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Do We Really Care About Our Future?

Kwame Anthony Appiah's What will future generations condemn us for?
Do We Really Care About Our Future?

Appiah, a professor of philosophy at Princeton University, has written an op/ed piece that every Christian should take to heart. He is a native Ghanian and has written widely in political and moral theory, cosmopolitanism, and the philosophy of language. He has also authored three novels, one introduction to philosophy generally, and one to contemporary philosophy. The recipient of many prizes, honors and awards, he is generally recognized as one of the foremost thinkers in the world on the problems faced by a world growing ever closer to itself.

He answers the question posed by the title of his article by first stating three criteria by which we can discern what the issues our descendants will wonder about, then giving four examples of issues he thinks fit the criteria.

Appiah does not defend his reasons for thinking the three criteria he suggests are valid, but he hardly could in a piece of this length. They are 1) the issue has been around for awhile, as have the arguments against it. Slavery for instance was not first opposed in the nineteenth century. 2) Defenders of the custom do not offer moral arguments against it but rather “invoke tradition, human nature, or necessity”. 3) Supporters participate in what Appiah calls “strategic ignorance”, seeking to avoid the “truths that might force them to face the evils in which they’re complicit”.

Appiah offers the following as examples of present day practice that might go the way of the dinosaur and cause our descendants to cock their heads and ask, “What were they thinking?” 1) our prison system with its gross inequities and dangers; 2) industrial meat production with its practices outlawed in many other countries of the world; 3) the way we institutionalize and isolate our elderly (here Appiah’s African background is instructive); and 4) the environment and “our wasteful attitude towards the planet’s natural resources and ecology”.

While existentialism as a philosophy has been passé for some time, it nevertheless continues to work its evil leaven into the way we lead our lives in the America of the twenty-first century. Thinking only of the present moment, we merrily take little thought of tomorrow, and we may well die because of it. Kwame’s article points us in the direction of thinking more fully about the world we will leave our children, and, while we may not agree with him fully about either the major areas that we presently take for granted but will someday pass away, or even the criteria by which we can discern what those areas may be, we can thank him for raising the question.

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