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STOLZE - PHILOSOPHY 102 Notes on Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 3 rd ed., chapters 8-10.

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Presentation on theme: "STOLZE - PHILOSOPHY 102 Notes on Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 3 rd ed., chapters 8-10."— Presentation transcript:

1 STOLZE - PHILOSOPHY 102 Notes on Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 3 rd ed., chapters 8-10

2 Chapter 8: Global Poverty Relative vs. Absolute/Extreme Poverty Poverty and Murder The Drowning Child Thought Experiment Singer’s Basic Argument for Assisting the Global Poor Objections to Giving Thomas Pogge’s Alternative Response to Global Poverty Objections to the Drowning Child Thought Experiment

3 Relative vs. Absolute Poverty Relative poverty = “poor by comparison to others in [one’s own] society” (p. 192). The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2010 the nation’s official poverty rate was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009 ─ the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. There were 46.2 million people in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009 ─ the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published. In 2010 the number of people without health insurance was 49.9 million or 16.3%. Absolute (or extreme) poverty = = “not having enough income to meet the most basic human needs for adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, sanitation, health care or education” (p. 191). The World Bank has established an absolute “poverty line” of an income of $1.25 per day per person, below which the total number of people has varied from 1.8 billion in 1981 to 1.3 billion in 2005. As of 2008, 950 million people in the world were malnourished. The annual death toll from poverty- related causes is 18 million, or one third of all human deaths.

4 Rising Economic Inequality in the United States “The top 1 percent of households have secured a very large share of all of the gains in income—59.9 percent of the gains from 1979–2007, while the top 0.1 percent seized an even more disproportionate share—36 percent. In comparison, only 8.6 percent of income gains have gone to the bottom 90 percent. The patterns are similar for wages and capital income. As they have accrued a large share of income gains, the incomes of the top 1 percent of households have pulled far away from the incomes of typical Americans. In 2007, average annual incomes of the top 1 percent of households were 42 times greater than incomes of the bottom 90 percent (up from 14 times greater in 1979) and incomes of the top 0.1 percent were 220 times greater (up from 47 times greater in 1979).” (From Lawrence Mishel and Josh Bivens, “Occupy Wall Streeters are Right about Skewed Economic Rewards in the United States” [ street/].) street/

5 Poverty and Murder Is extreme poverty the moral equivalent of murder? Possible differences between killing vs. allowing to die: (1) Different motivations (2)Difference in duty to avoid killing as opposed to duty to save (3)Different likelihood of the outcomes (4)Who are the individual victims? (5)I am not responsible for the plight of the extremely poor Singer’s response to these objections

6 The Drowning Child Thought Experiment “On my way to give a lecture, I pass a shallow ornamental pond and notice that a small child has fallen in and is in danger of drowning. I look around to see where the parents, or babysitter, are, but to my surprise, I see that there is no one else around. It seems that it is up to me to make sure that the child doesn’t drown. Would anyone deny that I ought to wade in and pull the child out? This will mean getting my clothes muddy, ruining my shoes and either cancelling my lecture or delaying it until I can find something dry to change into; but compared with the avoidable death of a child none of these things are significant” (p. 199).

7 Singer’s Basic Argument (1)If we can prevent something bad without sacrificing anything of comparable significance, we ought to do it. (2)Extreme poverty is bad. (3)There is some extreme poverty we can prevent without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance. (4)Therefore, we ought to prevent some extreme poverty.

8 Objections to Giving Taking care of our own Property rights Population and the ethics of triage Leaving it to the government Too high a standard

9 A Different Perspective: Thomas Pogge on Global Poverty As opposed to Singer, Thomas Pogge (especially in his book World Poverty and Human Rights, 2 nd edition [Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008]) denies that duties to the poor are positive duties to lend assistance; he reframes them as negative duties not to harm. According to Pogge, we are not responsible for doing something about global poverty because we are bystanders who have simply stood by and done nothing as an unjust state of affairs has developed. On the contrary, if we don’t act to help the world’s poor, then we have failed in our negative duty to stop bringing about the injustice. As a result, we have responsibilities because of our previous actions rather than our inaction. The heart of Pogge’s position is that global poverty is the direct responsibility of the richer world: we have caused the poverty and directly harmed the poor. We should stop causing this harm! Objection: Poverty is not primarily caused by the international order but rather by unstable—and often brutal and corrupt—regimes governing poorer and developing countries. Pogge’s Response: Even if we haven’t directly caused the poverty in other countries, we still have positive duties if we continue to recognize, trade, or interact with their regimes.

