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Unformatted text preview: Philosophy 4: Intro Ethics Handout #4 October 16, 2007 Prof. Aaron Z. Zimmerman Global Justice, Hunger and Inequality I 1. Statistics (1) Around the world, over 1.2 billion people live on a dollar a day, or less. (2) In 1991, there were 497 billionaires (worldwide) with a combined wealth of $1.54 trillion. The GNP of all the nations in sub-Saharan Africa was then $929.3 billion and the nations occupying the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and North Africa had a combined GNP of $1.34 trillion. According to fairly recent statistics, the collective wealth of 497 people in this world is greater than the combined wealth of the poorest half of humanity: more than two billion people. (By almost every estimate, the Earth's population is now over 6 billion people.) (3) In the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world, 1%of the population holds more wealth than the bottom 90% of the population. In 1998, the combined incomes of the 13,000 wealthiest families in the United States matched the incomes of the 20,000,000 poorest families. Is your family rich? Surveys conducted a number of years ago show that most Americans in the highest earning 1% of the population don't consider themselves rich. The median annual income for Americans in this elite 1% was $330,000 fairly recently. Do you consider yourself middle class? You're not if your family's net worth (including income, the value of your home, the value of your car(s), stocks, retirement funds, etc.) exceeds $90, 000. $90,000 is higher than the average net worth of the middle 20% of American households. 1.3 Household Net Worth by Wealth Class, 1998
Wealth Class Top 1% Next 4% Next 5% Next 10% Fourth 20% Middle 20% Bottom 40% Average Net Worth $10,204,00 $1,441,000 $623,500 $344,900 $161,300 $61,000 $1,900 Threshold $3,352,100 $475,600 $257,700 (Negative) Source: Edward N. Wolff, "Recent Trends in Wealth Ownership, 1983-1998," April 2000. Table 3 and note to Table 5. http://www.levy.org/docs/wrkpap/papers/300.html 2. Inequality and Morality A. One might argue that inequality in standard of living is in itself a morally bad thing. This would be to argue that, all things being equal, a world with more economic equality is better than a world with less. The famous philosopher John Rawls argued for the injustice (hence immorality) of laws and institutions that produce inequality when this inequality is not the by-product of arrangements that lead to a better standard of living for the worst off than would result without those inequalityproducing laws and institutions. He argues for this by asking you to imagine which laws and institutions you would agree to establish if you had no idea which "life" you would have to lead in the society that would result from those laws and institutions. If, he says, you have no idea 1 whether you'll have to live as a rich, poor, or middle class person in the society you're creating, it would be rational to minimize the risk of being poor, by making the poor as rich as you can possibly make them. To do this would be to allow for inequality only to the extent that it actually helps the poorest members of the society. And, Rawls argues, it is only those laws and institutions you would agree to if you had no idea where you would end up in society that are fair and just. Singer quotes St. Thomas Aquinas on the immorality of inequality, "Whatever a man has in superabundance is owed, of natural right, to the poor for their sustenance. So Ambrosius says, and it is also to be found in the Decretum Gratiani, `The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry; the clothing you shut away, to the naked; and the money you bury in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless" (p. 33). Aquinas' idea is that God gives everyone in a State of Nature a right to what they need to survive. The laws of men that bring property and civil society into existence cannot violate these natural rights. But the laws of men do violate these rights when they allow people to withhold goods as luxuries when others need these goods in order to survive. B. But even if one does not think that economic equality is intrinsically good and economic inequality intrinsically bad, wealth disparities have morally significant consequences. Extreme wealth inequalities almost always lead to jealousy and anger. (This is especially true when inequalities don't reflect differences in effort or merit, as with wealth transferred through inheritance.) More importantly, it seems that extensive wealth inequality allows horrible suffering to persist when it need not persist. Take, for example, the fact that more than a million children die each year from diarrhea, because their families lack access to clean drinking water. Question: Are you acting immorally when you wake up each day and do not do something to prevent his from happening? 3. Singer's Claim Singer argues that you are acting immorally if you don't spend a significant portion of your time and money to stop suffering around the world. The case on which he concentrates is the crisis in Bengal in 1971, but his arguments are supposed to generalize. Singer's Thesis: The way people in relatively affluent countries react to the suffering of poor and vulnerable people around the world cannot be justified. 4. Singer's argument (1) Suffering and death from lack of food, clean water, shelter and medical care are bad. (2) If it is our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought morally to do it. (3) The life of a child is more morally important than an affluent person's entertainment. Therefore, (4) If an affluent person can prevent the death of a child by sacrificing her entertainment, she ought morally to do so. (5) Affluent people can prevent the death of children by sacrificing some of their entertainment and (say) giving more of their money to Oxfam. 