Moral Weight of the Future

it's pretty heavy for something that doesn't exist yet
According to the moral weight perspective, the wellbeing of the future is important simply because the future is a lot longer than today.

Example moral weight calculation

Here is a crude example for one could calculate the moral weight of the future:
  • an estimated 500 million years that Earth can support complex life
  • convert each century that Earth has complex life as being the equivalent of 20 billion human lives
  • thus, this calculation gives a moral weight of 1×10¹⁷ (or 100 quadrillion lives).

If we place a value of 5 billion lives on “today” (i.e. a quarter of a century's value), this gives the moral weight of the future as roughly 20 million times that of the present. (100 quadrillion ÷ 5 billion)

Using the concept of moral weight in relation to risk to Life on Earth

The concept of moral weight is particularly well-suited for risks that threaten the entire future of Life on Earth: one simply multiplies the probability of the risk by the entire weight of the future. Let's say that you wanted to test a new technology that had a one-in-a-billion chance of destroying the planet's ability to support life. It seems like a small probability until you put it in terms of moral weight: if you have assigned a moral weight to the future of 1×10¹⁷ lives, then your experiment would be morally equivalent to killing 100 million people.

Applying the moral weight perspective to one's own life

The concept of moral weight can also be useful weighing our life today against our total future life. If a person has a remaining life expectancy of 20,000 (about 50 years) then the moral weight of their future would be roughly 20,000 times that of today. Even one action, such as trying a cigarette for the first time, can have a significant personal moral weight. As a simplified example, imagine that smoking that first cigarette can double the chances of smoking, and that smoking reduces life expectancy by 10 years. Thus, that one action would have a moral weight of 4,000 days.

Moral aftershadow

The concept of a moral aftershadow is built on the concept of moral weight. The consequences of our actions are multiplied by the moral weight of the future.