Esoteric Allusion wrote:
Do you believe that it is both morally wrong to behave in such a manner that people yet to exist are harmed, for example by polluting the planet in such a way that it is uninhabitable 250 years from now, but that it iis not morally wrong to kill a blastocyst because it lacks personal identity and therefore cannot be harmed? If so, do you think those views are in tension with one another?
What if, instead of abortion, the issue was having a child in sub-optimal conditions such as having a child while relatively poor and instead of destroying the planet, we merely left it much worse off?
Are these moral attitudes towards persons that might exist and be harmed in the future inextricably linked? Why or why not?
To your questions, my answer is yes, it is wrong to harm people who are yet to exist, no, it is not wrong to kill blastocysts, and no, there is not a tension (at least not an immediate tension) between these views. But there is a much deeper problem lurking in this area.
Here's a plausible, very generic sort of moral principle I like: In order to do something wrong, you have to do something against which someone has or will have a complaint (related: in order to do something wrong, you have to wrong someone). When we're talking about harm-based complaints, the principle just says "no harm no foul".
"No harm no foul" lets us explain pretty straightforwardly why not bringing someone into existence (killing the blastocyst, or even simply deciding not to have a child) is not wrong, while hurting people who will exist in the future is wrong. If I choose not to bring someone into existence, then there's nobody to have a complaint against what I do. Nobody is harmed. If I choose to harm future people, those future people do have a complaint against what I did. They are harmed.
Great! Problem solved. Well...
The deeper problem is this: many of our actions, and especially actions that affect the future at a large scale, don't change the well-being of people who will exist no matter what - they change WHO will exist. If we change policy in a way that substantially increases pollution, it is plausible for butterfly-effect type reasons that in 250 years, the people who exist are a completely different set of people than if we don't change policy that way. "No harm no foul" suggests something quite odd about this. Since the people who exist in the polluted future would not have existed at all if we hadn't polluted, we have not harmed them (provided their lives are still worth living, at least). And if we have not harmed them, then they have no obvious complaint against what we did. And this is true of many procreative choices too. If you have a child in suboptimal conditions, you do not harm them, because there was no other way for that very person to exist.
If you're e.g. a classical utilitarian you're going to deny "no harm no foul". But then you really do start to have a tension, since on that view not bringing someone into existence is just as bad as killing them.
This sort of issue is actually one of the areas I am working in right now, and I just taught a course on it. In my view the problem of figuring out how to make decisions when the number and identity of people who exist depends on what you do is one of the two or three most interesting problems in moral philosophy (and philosophy more generally). Pretty much every view on the table (I won't spoil it for anyone who wants to take a stab) says something pretty crazy about some of these cases.