Category Archives: Philosophy & Ethics

Notes: Future Justice

As a concept, “future justice” is theoretically vast, for it encompasses all the rights of all the people (and nature, as some countries have begun to recognize the rights of ecosystems) living in the future. If all goes well, the people of the future will greatly outnumber all the people alive today. Their rights to clean water, a stable climate, and a world free from oppression and war should therefore count greatly in our decision making.

In practice, however, the topic of future justice is frighteningly small, occupying no more than a few small pixels on the great screen of the world.

The early years of the 21st century saw a sudden growth of interest in future justice, and several countries began experimenting with the creation of new governmental commissioners or “ombudsmen” whose job was to safeguard those rights. Most often, the initial focus was on the environment; but issues of human rights were also in the picture. Hungary, the Philippines, and Namibia have functioning ombudsmen, with varying degrees of autonomy and authority, ranging from the ability to prosecute environmental crimes to advisory and educational activities. Perhaps the most prominent and well-functioning such office is Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.

Future justice is also a catch-all term for legal proceedings brought on behalf of children or future generations, such as lawsuits against governments for not acting on the threat of future climate change or other environmental threats. A few of these lawsuits have been remarkably successful, including a landmark decision in 2015 that forced the government of the Netherlands to accelerate its action to reduce carbon emissions. (The government is appealing that decision. A good summary of what is happening internationally, as of early 2018, was published in English by Germany’s DW, a development media organization.)

An early draft of the United Nations agreement from the 2012 “Rio+20” summit, The Future We Want, proposed the creation of a United Nations High Commissioner for Future Generations, a global role similar in authority to the  high commissioners for refugees and human rights. But the proposal — which advocates criticized as weak — did not survive the negotiating process and was dropped from the final text.

As of 2018, several non-governmental organizations continued to promote the concept of future justice generally, and the role of independent commissioners and ombudsmen specifically, including the World Future Council and the Network of Institutions for Future Generations. (For a 2-minute video on the concept, see below.)

It is surprisingly difficult to get up-to-date information on the status of these institutions, because the NGOs that promote them appear to be understaffed, or at least slow to update their websites. Nor is there a relevant Wikipedia entry. (These are just two indicators that the movement is still, as noted above, “frighteningly small”.)

But some information be gleaned through these two portals: – Global view of mechanisms recognising future generations. Includes an interactive map that shows where institutions exist, or where reference to the rights of future generations (e.g. rights to a clean environment) are included in official national documents. Not all the links are working or are updated (as of Mar 2018).

Network of Institutions for Future Generations – Members List. Provides web links to a number of relevant national institutions, which take varying forms (at least one, Israel’s commissioner, is listed as “former”). The website does not seem to have been updated since early 2017.

Video on the argument for creating a UN High Commissioner, by the World Future Council (posted March 2016):


Book: Exact Thinking in Demented Times (Sigmund)

Karl Sigmund, Exact Thinking in Demented Times: The Vienna Circle and the Epic Quest for the Foundations of Science, New York, NY: Basic Books, 2017.

Sigmund tells a riveting story about the intellectual vortex of ideas and thinkers centered on Vienna in early years of the 1900s, and how those thinkers survived (or in many cases, did not survive) those years of increasing violence and persecution, climaxing with World War II.

Attempting to establish firm foundations for the new “scientific worldview” was an extremely future-focused activity, not to say visionary. Participants in the Vienna Circle — overwhelmingly male — were aiming at nothing less than the intellectual reform of humanity. To an astonishing degree, when one looks at the various threads of impact that ultimately radiated out of Vienna and into the world, from the interpretation of the implications of Einstein’s breakthroughs, to the development the fundamental mathematical theory behind the design of computers, to the invention of the use of infographics for public education, and more, they succeeded.

Quote: For we understand neither why this world exists (Gödel)

For we understand neither why this world exists, nor why it is constituted just as it is, nor why we are in it, nor why we were born in just these and no other circumstances. Why then should we fancy that we know one thing for sure, that there is no other world, and that we never were nor ever will be in another?

— Kurt Gödel, letter to his mother, cited by Karl Sigmund, Exact Thinking in Demented Times, 2017, p. 381.

Quote: To transform the world (Krishnamurti)

To transform the world, we must begin with ourselves; and what is important in beginning with ourselves is the intention. The intention must be to understand ourselves and not to leave it to others to transform themselves. This is our responsibility, yours and mine, because however small may be the world we live in, if we can bring about a radically different point of view in our daily existence, then perhaps we shall affect the world at large.

— J. Krishnamurti

(Cited in the Balaton Bulletin, Winter 1999)

About this Category: Philosophy & Ethics

In development.

The category of “Philosophy” includes texts and artifacts connected to philosophical treatment of the future: examining our beliefs and concepts about it, as well as our interpretations of what science is telling us regarding what the future is, and how we should relate to it. Note that ethics and ethical deliberation is almost always concerned with the future, since ethics has to do with guidance for decisions and actions that have not yet been taken.