Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

Kai Spiekermann (LSE): “Irreversible Losses”

20 November 2019, 4:30 pm6:00 pm

Abstract: I investigate two questions about irreversible loss. First, is there anything especially bad about an irreversible loss, as opposed to a loss that can be reversed in due course? Second, do we have a duty to avoid imposing (some) irreversible losses on future generations, and if yes, what is this duty based on? In this paper, I aim to answer these questions in five steps. (1) I give some motivating examples of problematic and harmless irreversible losses; (2) I propose a new definition of irreversibility and defend it against objections; (3) I explain the concept of “option value” and show that normative uncertainty provides a reason for avoiding irreversible loss; (4) I explore reasons why the current generation may have preferences over the long-term preservation of some goods; and (5) I set out three different theoretical approaches towards intergenerational ethics: a monist-liberal approach, a monist-perfectionist approach, and a pluralist approach.

One reason that makes the badness of irreversible loss stand out is that it affects all future generations to come. But why are we concerned about the loss of the Great Barrier Reef and less concerned about, for example, filling in a local pond, given that the loss of the pond might be just as irreversible? This suggests that a normative account of irreversible loss requires a substantial theory of what will be valuable to future generations, and what portfolios of goods we ought to preserve for them. However, developing a theory of intergenerational ethics is complicated by normative uncertainty. We do not know according to which conceptions of the good distant future generations will choose to live. When such uncertainty is present, irreversible loss is problematic because it narrows future options that may be more valuable to future generations. Most liberal theories of intergenerational justice see such questions as beyond the scope of justice and stay silent on these matters. One would expect theories of intergenerational ethics to provide some guidance, but this area of study is woefully under-developed and urgently requires more systematic attention.


20 November 2019
4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
Event Category:




LAK 2.06
Lakatos Building
London, WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
+ Google Map