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World Poverty Singer: principle of beneficence (Sacrifice Principle)

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Presentation on theme: "World Poverty Singer: principle of beneficence (Sacrifice Principle)"— Presentation transcript:

1 World Poverty Singer: principle of beneficence (Sacrifice Principle)
Monday, 23 February 2015 World Poverty Singer: principle of beneficence (Sacrifice Principle) Fair Shares View Negative Duties

2 Two main questions What are our moral obligations to the world’s poor?
Are these obligations positive or negative?

3 Moral demandingness objection
How much does morality require of us? Can we object to moral theories on the grounds of being too demanding? YES: we’re not morally required to sacrifice any of our time, money and effort NO: you should sacrifice as much of your time, money and effort as possible It’s more plausible to strike a balance between these two extremes.

4 Thomas Pogge How can severe poverty of half of humankind continue despite enormous economic and technological progress and despite the enlightened moral norms and values of our heavily dominant Western civilisation? Why do we citizens of the affluent Western states not find it morally troubling, at least, that a world, heavily dominated by us and our values gives such very deficient and inferior starting positions and opportunities to so many people?

5 Thomas Pogge Pogge’s answer:
“it is undeniable that one’s interests and situation influence what one finds morally salient (worthy of moral attention) and what notions of justice and ethics one finds appealing and compelling” (Pogge, p.4). We are isolated from the suffering of the extreme poor This makes it easy to accept a morality that doesn’t require us to do a lot to help them If we had a much more vivid awareness of their plight then our reaction would be different 

6 Four objections Overpopulation
If we help the poor and prevent premature death, the world will become overpopulated. Reply: Birth rates tend to fall when poverty is alleviated. Reducing poverty and empowering women is the best strategy to combat over-population.

7 Four objections 2. Too big a problem Global poverty is too big a problem for an individual or society to effectively make a difference. Reply 1: A redistribution of around 1.2 per cent of global aggregate income from the wealthiest to those below the $2/day poverty line would be sufficient to eradicate this level of poverty Reply 2: Reducing world poverty would constitute an achievement and a morally compelling task on its own. We have a tendency to regard the world’s poor as one amorphous mass. Each individual life improved or saved is a very significant good.

8 Four objections 3. Throwing money at the problem You can’t solve the problem of global poverty by throwing money at it. Reply 1: Official Development Aid vs Effectively used money Reply 2: More intelligent and focused use of resources Reply 3: Restructure the global order

9 Four objections 4. World poverty is disappearing e.g. Millennium Development Goal is committed to eradicating extreme poverty and reached its first target 5 years early. Reply: If true, it is barely so. And much greater urgency is required.

10 Principle of beneficence

11 Singer: Sacrifice Principle
First premise “suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad” Second premise “if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.” (Singer 1972: 231)

12 Singer: Sacrifice Principle
Strong Sacrifice: “if it is in our power to prevent something [very] bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it” (p. 231). Weak Sacrifice: “if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it” (p. 231).

13 Singer: Sacrifice Principle
Singer favours the strong sacrifice principle: “we ought to give until we reach the level of marginal utility – that is, the level at which, by giving more, I would cause as much suffering to myself or my dependent as I would relieve by my gift” Singer redraws the line between duty and charity to argue that helping others in distant countries should not be regarded as an act of charity, but as our duty.

14 Singer: Sacrifice Principle
If we want to reject Singer’s conclusion, we have two options: Either we reject Singer’s verdict about the Pond Example Or we accept his verdict about the Pond Example, but show that there is some morally relevant difference between the Pond Example and the situation that we find ourselves in now with respect to the global poor. I’m going to assume our initial judgements about the Pond Example are right and so focus on the second of these.

15 Singer: Sacrifice Principle
1st challenge: proximity and distance The principle takes no account of proximity. This is morally irrelevant (Singer). The Sacrifice Principle is necessarily impartial and universal.

16 Singer: Sacrifice Principle
2nd challenge: numbers don’t matter The principle makes no distinction dependent on whether I am the only person who can help.

17 Fair Shares View

18 Fair Shares View Those of us in more affluent countries are obligated to give much more than we presently do, but that doing so would impose costs on us, and those costs should be divided fairly amongst all those who are able to pay. This division should assign to each of us a fair share of the total sum.

