncertainty, any resolution of the diachronic tradeoff in favor of the far future must be justified to the rightful owners of resources. To know whether a given resolution is justified, longtermists should distinguish between different aims, and the different moral principles underlying such aims.

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