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Beyond Self

Ethical and Spiritual Dimensions of Economics


Laszlo Zsolnai

This book addresses ethical and spiritual issues in economics. The central idea advanced in the book is that the extreme focus on the self by economic actors leads to the destruction of both material and non-material values.
The assumptions of self-interest in behavior represent the core of mainstream economics today. From this perspective, the welfare of economic agents depends on their own consumption; their goal is to maximize their own welfare; and their choice is guided by the pursuit of their own goals.
Throughout the book the author argues that self-interest-based actions and policies have a detrimental impact on nature, future generations, and society at large. If we want to survive and flourish in the material world we have to transcend the self and embrace wholeness. This value shift requires enormous changes in economics, politics and social life, but there may not be any other option in light of the current state of ecological degradation and human suffering.
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Chapter 11: Respect for Future Generations

1 Our Obligations to Future Generations


← 158 | 159 → CHAPTER 11

Respect for Future Generations*

Future generations are human beings who are yet to be born. Practically, we can imagine them as people who may live in the next 200 years. Activities of present generations may affect the fate of future generations for better or worse. What we do with our natural and cultural heritage mainly determines the way future generations may live their own lives in the future. As currently living human beings, we have an undeniable moral responsibility toward future human beings.

Hans Jonas argued that the ethics of responsibility involves not only the existence of future human beings but also the way they exist. The conditions of the existence of future generations should not cause their capacity of freedom and humanness to disappear. “Thus moral responsibility demands that we take into consideration the welfare of those who, without being consulted, will later be affected by what we are doing now. Without our choosing it, responsibility becomes our lot due to the sheer extent of the power we exercise daily.” (Jonas 1996).

We have natural responsibility toward future generations because our actions and policies affect their possibility of life without being consulted. ← 159 | 160 → We should consider every generation as equal and should not presuppose anything about the preferences of future generations.

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