10 Another Thought Experiment “There was once a village along a river. The people who lived here were very kind. These people, according to parable, began noticing increasing numbers of drowning people caught in the river’s swift current. And so they went to work devising ever more elaborate technologies to resuscitate them. So preoccupied were these heroic villagers with rescue and treatment that they never thought to look upstream to see who was pushing the victims in.” —Sandra Steingraber, Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, 2 nd edition (New York: Da Capo Press, 2010), p. ix.

11 An Objection to the Drowning Child Thought Experiment Singer’s analogy is weak: Singer fails to identify the structural obstacles that prevent the child from being rescued. A better analogy would point out that there is an intricate apparatus (e.g., netting or scaffolding) above the pond that not only (a) prevents the child from escaping on its own but also (b) makes it extremely difficult for individuals alone to know how to extricate the child from this apparatus; what is needed is combined and collective action to free the child. In other words, politics and not just charity is required to solve the problem of world poverty.

12 Chapter 9: Climate Change The scientific evidence for human-caused climate change The likely consequences of “business as usual” Stages of climate change denial What is an equitable distribution? Climate change as a form of aggression What ought individuals to do? The Complicity Principle

13 Stages of Climate Change Denial It isn't happening. Okay, it's happening, but it isn't human-caused. Okay, it's happening and human-caused, but maybe it's a good thing overall. Okay, it's pretty frightening, but technology (or God) will save us in the end. It's too late--there's nothing we can do.

14 What is an Equitable Distribution? The Polluter Pays Argument (“You broke it—you fix it!”) The Equal Shares Argument The Ability to Pay Argument The “From We to I” Argument Luxury vs. Subsistence Carbon Emissions

15 The Polluter Pays Principle “You Broke It—You Fix It!” “Since 1850, the developed world is responsible for a total of 76 per cent of carbon-dioxide emissions, while the developing world has contributed just 24 per cent (Source: James Garvey, The Ethics of Climate Change, p. 70).

16 The Polluter pays Argument: “You Broke It—You Fix It!” 1.People should contribute to fixing something in proportion to their responsibility for breaking it. 2.The developed nations have “broken” the earth’s climate system. 3.Therefore, the developed nations owe it to the rest of the world to fix the problem with the earth’s climate system.

17 Objections to the Polluter Pays Argument The damage was done by previous generations. The damage to the Earth’s climate has been an accident or an unintentional outcome.

18 The Equal Shares Argument 1.Everyone is entitled to an equal share of greenhouse gas emissions that flow into the global “carbon sink.” 2.Rich nations like the U.S. have already used more than their share. 3.Therefore, rich nations like the U.S. should immediately begin to cut back on their greenhouse gas emissions.

19 The Ability to Pay Argument 1.The greater the ability to do what is right, the greater the obligation to do what is right. 2.The developed nations have a greater ability to take action on climate change. 3.Therefore, the developed nations have a greater obligation to take action on climate change.

20 “Cap and Trade” in Greenhouse Gas Emissions “Emissions trading works on the simple economic principle that if you can buy something more cheaply than you can produce it yourself, you are better off buying it than producing it. In this case, what you buy will be a transferable quota to produce greenhouse gases, allocated on the basis of an equal per capita share. International carbon trading means that cuts in carbon emissions will be made at the lowest possible cost, thus doing the least possible damage to the global economy. Moreover, a carbon trading scheme gives countries with few greenhouse gas emissions – generally, poor countries – an incentive to keep their emissions low, so that they have more emissions quota to sell to rich countries that are over their quota. Thus, an international emissions trading scheme could contribute towards solving the problem of poverty discussed in the previous chapter. It would involve the transfer of resources from rich nations to poor ones – not as altruism, but as payment for a valuable commodity” (p. 226).

21 Objections to “Cap and Trade” Schemes Would such a scheme be verifiable? Would payments to poor countries actually benefit their people? There would be a “perverse effect” on altruistic actions. See Annie Leonard’s video The Story of Cap and Trade (

22 The Complicity Principle “I am accountable for what others do when I intentionally participate in the wrong they do or the harm they cause” (p. 233).

23 Another Argument: “From We to I” 1.If we in the industrialized world are wrong to do nothing to stop uncontrolled climate change, even though we can, then I as an individual am also wrong to do nothing—especially if I can. 2.But we in the industrialized world are doing (virtually) nothing to stop uncontrolled climate change, even though we can. 3.Therefore, I as an individual am also wrong to do (virtually) nothing—especially if I can.

