In a recent online essay on The New York Times Opinionator Blog, Peter Singer, author of The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty, posits a simple yet profound question: should this be the last generation?
Citing the work of philosophers Schopenhauer and Benatar, Singer considers human existence and follows these philosophers’ logic to the conclusion that “continued reproduction will harm some children severely, and benefit none”. And so he makes a modest proposal for “universal sterilization” that will end the cycle of suffering, and the feelings of guilt that come with wrecking an environment for future generations. “If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to fell guilty about.” However, Singer’s optimistic side eventually prevails and he comes to value a universe filled with sentient beings over one without.
What do you think? What kind of moral obligation do we have to create future generations? On the other hand, what kind of responsibility do we bear for the suffering they will endure as a result of our bringing them into existence? Would future generations paradoxically benefit from having never been brought into such a troubled existence? Would the universe be better off without us?
Consider these questions and the ones posed in Singer’s piece and post a thoughtful comment here. Then email us for your free copy (this offer is open only to educators at accredited institutions. Please be sure to include your full school mailing address). To read an excerpt from Singer’s book, which will be out in paperback this September, please click here.