The Circumstances of Intergenerational Justice

Moral Philosophy and Politics 2 (1):33-56 (2015)
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Some key political challenges today, e.g. climate change, are future oriented. The intergenerational setting differs in some notable ways from the intragenerational one, creating obstacles to theorizing about intergenerational justice. One concern is that as the circumstances of justice do not pertain intergenerationally, intergenerational justice is not meaningful. In this paper, I scrutinize this worry by analysing the presentations of the doctrine of the circumstances of justice by David Hume and John Rawls. I argue that we should accept the upshot of their idea, that justice is context sensitive, even if this at first sight seems to invalidate intergenerational justice. On the basis of moral constructivism, I subsequently provide a fresh reading of the doctrine according to which it conveys the idea that justice is the solution to a practical problem. However, as the problem background is evolving, we need to properly characterize the relevant practical problem in order to make ethical theorizing relevant. Contrary to what has been claimed, the circumstances of justice do not then clash with intergenerational justice, but are the necessary presuppositions for its advancement.
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