The concept of sustainable development is an attempt to balance two
moral demands placed on the environment. The first demand is for development,
including economic development or growth. It arises mainly from the interests
of people who live in developing countries. Their present poverty gives them a
low quality of life and calls urgently for steps to improve their quality of
life. The second demand is for sustainability, for ensuring that we do not risk
the future in the sake of gains in the present. This arises from the interests
of people in the future who will need access to a reasonable quality of life,
non-renewable resources, unspoiled wilderness, and a healthy biosphere. These
two moral demands do conflict. In fact, economic growth is the prime source of
threats to the natural environment.

We have a rough sense of what a good quality of life for humans consists
of. Also, we can make some rough judgments about when a person’s quality of
life has increased or decreased. Utilitarianism about future generations says
that people should weigh these increases impartially with respect to times. And,
in particular, should not prefer a smaller increase in the present well-being to
larger increases in the future. We should try to maximize the sum of increases
in well-being across times counting future lives equally against those in the
present. Our moral goal should always be to produce the greatest total of such
gains, no matter by whom they are enjoyed.

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Utilitarianism has been extensively discussed by philosophers, and many
objections have been raised against it. Two objections are especially relevant
here. First, utilitarianism is an extremely, even excessively demanding moral
view for most humans. If we have a duty always to bring about the best outcome,
than any time we can increase the well-being of others (which is just about at
any time), we have a moral duty to do so. There is no moral time off, no moral
relaxation, nor is there a moral holiday. Humans are always duty bound to
sacrificing something for the benefit of others at a given time. Second,
utilitarianism can favor unequal distributions of well-being. In particular, it
can impose severe deprivations on the few for the sake of gains for the many.

Given its interpretations of impartiality, utilitarianism will count the
deprivations of the few as a moral cost. But, if they produce benefits for
enough people, this cost will be outweighed. Even a severe inequality can be
balanced out and approved of by a utilitarian.

Some philosophers, feeling the force of these objections, have proposed
replacing utilitarianism about future generations with an egalitarian view.

This view cares not just about the sum of benefits across generations, but also
about their equitable distribution. We do not sacrifice the worst-off
generation for better-off generations, but aim at equality of conditions among
them. This egalitarian view can take many forms, but a good version has been
proposed by Brian Barry. He says that each generation has a duty to pass on to
its successors a total range of resources and opportunities that is at least as
good as its own.1 Those generations that enjoy favorable conditions of life
must pass on similar circumstances of life to their future. However,
generations that are less fortunate have no such stringent obligations. What is
required of each generation is that it just pass on a total package of
opportunities that is comparable to its own; whatever the exact composition of
that package may be. Barry’s approach to the egalitarian view can easily be
interpreted as an ethic of outcomes. Assuming this interpretation, is the
egalitarian view the best of our duty concerning future generations? There
seems to be one major objection against Berry’s view.

Brian Barry’s egalitarian view does not place excessive demands on early
generations to make sacrifices for the sake of later generations. That is
because it places no such demands-early generations need do nothing at all for
later generations. Surely early generations have some duty to enable their
successors to live better than themselves. An ideal of sustainability, or of a
constant level of well-being through time, may be attractive to think of when
starting from a high level of well-being. But, it is not so attractive when
starting from a low level of well-being. There is nothing inspiring about a
consistently maintained level of misery. Yet Barry’s view allows consistent
misery to persist. It finds nothing objectionable in a sequence where the first
generation passes on a very limited range of opportunities and resources to the
next generation, and so on. Surely this sequence of events is objectionable.

There may not be as stringent a duty to improve conditions for future
generations as utilitarianism claims, but there must be some such duty that

Personally, there has to be a middle between utilitarianism for future
generations and Brian Barry’s egalitarian view. I feel that our so-called duty
is only to make the conditions of future generations reasonably good. If people
follow utilitarianism, then we will say that we have a duty to give future
generations a reasonable quality of life through demanding sacrifices of
ourselves. And if people followed Barry’s egalitarian view, then future
generations may be stuck in the same rut as past generations. That is why a
middle-road must be used. By taking these two ideas, then we can see that each
generation should pass on to its successors a range of opportunities that allows
for a reasonable quality of life. However, it should not be seen as a duty. If
it is seen as a duty, then most humans may be turned off by the prospect of
taking care of their environment for future generations. If it is seen by
humans that our environment is a precious jewel, then we will more than likely
want to share it with our future generations.

