Cheap Preferences and Intergenerational Justice

This paper focuses on a specific challenge for welfarist theories of intergenerational justice. Subjective welfarism permits and even requires that a generation, G1, inculcates cheap preferences in the next generation, G2. This would allow G1 to deplete resources instead of saving them, which seems to contradict the ideal of sustainability. The aim of the paper is to show that, even if subjective welfarism requires the cultivation of cheap preferences among future generations, it can accommodate two major objections to cheap preferences engineering, the Autonomy Objection and the Fairness Objection. The paper argues that teaching autonomy-related abilities is compatible with cheap preferences engineering insofar as autonomy is understood as an end-state and not as a precondition. Furthermore, teaching autonomy-related abilities could even be required in order to improve G2’s prospects for well-being. However, since being autonomous renders G2 able to revise their initially cheap preferences, G1 should also save enough resources to enable members of G2 to do so. Therefore, cultivating cheap preferences among G2 does not allow G1 to deplete the available resources.