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Our Great-Grandchildren's Morals

Here is an interesting reflection about what the future might hold regarding morality and how our great-grandchildren will judge our behavior. One thing is certain, it is an illusion to think that the circle of what is considered moral behavior will inevitably expand. We must question our own morality and engage with it if we want our great-grandchildren to even care about this question.

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So first, the question itself: what is it that our great-grandchildren will condemn us for? We believe that this is a very helpful question to ask. It alerts us to the contingency and particularity of our own moral views. It pricks the illusion that we are the pinnacle of something – the ‘end of history’ – and should therefore awaken us from any moral slumber. Yet it is different to asking simply ‘What are you or I doing wrong?’ This question, which implies we are not living up to current moral standards, is likely to inspire only shame or defensiveness. Our goal is a different one: it is to spark our moral imagination.

Of course, we can be whimsical in speculating about future norms. But we can also probe deeper, looking, for example, at the underlying trends that are still unfolding. Or asking where we are failing, not individually, but collectively as a moral community. In other words, we can use this question to imagine a better world, in the hope that imagining it is the first step to making it real. After all, the rights that we now enjoy we owe to those who dared question earlier norms. If our society is less sexist today than 100 years ago, it is because there were people back then arguing for women’s rights. Debating how ethics can change has a self-fulfilling power. By debating what morals might look like in the future, we are shaping that future, becoming part of it.

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