- altruism-really-change-world) Here too both Srinivasan and Herzog have been anticipated by Nussbaum, who complained that Unger ‘is basically not interested in institutional and political issues’. Yet, again, what these philosophers find objectionable is entirely appropriate. I am neither a community nor a state. I can determine only what I will do, not what my community or state will do. I can, of course, decide to concentrate my individual efforts on changing my state’s institutions, or indeed on trying to change global economic institutions, though the probability of my making a difference to the lives of badly impoverished people may be substantially lower if I adopt this course than if I undertake more direct action, unmediated by the state. It is obviously better, however, if people do both. Yet there has to be a certain division of moral labor, with some people taking direct action to address the plight of the most impoverished people, while others devote their efforts to bringing about institutional changes through political action. To suppose that the only acceptable option is to work to reform global economic institutions and that it is self-indulgent to make incremental contributions to the amelioration of poverty through individual action is rather like condemning a doctor who treats the victims of a war for failing to devote his efforts instead to eliminating the root causes of war. That some philosophers work to understand what our individual duties might be against a background of malfunctioning institutions does not free ‘the philosopher’ from trying also to understand issues of global justice and institutional reform. No philosopher I know is looking for reasons to avoid working to achieve an enhanced moral understanding. Yet if others who are not philosophers become persuaded that Srinivasan and Herzog are right that the appropriate agents for addressing problems of global poverty are communities, classes, and states, they are likely to be quite content to leave the problems to these entities and not bother with them themselves.
5 Each of the three philosophers I have discussed most – Srinivasan, Gray, and Nussbaum – concludes his or her review by claiming that the philosopher whose work they have discussed (MacAskill, Singer, and Unger, respectively) has somehow debased or betrayed philosophy itself. Their closing sentences are as follows. Srinivasan: ‘You wouldn’t be blamed for hoping that philosophy has more to give’. Gray: ‘If history is our guide we can expect Singer’s movement for effective altruism to go the way of Comte’s church of positivism, which has passed into history as an example of the follies of philosophy’. Nussbaum: ‘Philosophy … offers nothing if not nuance and sustained reflection, and delicate theory-building. In the process of getting philosophy to be more practical, Unger has ultimately sold it out’. Yet both Srinivasan and Gray (though not Nussbaum) write as if the work of moral philosophers is not to be taken seriously in any case.
- Spring '19
- Hassan Kasfy