Philosophy of the Arts


Argumentum ad Futuram

The Argumentum ad Futuram is a fallacy for arguing from the assumed state of the future to say something to determine our choices in the present—it is no coincidence, I think, that the assumed future fits the views of the one appealing to it. The fallacy is meant to dismantle difficult ethical considerations.

I came across an instance of the fallacy in a news item last week. The item concerned the possibility of changing something to the energy with which our genes set themselves to their respective tasks. This would slower their aging, and this would contribute to the lengthening of our lives with approximately twenty years, on average. A scientist was interviewed and he asked us to imagine people one hundred years ahead of us thinking back about us. They would think of us as backward or dumb because we simply succumbed to dying whenever our bodies would give up.

…The ad futuram reflects the way we tend to think anyway…

The Argumentum ad Futuram says: if some defect shall be corrected in the future then deciding not to make this correction possible now is a stupidity, and pondering the relevant ethical ins and outs a redundancy.
The argument assumes, without argument, that there will be this future where we will do these things. So, what it actually says is: we are doing the right thing, the future proves it.This boils down to the thesis that scientific developments cannot be stopped no matter which ethical considerations we might have for wanting to prevent a certain development. Or: ethics will be trumped by envisaged reality, and therefore ethics is redundant. We are asked to ignore the fact that this envisaged future may be totally different in reality.

A warning: the Argumentum ad Futuram will often go unnoticed because it reflects the way we tend to think anyway.

A naturalistic fallacy

The Argumentum ad Futuram is a species of the naturalistic fallacy. The naturalistic fallacy derives an ought from an is: because things are in a certain way that is how they ought to be. For instance, in aesthetics it is a naturalistic fallacy to derive aesthetic values from preferences.
To think that this concert was good because it had violins in it and you are so fond of the violin is a case in point. Surely, there are bad classical concerts even though they contain the sound of the violin?

The notion of the naturalistic fallacy is also used to refer to the claim that what comes naturally is therefore good, but that is not what I am referring to here, nor am I alluding to this claim to argue against scienfic developments.
The Argumentum ad Futuram simply states the inevitability of a particular future that some ethical argument might want to warn against to argue that the ethical debate is redundant. As such it is typical of how many scientific developments are pushed forward.

In the present case, we should wonder whether it is an inherent good to lengthen human life. This ethical question can be discussed on a one-by-one basis—for instance, by arguing that it is not good for people with Alzheimer or other diseases that come at old age but that it is for healthy people—but that would be giving in to the inevitability of scientific development that the Argumentum ad Futuram is based in.