24 Climate Change as a Form of Aggression “When we think of ‘aggression’, we imagine troops moving across a border, or planes bombing enemy positions. In emitting high levels of greenhouse gases, the rich nations are not deliberately attacking another country, but their actions may be even more devastating than conventional forms of aggressive war. Because of what the rich nations are doing, lands that now grow crops will become barren, glaciers that for millennia have fed rivers will dwindle, the sea will take over fertile fields, tropical diseases will spread, and people will starve or become refugees. For at least the past twenty years, the rich countries have known that their actions risk causing these effects; and from some time in the first decade of the twenty-first century, they have known that their actions very probably will have these effects. The fact that these harms are an unwanted but unavoidable side effect of pursuing otherwise innocuous goals, like giving people the kind of lifestyle they desire, is no justification for causing such harms. According to the doctrine of double effect, knowingly causing harm can be justified if the harm is not intended, the goal is suf- ficiently important to outweigh the harm caused, and there is no other way of achieving the goal without causing at least as great a harm….What we are doing to the people most at risk from global warming, therefore, is similar in its impact to waging aggressive war on them. It differs in its motivation, but that will be little consolation to them. Moreover, because we know what we are doing and yet do not stop doing it, we cannot shirk responsibility for it. We are culpable for the harm we are doing to them” (pp. 229-30).

25 What Ought Individuals to Do? How to reduce one’s carbon footprint:

26 The Limit of Personal Change “Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”? Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide…. I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change…. The good news is that there are other options. We can follow the examples of brave activists who lived through the difficult times I mentioned—Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States—who did far more than manifest a form of moral purity; they actively opposed the injustices that surrounded them. We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.” (From Derrick Jensen, “Forget Short Showers: Why Personal Change Does Not Equal Political Change,” Orion Magazine, July/August 2009:

27 Chapter 10: The Environment Singer’s criticisms of the monotheistic “dominion/stewardship model” of creation Appreciation of nature and moral obligations to future generations The value of non-sentient beings Reverence for life Deep ecology Developing an environmental ethic

28 The Dominion/Stewardship Model of Creation Singer’s criticisms of Genesis 1-3 But in her article “Common Ground: An Ecological Reading of Genesis 2-3” (Earth Story in Genesis, edited by Norman C. Habel and Shirley Wurst [Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2000] Carol Newsom reminds us that there is a wordplay on the name for humankind in Hebrew (adam) and the name for Earth (adamah): “we share common ground with the Earth because we are common ground…so to call the creature adam is to recognize its solidarity with Earth” (p. 63). Likewise, The Bible and Ecology (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010) Richard Bauckham argues that “the earthiness of humans signifies a kinship with the Earth itself and with other earthly creatures, plants and animals. Human life is embedded in the physical world with all that that implies of dependence on the natural systems of life” (p. 21).

29 An Alternative Model of Human Dominion “Does God’s mandate to humans at creation encourage us to become controllers and managers of the whole of creation on this planet? No. It ascribes to God’s gift the unique degree of power within creation that realistically our species has, and we should neither underestimate nor exaggerate that if we are to exercise it responsibly, as the mandate requires. Granted our limited place within the God-given order of creation, the power we do have is to be exercised with loving care for the rest of creation. Our right to use the Earth’s resources for human life and flourishing is strictly limited by the responsibility to conserve and by the rights of the other living creatures who share the Earth with us. A role of caring responsibility for other living creatures, our ‘dominion’, is not a role that sets us above creation but a specific role that humans have within creation. It is rightly practised only when we recognize it to be dominion over fellow-creatures” (Richard Bauckham, The Bible and Ecology, pp. 33-4).

30 Appreciation of Nature and Future Generations (1) “Can we be sure that future generations will appreciate wilderness? Not really; perhaps they will be happier playing electronic games more sophisticated than any we can imagine. Nevertheless, there are several reasons why we should not give this possibility too much weight. First, the trend has been in the opposite direction: the appreciation of wilderness has never been higher than it is today, especially among those nations that have overcome the problems of poverty and hunger and have relatively little wilderness left. Wilderness is valued as something of immense beauty, as a reservoir of scientific knowledge still to be gained, for the recreational opportunities that it provides, and because many people just like to know that something natural is still there, relatively untouched by modern civilization. If, as we all hope, future generations are able to provide for the basic needs of most people, we can expect that for centuries to come, they too will value wilderness for the same reasons that we value it. Arguments for preservation based on the beauty of wilderness are sometimes treated as if they were of little weight because they are ‘merely aesthetic’ – even though we go to great lengths to preserve the artistic treasures of earlier human civilizations. It is difficult to imagine any economic gain that we would be prepared to accept as adequate compensation for, for instance, the destruction of all the art in the Louvre. How should we compare the aesthetic value of wilderness with that of the art in the Louvre? Here, perhaps, judgment does become inescapably subjective; so I shall report my own experiences. I have looked at the paintings in the Louvre, and of many of the other great galleries of Europe and the United States. I think I have a reasonable sense of appreciation of the fine arts; yet I have not had, in any museum, experiences that fill my aesthetic senses as they are filled when I hike to a rocky peak and pause there to survey the forested valley below, or if I sit by a stream tumbling over moss-covered boulders set among tall tree ferns growing in the shade of the forest canopy. I do not think I am alone in this – for many people, wilderness is the source of the greatest feelings of aesthetic appreciation, rising to an almost spiritual intensity” (pp. 343-4).

