Fact-insensitive thought experiments in climate ethics

Exemplified by Parfit’s non-identity problem

Authored by: Jörg Tremmel

Routledge Handbook of Climate Justice

Print publication date:  November  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138689350
eBook ISBN: 9781315537689
Adobe ISBN:


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More than some other fields of ethics, climate ethics is related to pressing real-world problems. Climate ethicists have a responsibility to be precise about the status of the problems they discuss. The non-identity problem (NIP) plays a prominent role in the climate ethics literature. In a widely discussed statement, Derek Parfit claimed that a risky climate policy is not harmful for (distant) future people, but this ignores the “insignificant-causal-factors rejoinder.” The Parfitian assertion is still treated as a serious problem to theories of climate justice in key philosophical texts, and this may mislead climate policy decision-makers. Philosophers should acknowledge that the NIP, when applied to climate change, is “just” a thought experiment and should communicate it in this way to people outside the philosophical community.

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