On What We Owe the Future, part 6

by Eric Schliesser on March 3, 2023

This is my sixth post on MacAskill’s What We Owe the Future. (The first here; the second is herethe third here; the fourth here; the fifth here; and this post on a passage in Parfit (here.)) I paused the series in the middle of January because most of my remaining objections to the project involve either how to think about genuine uncertainty or involve disagreements in meta-ethics that are mostly familiar already to specialists and that probably won’t be of much wider interest. I was also uneasy with a growing sense that longtermists don’t seem to grasp the nature of the hostility they seem to provoke and (simultaneously) the recurring refrain on their part that the critics don’t understand them.

In what follows, I diagnose this hostility by way of this passage in Kukathas’ (2003) The liberal archipelago (unrelated to Effective Altruism (hereafter: EA) and longtermism), which triggered this post:

In rejecting the understanding of human interests offered by Kymlicka and other contemporary liberal writers such as Rawls, then, I am asserting that while we have an interest in not being compelled to live the kind of life we cannot abide, this does not translate into an interest in living the chosen life. The worst fate that a person might have to endure is that he be unable to avoid acting against conscience. This means that our basic interest is not in being able to choose our ends but rather in not being forced to embrace, or become implicated, in ends we find repugnant.–Chandran Kukathas The liberal archipelago: A theory of diversity and freedom, p. 64. 

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