I'm new to the forum so please be kind!
I asked a question yesterday relating to epigenetics and if our offspring would be likely to follow our path of undertaking a similar occupation to ourselves. I have had a few replies which was great so thank you to those who answered me!
I wanted to know if you would mind helping me come to terms with another train of thought that I have been experiencing. It revolves around epigenetics (in terms of what we do now and it's implications on future offspring) but it also draws on the premise underpinning Derek Parfits disappearing beneficiaries argument of how by changing something today leads to different people being born in the future.
With that in mind this is my query:
If we understand that the concept of doing good is possible (not to one specific person but to humanity as a whole) and that we try to avoid doing bad to others, how do we justify our actions of helping others today when it may lead to suffering in the future?
Let me try to break this down by providing an example.
Mr X works as a nurse in healthcare and helps people everyday (say Mr X is a nurse and cares for people - some with minor injuries others with more serious injuries. The type of healthcare profession is not relevant for this example, as long as he is working in healthcare).
Some days Mr X only treats minor injuries, other days he is required to help people suffering from depression and anxiety.
Now I'm sure we would all agree that Mr X is doing something "good" and worthwhile with his life. However what if working in this profession (in this case Nursing) leads to a high rate of stress, anxiety and depression and Mr X eventually experiences this himself.
Due to Mr X experiencing depression which seriously affects his health he passes it on to his offspring (through epigenetics) which his children later experience as a result of their father having experienced the condition. In time they have children and this passes onto them etc etc.
Basically due to Mr X engaging in an occupation (in this example Nursing) which has say a higher rate of depression, it leads to a future population of people who have had this gene passed down to them and they too experience this condition.
With this in mind, how can society say that what Mr X is doing now (i.e. practicing in healthcare) has benefited society if he is predisposing the future generations to a greater risk of illnesses such as depression?
Most people would argue that Mr X has done significantly more good than harm by helping others today, and although his children may also suffer from the condition, if they went into health they too would assist people to a greater extent then the harm they cause to the future and so forth.
However what if the extent of the depression (or other illness) was so great that future offspring wished they had never been born?
Although Mr X has assisted many people today lots of these people will have only slightly benefited, whereas it could lead to many people in the future (over many generations) experiencing very severe depression whereby they wish they had never been born. Is this still considered good?
If Mr X was to undertake a different occupation altogether which decreased his chance of suffering depression (and hence reduce the likelihood of his offspring experiencing it) future offspring would be different to the ones in the first example (based on the disappearing beneficiaries argument) but in turn reducing the amount of future people who really suffer. Future generations who are then born but suffer slightly could not complain, as if Mr X was to go into health (and so does his children and their children etc.) they would never have been born in the first instance.
If this sounds like a stupid train of thought please be kind with your response, to me it is something very real and has been on my mind a great deal.
Thanks in advance