Isaiah Berlin Lecture HT12
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Seminars in Moral Philosophy Week 1 MT08

Event Name Seminars in Moral Philosophy Week 1 MT08
Start Date 13th Oct 2008 4:30pm
End Date 13th Oct 2008 6:30pm
Duration 2 hours

David Heyd (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) to be held in the Lecture Room, 10 Merton Street, Oxford - Seminars in Moral Philosophy webpage


John Rawls was a pioneer in the systematic examination of the possibility of extending the principles of justice to future generations. Such an extension is on the one hand morally and politically pressing, since humanity has recently gained an unprecedented power over the conditions, even the very nature, of future people, yet on the other hand theoretically problematic due to the perplexing standing of future people who are only possible rather than actual.

The paper reviews Rawls’ attempt to address this theoretical problem from his early book to his last book. The paper critically examines the two options suggested by Rawls for solving the problem of intergenerational justice: the “general assembly” and “the present-time-of-entry”. It argues that Rawls does not directly address the problem of the identity of future (possible) people, which means that the conditions for the inclusion of future people in the imaginary social contract cannot be fully determined. Rawls wishes to offer a theory of just intergenerational distributions but it turns out that such a theory is logically dependent on the number and identity of future people, an issue which cannot be itself fixed in terms of an ideal contract under a veil of ignorance.

The conclusion of the article is that the scope of the group in which the principles of justice are both decided and implemented cannot itself be determined by a contractarian method.

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