This is the first version of an article written as part of a research on intergenerational responsibility. Your comments are very welcome.
1. Introduction: Future ethics and the idea of a moral pragmatics
The branch of ethics that deals with questions reaching far into the future, in short, future ethics, is primarily concerned with ends rather than means. It is interested, in the first place, in the moral quality of the ends to which future-directed actions pertain and much less with the means by which these are, or might be, attained. It even has a tendency to leave questions concerning means to recognised ends to more “technical” disciplines like economics and political science. This does not mean that future ethics is inherently of a teleological or even utilitarian kind. Nevertheless, its primary concern is with postulating certain values and benefits, aggregative or distributional, irrespective of the means their consistent pursuit may involve.
This tendency contrasts in important ways with what is usually assumed in practical morality. In practical morality, the means usually matter no less than the ends. The saying, frequent in some ethical systems, that if you will the ends you must also will the means to that end, has no valid counterpart in practical morality. Even if there are strong moral reasons to achieve a certain end the situation may be such that the only available means are morally problematic to an extent that you either have to look for morally more defensible alternatives or to give up pursuing of the end in question. Even ends that seem to be highly morally commendable or even morally required have to given up if the only means to achieve them seem morally indefensible. From the point of view of practical morality, not only means have to be adjusted to ends on the basis of what is known about their expected efficacy and efficiency but also ends have to be adjusted to what is known about the means available for achieving them. Adjusting means to ends is a double-sided affair.