31 Appreciation of Nature and Future Generations (2) “It may nevertheless be true that this appreciation of nature will not be shared by people living a century or two hence. If wilderness can be the source of such deep joy and satisfaction, that would be a great loss. Moreover to some extent, whether future generations value wilderness is up to us; it is, at least, a decision we can influence. By our preservation of areas of wilderness, we provide opportunities for generations to come; and by the books and films we produce, we create a culture that can be handed on to our children and their children. If we feel that a walk in the forest, with senses attuned to the appreciation of such an experience, is a more deeply rewarding way to spend a day than playing electronic games, or if we feel that to carry one’s food and shelter in a backpack for a week while hiking through an unspoilt natural environment will do more to develop character than watching television for an equivalent period, then we ought to do what we can to encourage future generations to have a feeling for nature. Finally, if we preserve intact the amount of wilderness that exists now, future generations will at least have the choice of going to see a world that has not been created by human beings. If we destroy the wilderness, that choice is gone forever. Just as we rightly spend large sums to pre- serve cities like Venice, even though future generations conceivably may not be interested in such architectural treasures, so we should preserve wilderness even though it is possible that future generations will care little for it. Thus, we will not wrong future generations, as we have been wronged by members of past generations whose thoughtless actions have deprived us of the possibility of seeing such animals as the dodo, Steller’s sea cow, or the thylacine, the striped marsupial also known as the ‘Tasmanian tiger’. We must take care not to inflict equally irreparable losses on the generations that follow us” (pp. 344-5).

32 The Value of Non-Sentient Beings Intrinsic vs. instrumental value: “Something is of intrinsic value if it is good or desirable in itself, in contrast to something having only ‘instrumental value’ as a means to some other end or purpose. Our own happiness, for example, is of intrinsic value, at least to most of us, in that we desire it for its own sake. Money, on the other hand, is only of instrumental value. We want it because of the things we can buy with it. If we were marooned on a desert island, we would not want it. Happiness, however, would be just as important to us on a desert island as anywhere else” (p. 246).

33 Reverence for Life Albert Schweitzer and Paul Taylor on extending value to all living organisms Singer’s objections

34 Deep Ecology Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, and Arne Naess Three basic principles for a deep ecological ethic (p. 251): 1.The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human Life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the non- human world for human purposes. 2.Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves. 3.Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs. Singer’s objections

35 Developing an Environmental Ethic “An environmental ethic rejects the ideals of a materialist society in which success is gauged by the number of consumer goods one can accumulate. Instead, it judges success in terms of the development of one’s abilities and the achievement of real fulfilment and satisfaction. It promotes frugality and re-use, insofar as that is necessary for minimising the impact we have on the planet….An environmental ethic leads us to re-assess our notion of extravagance. In a world under environmental pressure, this concept is not confined to chauffeured limousines and Dom Perignon champagne. Timber that has come from a rainforest is extravagant, because the long-term value of the rainforest is far greater than the uses to which the timber is put. Disposable paper products are extravagant if ancient hardwood forests are being converted into woodchips and sold to paper manufacturers. Motor sports are extravagant, because we can enjoy races that do not require the consumption of fossil fuels and the emission of green- house gases. Beef is extravagant because of the high methane emissions that are involved in its production, not to mention the waste of most of the food value of the grain and soybeans that are fed to beef cattle. In Britain during the Second World War, when fuel was scarce, posters asked: ‘Is your journey really necessary?’ The appeal to national solidarity against a very visible and immediate danger was highly effective. The danger to our environment is harder to see, but the need to cut out unnecessary journeys, and other forms of unnecessary consumption, is just as great. The emphasis on frugality and a simple life does not mean that an environmental ethic frowns on pleasure, but that the pleasures it values do not come from conspicuous consumption. They come, instead, from loving relationships; from being close to children and friends; from conversation; from sports and recreations that are in harmony with our environment instead of harmful to it; from food that is not based on the exploitation of sentient creatures and does not cost the earth; from creative activity and work of all kinds; and (with due care so as not to ruin precisely what is valued) from appreciating the unspoilt places in the world in which we live” (pp. 254-5).

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