Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Essentiality of origins and the non-identity problem

I assume that a strong essentiality of origins thesis holds, so that for any action we could take but did not take, had we taken the action, none of the individuals who will in fact come into existence would come into existence. For the causal history of every individual coming into being in our future (i.e., in our future light-cone) includes the (often extremely minor) gravitational and other influences coming from our actions. Thus, any benefit or harm we do to future individuals is a benefit or harm we do to individuals who wouldn't have existed had we not done them that benefit or harm. This means that the non-identity problem--the problem of benefits and harms to individuals who wouldn't exist had they not been thus benefited or harmed--is always there when we consider benefits and harms to individuals who do not yet exist. The non-identity problem isn't just a special problem that arises in cases where people's reproductive decisions are caused by our actions (say, as when a couple procreates because the parents of one of them have established a generous trust fund for all future grandchildren), but it arises in regard to future individuals in everything we do.

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