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gomberg 2002 - the fallacy of philanthropy

gomberg 2002 - the fallacy of philanthropy - CANADIAN...

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The Fallacy Of Philanthropy PAUL GOMBERG Chicago State University Chicago, IL 60628-1598 USA I Introduction Should we stop spending money on things we do not really need and send the money instead to groups that aid victims of absolute poverty? Garrett Cullity and Peter Unger have given renewed vigor to the well known argument by Peter Singer that we should do this. 1 Like Singer, Cullity and Unger compare our duties to the poor to our duties when we encounter a victim of calamity, such as a child in danger of drowning. (Unger argues that our duties to the poor are even more pressing.) Singer and Unger tell us what to do and why we must do it; most starkly, Unger gives us the names, addresses, and toll-free phone numbers of four organizations to which we can donate, and the book cover tells us that the author s royalties are going equally to Oxfam America and the U.S. Committee for UNICEF. Unger dissolves the divide between theory and practice. Hunger is a social problem affecting over 800 million people. It short- ens lives; parents watch their children waste and die. In our culture we share a social norm creating a duty to rescue victims of unforeseen calamity. Singer, Cullity, and Unger believe that we have the same duty to aid the hungry that we have to rescue the victims of calamity. CANADIAN JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY 29 Volume 32, Number 1, March 2002, pp. 29-66 1 Garrett Cullity, International Aid and the Scope of Kindness, Ethics 105 (1994) 99-127; Peter Unger, Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence (New York: Oxford University Press 1996); Peter Singer, Famine, Affluence, and Morality, Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (1972) 229-43 and, as restated with differences, Practical Ethics , 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1993), ch. 8. Page references in text are to Practical Ethics.
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By philanthropy I will mean primarily this assimilation of the prac- tical issues raised by hunger and poverty to our duty to rescue victims of calamity, secondarily the substantive proposal to give money to hunger relief organizations such as CARE, UNICEF, or Oxfam (a use closer to its ordinary meaning). 2 Here I will argue that the assimilation is wrong; it is the fallacy of philanthropy. Moreover, I believe, the practical proposal that derives from the philanthropist assimilation is not a good one. These two uses of philanthropy, referring to the assimilation and the proposal, are connected. When we think we have a duty to aid victims of absolute poverty like our duty to rescue a child in danger of drowning, we think in the following way: because of their misfortune, we must devote our resources to their rescue. So the proposal advocating philan- thropic action grows naturally from the assimilation. I begin (in Section II) by describing the logic of arguments making the assimilation and (in Section III) the debate between the philanthropists and some of their critics. The central argument of the paper (Sections IV through VI) is this: intuitively, we treat duties of rescue in a non-utilitar-
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