Are temporal locations of harms and benefits important to human existence? Conventional wisdom unambiguously suggests so, albeit interpretations of various dogmatic texts and beliefs. Discussions about pain, grief, and suffering are commonly favored within past temporal settings, unlike those of happiness, comfort, and wellbeing that permeate conversations with future temporal locales. Past pain is preferred to future pain, even when this choice includes more total pain (Callender, 2011). Should these positive and negative qualifiers that constitute conscious existence have privileged temporal locations? This ethical question, like many others surrounding temporality, inherits both theoretical and pragmatic inquiries - becoming indispensable within moral and juridical dispositions. The concept of temporal neutrality, which posits that agents should not attach normative significance to temporal locations of benefits and harms, all else being equal, is central to the present philosophical investigation.
In his Prospects for Moral Neutrality chapter of The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Time (2011), David O. Brink articulates what exactly temporal neutrality requires and why we ought to care about its precepts. As they are assessed by how they distribute benefits and harms across people’s lives through interpersonal distributive justice, actions and policies can also be assessed by their distribution of benefits and harms across time. This concept of intertemporal distribution is a normative demand of temporal neutrality, and according to some philosophers it makes temporal neutrality an essential part of rationality (Brink, 2011). However, establishing an impartial foundation for temporal neutrality often appears controversial and counterintuitive.
"Time, Ethics and Experience: Review of David O. Brink's Prospects for Temporal Neutrality,"
Themis: Research Journal of Justice Studies and Forensic Science: Vol. 3
, Article 11.
Available at: https://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/themis/vol3/iss1/11