Imagine we are faced with a choice between two policies, each of which has implications for the kinds of lives that will be led by those who will live in the further future. One policy creates a serious risk that those lives will be of a significantly lesser quality than if the other policy is chosen. It seems to me that the reason we have not to choose the seriously risky policy is that we owe it to those who will live in the further future not to do so. That is, to choose the risky policy would be to wrong those who will live in the further future.
This suggestion is likely to be thought by many to be philosophically suspect. In this paper, I argue that it is in fact quite plausible. Drawing on Scanlon’s contractualist account of what it is for one person to wrong another, I first offer an account of how a person can be wronged by being risked. I then go on to argue that the fact that who in particular will live in the further future turns on the choice of policy has no relevance for the question of the permissibility imposing a risk of serious burden on those who will live in the further future. We should, I suggest, reason about the permissibility of risking the interests of those who will live in the further future in the same way we reason about the permissibility of imposing a risk of being seriously burdened on strangers who live down the block.