Intergenerational Justice Today

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A theory of intergenerational justice consists in the study of the moral and political status of the relations between present and past or future people, more specifically, of the obligations and entitlements they can potentially generate. The challenges that justify talking about responsibilities between generations are myriad (e.g., the amount of public debt that is fair to incur; the funding of future pensions; reparations for past wrongs; climate change). And the disputes they prompt can focus on the past just as much as on the present, even though the fact that the human species has reached a state of technological progress that enables it to have an irredeemable impact on the planet and perhaps even endanger future human existence tends to make concerns about the future more pressing. Debates on intergenerational justice are twofold. The first revolves around the issue of whether claims of justice across generations whose members' lifetimes do not necessarily overlap could be justified. And the second revolves around the specific conception of justice in play, that is, around the nature of the standard that must be applied as well as around the identification of the contents of the duties that present generations supposedly have vis‐à‐vis past or future generations. This survey article depicts the conceptual and argumentative framework in which these debates are set. It aims to outline certain of the main features shared by the most influential contemporary theories of intergenerational justice, and the problems inherent in them. It concludes by suggesting that, even though the idea of succeeding generations is merely an abstraction, there are specific empirical states of affairs that require different theoretical responses to intergenerational justice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages22
JournalPhilosophy Compass
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Intergenerational justice


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