2 Therefore, (6) Affluent people ought morally to give more of their money to Oxfam. Therefore, (7) When an affluent person spends money on entertainment rather than giving it to Oxfam, she acts immorally. 5. Singer's Argument for Premise (2): "If I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing" (p. 4) Analogously "If I know that there are children dying of diarrhea in Africa, I ought to do something to get clean water to this child. This will mean spending money on the improvement of foreign lands (money I might otherwise have spent on entertainment) but this is insignificant, while the death of a child would presumably be a very bad thing." 6. Disanalogies? A. Proximity. Singer's Response: "The fact that a person is physically nearer to us, so that we have personal contact with him, may make it more likely that we shall assist him, but this does not show that we ought to help him rather than another who happens to be further away. If we accept any principle of impartiality, universalizability, equality [of human life], or whatever, we cannot discriminate against someone merely because he is far away from us . . ." (p. 24). B. Ought to do vs. Required to Do. Singer, "This principle--[i.e. premise (2)]--requires us only to prevent what is bad, and to promote what is good and it requires this only when we can do it without sacrificing anything that is, from the moral point of view, comparably important." Question 1: Which of the things that you spend your time and money on is more important "from the moral point of view" than preventing the death and suffering of a child? Question 2: Does it follow from the fact that you morally ought to spend your time and money to help dying children in Africa that you are morally required to do so? What would Thomson say about this? Do dying children have a right to assistance? Do affluent people have an obligation to assist them? Does the child drowning in front of you have a right to your assistance (assuming that you can swim and the only negative effect of your assistance would be the mud on your clothes)? Do you have an obligation to help the drowning child? 7. Schindler's Worry Objection: Where do the demands of morality stop? Doesn't Singer's argument lead to the conclusion that almost nothing we do is moral? After all, of which of your activities can you say that you could not have prevented some harm or suffering by refraining from engaging in that activity and instead dedicating yourself (in an intentional and willful way) to the elimination of harm and suffering? Doesn't Singer's argument show that the only moral people are those who dedicate their lives to famine relief and so on? 3 Singer's Reply: "This conclusion is one which we may be reluctant to face. I cannot see, though, why it should be regarded as a criticism of the position for which I have argued, rather than a criticism of our ordinary standards of behavior. Since most people are self-interested to some degree, very few of us are likely to do everything that we ought to do. It would, however, hardly be honest to take this as evidence that it is not the case that we ought to do it" (p. 32). 8. Paradoxes of Joint Responsibility Question: Does your obligation to help others depend on the availability of alternative sources of aid? Suppose that as you see the child drowning, you also see Ian Thorpe (the Olympic champion swimmer) stretching out on the opposite shore of the lake already dressed in his swimming trunks. You yell out for Thorpe to jump in and save the child but he blows you off. Since Thorpe is on the opposite shore you cannot force him into the water. Do you now have an obligation to save the child? The Tragedy of the Commons John Locke (the famous seventeenth century British philosopher) describes an example of what Economists now call "The Free-Rider Problem." There is a village green left to the town's people in common. The green will remain alive if it's only used by roughly half of the villagers each day. But each person relies on others to use alternative grazing lands. Each person reasons "50%+1 won't hurt the commons any." As a result, everyone uses the commons every day. In short order, no one can use the commons. Questions: What should you do if everyone else is using the Commons each day? Should you get some of the free grass while you still can? Or should you set an example with the hope that others will eventually join in and save the commons? How is this example analogous to worries over how to react to environmental problems? Is this example analogous to worries about global starvation and disease? How are the two cases different? Singer considers the view that one is only obliged to do one's equal share. It might be that if every person gave some small lump sum (or some small fixed percentage of their worth) to charity this would end the global calamities that currently exist. Does that mean one need only give that lump sum (or fixed percentage)? Singer rejects this line of argument in an extraordinarily simple manner: "It is more or less certain that not everyone in circumstances like mine will give 5. So there will not be enough to provide the needed food, shelter, and medical care. Therefore, by giving more than 5 I will prevent more suffering than I would if I gave just 5" (p. 26) Again, Singer assumes that I ought to prevent as much suffering as I can. How might one argue against this claim? 4 ...
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