19 Fair Shares View Liam Murphy: ‘The Demands of Beneficence’
What is wrong with the principles of beneficence is not so much the extent of their demands, the problem is that the demands they impose on us “are affected by the level of compliance with the principle of others” (Murphy 1993: 267). “principles of beneficence should not demand more of agents as expected compliance by other agents decreases” (Murphy 1993: 267) Murphy wants to formulate a principle of beneficence that meets this condition. Collective Principle: the principle of beneficence should affect us as a cooperative project.

20 7. World poverty Monday, 23 February 2015 Fair Shares View “Consider the position of someone who tries to act in accordance with the Simple Principle [Roughly: Do whatever would produce the best outcome.] She will be aware that she must go on promoting the good until her level of well-being is very low indeed, and aware that she is one of very few people headed in that direction. Moreover, she will know that one main reason why her compliance with the Simple Principle will result in such great sacrifice from her is that she is one of very few people who are complying with the principle. She knows that she has to do so much, just because most others are not doing what they ought to do. If everyone acted according to the Simple Principle, much less would be required of her. In the face of this she may well ask: “Why should I do more, just because others will do less? Surely I should only have to do my own fair share” (Murphy 1993: ).

21 Fair Shares View Fair Shares Principle: I am only morally obligated to give my fair share of money to aid agencies. In situations where not everyone complies, the sacrifice that each of us is required to make is limited to a situation of full compliance.

22 Challenging the Fair Shares View
Case of the drowning children James Rachels: this case shows the fallacy of supposing that one’s duty is only to do one’s fair share. (‘Killing and Starving to Death’: ) Shelly Kagan: Clive is required to save them both. So one’s moral requirements are not limited to doing one’s fair share. (‘Replies to My Critics’: )

23 Defending the Fair Shares View
“a person need never sacrifice so much that he would end up less well-off than he would be under full compliance [with the optimising principle of beneficence] from now on, but within that constraint he must do as much good as possible.” (Murphy, Moral Demands: 87)

24 Fair Shares View: Proportional principle of fairness
Keith Horton Considerations of fairness are stronger in some contexts and weaker in others depending on how strong opposing factors are (for example, when a life is at stake). Singer’s sacrifice asks us to our fair share and then additional costs (“supra-fair costs”) Fair Shares Objection: the strength of the objection to the demanding principle of beneficence is proportional to the size of the additional costs that the principle of beneficence imposes on us.

25 Negative duties

26 Negative duties Our duties don’t arise from a principle of beneficence, but because people in affluent countries have violated their duties to others. Positive duties: duties we are required to perform to assist others. Negative duties: require us not to harm or interfere with others (they prohibit us from doing certain things).

27 Commonly held view “While it is seriously wrong to harm the poor by causing severe poverty, it is not seriously wrong to fail to benefit them by not eradicating as much severe poverty as we might” (Pogge, 2008: 12). “We are not harming the global poor by causing severe poverty, but merely failing to benefit them by not eradicating as much poverty as we might” (Pogge, 2008: 12). Therefore, we have no duty of justice to eradicate severe global poverty.

28 Pogge’s method of attack
His strategy is to prevent (3) by rejecting (2). The first premise is a moral one, but Pogge goes after the factual premise. Violating negative duties: we are actively harming the world’s poor, by sustaining and benefiting from a system that keeps them in poverty, ‘a global institutional order for which our governments, hence we, bear primary responsibility’. (Pogge, p.13)

29 Violating negative duties
The existing global system, imposed and sustained by the global rich, harms the global poor by causing them severe and avoidable poverty (Pogge 2008: , 109, 129, ). ‘we must stop thinking about world poverty in terms of helping the poor… they need help only because of the terrible injustices they are being subjected to. We should not, then, think of our individual donations and of possible institutionalized poverty eradication initiatives… as helping the poor, but as protecting them from the effects of global rules whose injustice benefits us and is our responsibility.’(Pogge 2008: 23)

30 7. World poverty Monday, 23 February 2015 Negative duties We should not support institutions that wrongly harm others We have a negative duty not to profit from these organisations


32 Take-home questions Can we object to moral theories on the grounds of them being too demanding? Do you agree with Singer’s Strong Sacrifice Principle? Do you agree with his Weak Sacrifice Principle? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Fair Shares View? Does Pogge’s account of negative duties rely on positive duties?

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