Works Cited
1 Brian Berry, “Intergenerational Justice in Energy Policy.” In D. MacLean
and P. G. Brown, eds., Energy and the Future Totowa, NJ: Rowan and Littlefield,
1983 pp.274.

1. Barry, Brian. “Intergenerational Justice in Energy Policy,” in D. MacLean
and P. G. Brown, eds., Energy and the Future Totowa, NJ: Rowan and Littlefield,

2. Danielson, Peter. “Personal Responsibility,” in H. Coward and T. Hurka,
eds., Ethics and Climate Change: The Greenhouse Effect Waterloo: Wilfred
Laurier UP, 1993.

3. Sidgwick, Henry. The Methods of Ethics, 7th ed. London: Macmillan, 1907.

4. World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1987.


Utilitarianism Utilitarianism is the ethical doctrine which essentially states that which is good is that which brings about the most happiness to the most people. John Stuart Mill believed that the decisions we make should always benefit the most people as much as possible regardless of the consequences to the minority or even yourself. He would say all that matters in the decision of right versus wrong is the amount of happiness produced by the consequences. In the decisions we make Mill would say that we need to weigh the outcomes and make our decision based on that outcome that benefits the majority. For Mill, pleasure is the only desirable consequence of our decisions or actions.

The Judeo-Christian ethic embraced by Augustine places questions of right and wrong under the authority of a divine creator – God. The Judeo-Christian ethic can be summed up in one word – Love. In Matthew 22:40 Jesus says: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love you neighbor as yourself.

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When Augustine said, Love God and do what you will, I believe he is asserting the fact that when a person loves God truly he or she is in Gods will. John 14:15 says, If you love me, you will obey what I command. If a person obeys God which is loving God and loving his creation then a person is in his will. The decisions made by a person in Gods will are thus ethical decision in view of the fact that God is the ultimate moral authority. To help his creation in determining right from wrong he has provided the Bible. Although not every ethical question is covered in the Bible he has also given us his Spirit for guidance. Utilitarianism like the Judeo-Christian ethic is viewing others in a high regard.

Utilitarian desire the greatest happiness as an end and the Judeo-Christian perspective seeks love and obedience to God. These two ethical systems seem to be similar in this aspect of caring what happens to all people. Both Utilitarianism and the Judeo-Christian ethic take the focus off the individual and place it on others. The Utilitarian is aiming to bring about the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest amount of people. The Judeo-Christian ethic is God-centered with the commandment to truly love Him.

This love places a person in his divine will. People operating in this system are also called to love others as themselves. Being in Gods divine will is the end by which love is the means. A persons commitment is to God and his divine will. On the other hand, in Utilitarianism a persons commitment is to pleasure.

Another point of variance lies in the meaning of love and happiness. For Mills, happiness is the desired end regardless of the means. Thus there seems to be an absence of standards by which the means to obtain happiness are judged. If ten people would derive happiness by beating and robbing a man whose life affects no one, Utilitarianism seems to deem this ethical. On the other hand, the Judeo-Christian perspective clearly sets standards on actions.

The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself dispels such actions of beating and robbing others. Love as a commandment doesnt always necessarily mean happiness for the greatest number of people. In the Judeo-Christian ethic discipline is often a part of loving someone. In Mills ethics discipline is what may happen to the minority to provide happiness for the majority. In the Judeo-Christian ethic discipline may involve the majority such as in the case of Gods disciplinary actions on Israel.

In the process of forming a decision the Utilitarian must consciously weigh outcomes for the greatest happiness. This system places ultimate morality on the individual making the decision. This is in stark contrast to the moral authority found in the Judeo-Christian ethics of God. Philosophy.


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