The Non-Identity Problem and the Ethics of Future People

ISBN : 9780199682935

David Boonin
320 Pages
163 x 236 mm
Pub date
Oct 2014
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David Boonin presents a new account of the non-identity problem: a puzzle about our obligations to people who do not yet exist. Our actions sometimes have an effect not only on the quality of life that people will enjoy in the future, but on which particular people will exist in the future to enjoy it. In cases where this is so, the combination of certain assumptions that most people seem to accept can yield conclusions that most people seem to reject. The non-identity problem has important implications both for ethical theory and for a number of topics in applied ethics, including controversial issues in bioethics, environmental ethics and disability ethics. It has been the subject of a great deal of discussion for nearly four decades, but this is the first book-length study devoted exclusively to its examination. Boonin begins by explaining what the problem is, why the problem matters, and what criteria a solution to the problem must satisfy in order to count as a successful one. He then provides a critical survey of the solutions to the problem that have thus far been proposed in the sizeable literature that the problem has generated and concludes by developing and defending an unorthodox alternative solution, one that differs fundamentally from virtually every other available approach.


1. Five Plausible Premises and One Implausible Conclusion
2. Rejecting the First Premise
3. Rejecting the Second Premise
4. Rejecting the Third Premise
5. Rejecting the Fourth Premise
6. Rejecting the Fifth Premise
7. Accepting the Conclusion

About the author: 

David Boonin is Professor of Philosophy and Associate Dean for Arts and Humanities at the University of Colorado. He received his BA from Yale University, and his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh. He taught at Georgetown University (1992-94) and Tulane University (1994-98) before taking up his current position in 1998. He also held a visiting position for a semester as an Erskine Fellow at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2006. Boonin is the author of Thomas Hobbes and the Science of Moral Virtue (CUP, 1994), A Defense of Abortion (CUP, 2003), The Problem of Punishment (CUP, 2008), and Should Race Matter? (CUP, 2011), as well as articles on such subjects as animal rights, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, and our moral obligations to future generations. He is also the co-author and co-editor, with his colleague Graham Oddie, of the popular textbook What's Wrong?: Applied Ethicists and Their Critics (OUP, 2009 [second edition]).

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