An Ethics of Love and Future Generations – Frances Howard-Snyder

The second plenary session at this year’s CCT conference was Frances Howard Snyder, on the Ethics of Love. Here are some notes:

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40

An Ethics of Love (EL): treat the second great commandment as the ultimate ground – not decision procedure – for our moral obligations to our fellow human beings.

Challenge to EL: It may give the wrong answer to questions about how to treat future generations.

First worry: Future people

  • If you love someone, it seems you have to know her or at least have some sort of causal interaction with her. We have no knowledge of, or casual interaction with, future people.
  • Response: We can make sense of loving people, far away, that we don’t really have interaction with. Future people may not be that different.

Second Worry: Uncertain People

  • “Uniquely realizable” people. People who will exist if you make one choice, but will not exist if you make the other.
  • Example: Handicapped Child Case
    • If Wilma has a child now it will be handicapped (Pebbles), if she waits it will be okay (Rocks). It seems as though Wilma has a moral obligation to wait.
  • What does an ethics of love have to say about this case?

Handicapped Child Case (An Argument)

P1  Wilma’s act of conceiving now does not make pebbles worse off than she would have otherwise been.

P2 If A’s act harms B, then A’s act makes B worse off than B would otherwise have been.

P3 Wilma’s act does not harm anyone other than Pebbles

P4 If an act does not harm anyone, it does not wrong anyone.

P5 If an act does not wrong anyone, then the act is not morally wrong

C Wilma’s act of conceiving Pebbles is not morally wrong

You can object to each of these premises.

An Ethics of Love and the Non-Identity Problem

  • EL can embrace these premises and the conclusion. Seems like the problem is solved… maybe

Wrongful Life Case

  • Ex: child conceived will live such an awful life, that it would be better off not existing. Intuition says its right, EL can agree.


Everyone is uncertain relative to me 1000 years from now

EL can respond to the problem of future generations, it need not be a special problem for it.

Q&A Time:

  • Can you love people in past generations? i.e. benefit or harm them?
  • Intuition seems to say, we have obligation to wait (i.e. Zika virus case), even though we don’t know to whom we have the obligation to wait.
  • Might love, in 2nd commandment, might actually be a value we ought to have rather than it being directed towards a specific person.





Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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