What's this blog about?

This blog is intended to accompany the writing of a book, which originally had a working title identical to the blog's, to be published by Palgrave Macmillan in November 2014. It's now going to be called Care, Uncertainty and Intergenerational Justice.

The subject of the book is intergenerational ethics. In a time when issues like anthropogenic climate change, resource depletion, disruptive technologies and economic instability caused by chronic short-termism occupy the foreground, debates about what we owe to the future, and how we can fulfil any obligations we do have, are never far away. Yet when we attempt to address the issues central to such debates, we encounter major difficulties. Many of these derive from deep uncertainty about what the future will hold.

In his book The Imperative of Responsibility (translated from the German in 1984), the philosopher Hans Jonas argues that the consequences of our collective actions, particularly thanks to our reliance on advanced technologies, have huge potential effects on the future. If future generations are uniquely vulnerable to us as a result, then we have a responsibility to anticipate these consequences. This, however, as Jonas points out - and as defenders of concepts of the “risk society” have argued - is precisely what we often cannot do in contemporary societies. So it appears we either have no obligations to the future, as it makes no sense to demand us to do what we are incapable of doing, or we do have them, and our ethical situation is absurd[1].

Since the 1960s, philosophers have offered reflections on the nature of our relationship with generations yet to be born in response to this - and many other - difficulties. How far can it be said that future people have rights, that is, justified claims on our attention here and now? Should we aim to distribute non-renewable resources equitably among generations? In general, these reflections have taken as read the idea that we stand, implicitly or explicitly in competition or even conflict with coming generations. The language of rights strongly reflects this assumption. Yet it is questionable whether this assumption about our relationship with posterity is entirely coherent - as questionable as it would be to represent parents as necessarily in competition with their children.

This book will argue that a successful defence of obligations to the future which takes uncertainty seriously needs to begin from different premises, and centre (perhaps counter-intuitively, given the association of the concept with intimacy and face-to-face encounters) on the idea of care . Further, it will suggest that such a defence needs to take inspiration both from the phenomenological use of this concept as a tool for understanding the nature of the temporal structure of experience, and from the development of care ethics by feminist philosophers. The book’s goal is to provide the basis for a “chronopolitan”[2] ethical perspective that bases a concept of future-regarding obligations on a comprehensive account of future-regarding subjectivity. In the process it will bring together a compelling justification of such obligations with a convincing account of how acting to fulfil such obligations might be motivated by real, existing practices and institutions, rather than remaining (in G.W.F. Hegel's words) a "mere ought".

As the book (hopefully!) takes shape, I'd like to share ideas and concepts central to the argument with anyone who finds themselves interested in its subject matter.  Comments, objections, and expressions of bemusement will all be welcome.

[1] We cannot simply renounce the use of advanced technologies either: consider, for example, the storage of high-level nuclear waste.
[2] Saulo Cwerner, 2000. The Chronopolitan Ideal: Time, Belonging and Globalization. Time and Society 9(2-3), pp. 331-345.

No comments:

Post a Comment