The Far Future Argument for Confronting Catastrophic Threats to Humanity: Practical Significance and Alternatives
Futures, vol. 72 (September), pages 86-96.
17 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2016
Date Written: October 14, 2015
Sufficiently large catastrophes can affect human civilization into the far future: thousands, millions, or billions of years from now, or even longer. The far future argument says that people should confront catastrophic threats to humanity in order to improve the far future trajectory of human civilization. However, many people are not motivated to help the far future. They are concerned only with the near future, or only with themselves and their communities. This paper assesses the extent to which practical actions to confront catastrophic threats require support for the far future argument and proposes two alternative means of motivating actions. First, many catastrophes could occur in the near future; actions to confront them have near-future benefits. Second, many actions have co-benefits unrelated to catastrophes, and can be mainstreamed into established activities. Most actions, covering most of the total threat, can be motivated with one or both of these alternatives. However, some catastrophe-confronting actions can only be justified with reference to the far future. Attention to the far future can also sometimes inspire additional action. Confronting catastrophic threats best succeeds when it considers the specific practical actions to confront the threats and the various motivations people may have to take these actions.
Keywords: ethics, risk, future
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation