Morality Across Time: Exploring the Scope of Mutual Recognition
Actions performed in the present can profoundly influence the lives of future people. This fact raises two important questions: can future people be wronged, and if so, do present people have strong reasons to refrain from wronging them? This paper presents and defends a contractualist account of morality, and therefore a contractualist answer to the two questions raised. I argue that future people can be wronged and that each of us do have strong reasons to refrain from wronging them, in virtue of the fact that they belong to the moral relationship. I do this by describing the moral relationship, gesturing toward its intrinsic value, and arguing that its scope extends beyond proximal strangers to include both distant strangers and future people. Before considering the implications of this position for public policy, I respond to two prominent objections. The first objection utilizes the non-identity problem to challenge my claim that future people can be wronged. The second objection denies that the moral relationship is a salient source of obligation, therefore challenging my claim that present people have strong reasons to refrain from wronging future people. In response, I argue that the first objection misunderstands contractualist morality, and that the second objection fails to recognize our capacity to feel genuine concern for distant strangers and future people.