because you’ve already met your do-gooding quota, but because it’s your friend that is in distress. This is also the reason you shouldn’t deal in subprime mortgages or make money from the exploitation of labour, even if the good effects would outweigh the bad: it’s your life, and it matters, morally speaking, what you do with it’. Finally, Nakul Krishna, in a reminiscence about his graduate career at Oxford that is also a critique of effective altruism and an encomium to Williams, observes that within utilitarian theory, ‘the fact that I’m me has been declared, right at the outset, irrelevant’ and declares that there is no irrationality in ‘preferring my own point of view to the universe’s (whatever that means)’. ( All italics in the originals.) In short, according to those who criticize effective altruism by appealing to Williams’s objections to utilitarianism, the importance to oneself of one’s own projects and attachments limits the extent to which morality can demand that one provide assistance to others. The problem with this claim is that, to the
3 extent that it is plausible, it ought to apply in much the same way to other equally onerous demands that morality might be supposed to make. If my being me and having my own life can exempt me from the moral reason I might otherwise have to save someone unrelated to me (even though she is she , with her own life), it seems that these same facts should also exempt me from the moral reason I would have not to kill this person if it were not equally important to me , and to my projects and commitments, to kill her. In many areas of contemporary moral philosophy (notably population ethics), the disputants are sometimes unaware of previous debates in which some of the points they are making have already been discussed. When this happens, there is inevitably a certain amount of reinventing the wheel – or the flat tire, as the case may be. Some readers may be surprised to learn that less than two decades ago, some of the charges now being urged against effective altruists were pressed against Peter Unger by an unlikely antagonist: Martha Nussbaum. Her lengthy review of his book not only anticipates some of the objections of the critics of effective altruism but also prefigures their polemical style. If anything, it is written in an even more aggressively sneering, dismissive manner, which, at least in my reading of her work, seems quite uncharacteristic. ( ) Her main argument is intended to be a reductio ad absurdum of Unger’s conclusion that an affluent person ‘must contribute to vitally effective groups, like Oxfam and Unicef, most of the money and property she now has, and most of what comes her way for the foreseeable future’. Her strategy is to invite the reader to ‘suppose all the people to whom it is addressed followed Unger’s advice: what would the world then be like?’ There then follows a detailed vision
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- Spring '19
- Hassan Kasfy