Self-interest and intergenerational justice

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Rationality-based theories of justice commonly exclude non-contributors. However, it can be shown that rational agents have self-interested reasons to consider future generations and the unborn. Justice as mutual advantage is a special case in theories of justice that relies on individual rationality. It commonly excludes future generations since it is based on mutuality, which excludes non-contributors. Moral contractarianism, a theoretical and analytical tool that examines moral responsibility and desert, offers an argument for intergenerational justice: the idea that each generation has moral obligations to the next and moral requirements from the previous. The current argument starts from the idea that individuals are rational and participate in social contracts that regulate moral behaviour to further their interests through mutually advantageous interactions.
Agents within a social contract maximise by participating in as many mutually advantageous interactions as possible. The existence of a social contract implies that interactions take place within a social framework, where contributors and non-contributors are known. Information about past behaviour is widely available and is used in rational deliberation and selection of interlocutors. A second implication of the social contract is that agents interact repeatedly within a social context that includes a given set of interlocutors - a set social group. Thus, the social contract is a mechanism that performs three functions: Distributes information, establishes the repetitiveness of interactions and regulates the requirements of justice.
Given the above, agents have rational reasons to promote their reputation as means to attract potential interlocutors. The importance of reputation makes it rational for agents to participate in interactions with non-contributors to promote their reputation and ensure that they participate in as many interactions as possible. Therefore, it is rational for one to participate in interactions that are not mutually beneficial, in order to maximise the number of mutually beneficial potential interactions, and thus, maximise her utility overall.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019
EventZagreb Applied Ethics Conference 2019 - Klovićevi dvori Gallery, Zagreb, Croatia
Duration: 26 Jun 201928 Jun 2019


ConferenceZagreb Applied Ethics Conference 2019


  • theories of justice
  • self-interest
  • intergenerational justice
  • social contract


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