Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 2 » Intergenerational Justice - Historical Background, Philosophical And Ethical Background, Contractarian Approaches To Intergenerational Justice, Utilitarian Approaches, Libertarian Approaches

Intergenerational Justice - Contractarian Approaches To Intergenerational Justice

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Social-contract theories of justice offer us a quite different way of looking at intergenerational justice. According to this school of thought people incur morally binding obligations of justice only by virtue of their consent or agreement. Whereas for Callahan the concept of a natural lifespan defines what expectations for health care are reasonable at different stages of life, for the contractarian normative judgments are solely a matter of rational choice by unfettered individuals. Rather than viewing ethical obligations as unalterable dictates imposed by God, nature, or by one's station in life, the contractarian regards the source of ethical obligation to be free and rational agents. The social contract view is sometimes put forward as a comprehensive ethical theory, and sometimes presented as an account of justice and social obligation.

Working in this tradition, philosopher Norman Daniels frames the problem of intergenerational justice as a problem of choosing what resources we should devote to old age. Yet rather than calling for a consensus among members of the society, as social contract views typically do, Daniels casts intergenerational justice as a first-person problem of prudential choice. Intergenerational justice is thus viewed as a problem of distributing scarce resources between the older and younger stages of each person's own life. In other words, we should stop thinking about intergenerational justice as arising between distinct groups of people. The young and old are one and the same—in the sense that each person passes through youth, adulthood, and old age.

Before choosing how to allocate resources across our life span, Daniels introduces a procedural constraint aimed at ensuring fair and impartial conditions for choosing. To prevent people from biasing the distribution of resources to the stage of life they currently occupy, they must be blind to their own actual age, and then imagine that they will live out their whole lives with the result of their choice. In other words, people should expect to experience firsthand the advantages and disadvantages of their distributive choices for youth, adulthood, and old age.

With this background, Daniels goes on to argue that people would opt for a scheme that improved their chances of reaching a normal life expectancy, rather than one that gave them a greater chance of living beyond a normal life expectancy. In the area of health care, for example, it is just for a society to impose age-based restrictions on health care in order to free up resources devoted to improving people's chances of reaching normal life expectancy. Daniels emphasizes that rationing medical care by age is consistent with treating persons equally. This is because, unlike sexism or racism, differential treatment by age equalizes over time. If we treat the old one way and the young another, over time each person is treated both ways.

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