Tremmel’s Theory of Intergenerational Justice – Introductory Chapter

This week I will be reading A Theory of Intergenerational Justice by Joerg Chet Tremmel. It is more recent than the other material I have covered so far, with this book having been published in 2009 (compared to the early 80s for the other material). For the most part I will follow the same general structure as my previous posts, with a brief summary and a small critique, although this post will just do the former. Also note that I will not be covering the second chapter as it deals with the epistemological question of developing definitions, which is useful for reading the book, but not necessary for a summary of his main arguments.

In this introductory chapter, Tremmel sets the stage for intergenerational justice as a field. He explains the lack of a theory of intergenerational justice as the result of the fact that we haven’t needed a comprehensive theory in the past, or that the limited powers of humans hasn’t made a theory necessary. This situation has changed over the last century as we have become more powerful as a species, and we have come to realise that we hold a new power to impact the lives of people far into the future. Whereas our ancestors had the ability to impact the lives of only the next couple generations, we have the power to change the climate for the next ten thousand years.

Philosophers have been slow to develop a theory of intergenerational justice, with the main theorists (e.g. Rawls) have treated intergenerational justice as a minor topic worth only a couple pages. In contrast, Tremmel wants to develop a theory of justice that incorporates intergenerational justice with intragenerational concerns. He says that while mainstream philosophers have ignored the issue, others have gone too far by developing theories that only work with intergenerational justice, or even more restricted to environmental justice, without developing a single comprehensive theory. He also notes the importance of developing a theory in philosophy rather than leaving the study to other fields. Not only does philosophy look at the fundamental definition of justice, it also brings together research from many different fields.