EPLab • Masterclass

Future People, Climate Change, and War

Jeff McMahan (University of Oxford)

Most people reject the idea that we have a moral reason to cause people to exist just because they would have lives worth living. Many people also reject the idea that, if people are going to come into existence but it is not yet determined who they will be, we have a moral reason to ensure that they will be people who will be better off rather than different people who would be less well off. For to say that we should cause better-off people to exist rather than different, less well-off people is, it is often claimed, to embrace eugenics. Yet what Parfit called the ‘Non-Identity Problem’ suggests that this broad anti-eugenicist view is incompatible with common beliefs about such problems as climate change. And matters are further complicated if we imagine circumstances in which it would be necessary to fight a war to prevent the worst effects of climate change. In this talk, I will explore the relations between such problems as climate change and war and the seemingly unrelated ethics of procreation. My arguments will have implications for fundamental issues in the area of moral philosophy that has come to be known as population ethics.