No matter what moral theory one might turn to, one will find a strong affirmation of our obligation to future generations to preserve or restore a thriving, healthy world filled with beauty and possibility. Where is there room for escape from this obligation? What is the name of the virtue that would allow us to believe that we could care only about ourselves, act as if present or future beings had no pull on us, and then turn around and assert our goodness?
Certainly there is no room for escape from our obligations in an appeal to the divine. What sort of deity would sanction disregard for the future and still command our praise? And really, how can it be prudent, or beneficial to any being alive or imagined to discount the future? The world’s wisdom makes the same demand of us: we have a moral obligation to avert harms to the future.
A dissenter might argue in response that the concept of obligations to the future makes no sense at all. The future does not exist. How can we have a responsibility to nothing at all? Or even if future beings can be imagined to exist, how can we know what their interests are, or what they might ask of us? How can there be obligations to abstractions?
On the contrary, we would reply, people show strong loyalty to abstractions every time they act in ways that honor conceptual ideals such as freedom, liberty and prosperity. Loyalty to abstractions is the stuff of this world. Arguments about responsibility to the future do indeed require us to imagine a world that does not yet exist. They further require us to be morally moved by that imagined vision. Loyalty to what we can only imagine is what hope is made of. If any among us does not have the ability to imagine the pain or rejoicing of people other than themselves, then perhaps a first step in moral development is to practice that imagining. This is the work of moral education.
The fulfillment of our responsibilities requires something extraordinary of us. We must develop the moral imagination that will allow us to see ourselves in the places of our progeny, to see the world through their wide eyes, to imagine their sorrow and their hopes—not so different from our own. Indeed, we must develop empathy with wild creatures. We must nourish in ourselves the humility to escape an infantile egoism, even though this humility is often foreign to us, requiring an unfamiliar renunciation of the self, requiring us to understand that the universe was not created for our particular species and generation alone—and that we are not the measure of all its worth. We must find a way to enlist all the powers of the human mind and heart. These are not only our rational powers, but the additional gifts that define us a fully human—our abilities to care, to grieve, to yearn, to celebrate, to fear, to analyze, to dream, to hope, to love, to have faith. Above all, we must learn to listen to the Earth, which resounds with a wisdom we can hear if we try, wisdom born of the longest reaches of time and space, red leaves falling from oak trees, soft rain, children coming home at dusk.
Excerpted with permission from “Moral Ground: Ethical Action For a Planet in Peril,” Kathleen Dean Moore & Michael P. Nelson (2010). www.moralground.com
Posted: 7/24/2013 11:50:05 AM by
Mary Kestner | with 0 comments