Do Future Persons Presently Have Alternate Possible Identities?

  • Clark WolfEmail author
Part of the International Library of Ethics, Law, and the New Medicine book series (LIME, volume 35)


This paper argues that the nonidentity problem rests on an overly narrow conception of personal identity. The criteria for identity across possible worlds are vague and uncertain, unable to support the finely-grained judgments made in debating whether an action would harm future people. On the more plausible coarse-grained account of personal identity defended in this paper, there is no basis for denying that the very same child can be born genetically impaired or perfectly healthy. On this account of identity, the non-identity problem does not arise.


Personal identity Definite descriptions Possible worlds Vagueness. 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Broome, J. 2004. Weighing goods. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Broome, J. 1997. Is incommensurability vagueness? In Incommensurability, incomparability, and practical reason, ed. R. Chang. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Butler, S. 1910. Erewhon. Gutenberg Project. Accessed January 2008.
  4. Dawkins, R. 2006. The root of all evil. UK Channel 4. Alan Clements, Producer.Google Scholar
  5. De Shalit, A. 1995. Why posterity matters: Environmental policies and future generations. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Feinberg, J. 1984. Harm to others. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Feinberg, J. 1986. Wrongful life and the counterfactual element in harming. Philosophy and Social Policy 14(1): 145–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hare, C. 2007. Voices from another world: Must we respect the interests of people who do not, and will never, exist? Ethics 117: 498–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. MacLean, D. 1983. A moral requirement for energy policies. In Energy and the future, eds. D. MacLean and P. Brown, 180–197. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  10. Mill, J. S. 1980. On liberty. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  11. Parfit, D. 1982. Future generations: Further problems. Philosophy and Public Affairs 11(2): 113–72.Google Scholar
  12. Parfit, D. 1984. Reasons and persons. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  13. Priest, G. 2000. Logic: A very short introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Priest, G. 2001. An introduction to non-classical logic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Reiman, J. 2007. Being fair to future people: The non-identity problem in the original position. Philosophy and Public Affairs 35(1): 69–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Velleman, D. 2008. Persons in prospect. Philosophy and Public Affairs 36(3): 221–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Wolf, C. 1993. Justice between generations. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Arizona.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy and BioethicsIowa State UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations