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Taking Hunger Seriously: Are YOU Morally Obligated to Help Desperately Poor Children?. Nathan Nobis, Ph.D. aphilosopher@gmail.com, www.NathanNobis.com. Media Coverage. Time magazine cover stories National TV News Live 8 concerts Bono from U2 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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taking hunger seriously are you morally obligated to help desperately poor children

Taking Hunger Seriously:Are YOU Morally Obligated to Help Desperately Poor Children?

Nathan Nobis, Ph.D.

aphilosopher@gmail.com, www.NathanNobis.com

media coverage
Media Coverage
  • Time magazine cover stories
  • National TV News
  • Live 8 concerts
  • Bono from U2
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
why is there an issue facts about hunger poverty
Why Is there an Issue?Facts About Hunger & Poverty
  • 1.2 billion people live in ‘absolute poverty,’“a condition of life so characterized by malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, squalid surroundings, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to be beneath any reasonably definition of human decency” (Robert McNamara, World Bank).
  • “Six million children--and even more adults--dieunnecessarily every year. Good people all over the world are doing their best to save them. You can too” (TIME magazine, Nov. 7, 2005)
    • 16,000 a day; 700 an hour; 12 a minute!
why is there an issue facts about hunger poverty1
Why Is there an Issue?Facts About Hunger & Poverty
  • Deaths from malnutrition and untreated poverty-related disease:
    • 19%: dehydrating effects of chronic diarrhea: prevented by oral re-hydration salts (cost per packet: 15 cents).
    • 19%: acute respiratory infections, saved with antibiotics (cost: 25 cents).
    • measles: vitamin A therapy (cost per capsule: less than 10 cents) or measles vaccine (cost: $17 per vaccine) to prevent it.
singer s conclusion which he gives reasons for
Singer’s conclusion, which he gives reasons for:
  • You are morally obligated to donate to famine-relief and absolute poverty-relief organizations; your not giving is morally wrong.
    • Assumption: your basic needs are met; probably, you spend a fair amount on “luxuries.” Directed towards you, not just other people.
  • How much $ ?!?
    • Singer says: “substantial amounts,” until your giving would be a “significant” sacrifice; donate whatever is left after “necessities” and you would spend on “luxuries.” ???
    • How about we first focus on whether we might be obligated to give something? .$25/day? $10 a month?
three cases involving moral choices
Three Cases involving Moral Choices:
  • The Fountain
  • Dora and the TV
  • Bob and the Bugatti
  • We will use these cases (“thought experiments” and what you (or, at least many people) think about them, to develop an argument for Singer’s conclusion.
  • From “The Singer Solution to World Poverty,” NY Times, Sept. 5, 1999
ambiguity in morally right
Ambiguity in “morally right”:

“Morally right” can mean:

(1) morally permissible, i.e., OK to do, not wrong, not impermissible, or

(2) morally obligatory, i.e., that you are morally required to do the action; that if you don’t do it, you are doing something wrong, something morally impermissible.

What did you mean?

Is saving the child merely permissible,

or is it morally obligatory?

case 2 dora the organ peddlers
Case 2. Dora & the Organ-Peddlers

Morally, what should Dora do? Is she obligated to save the child, or not?

case 3 bob and the bugatti
Case 3:Bob and the Bugatti

Morally, what should Bob do? Is he obligated to save the child, or not?

what many people think
What many people think:
  • “In each case, the child should be saved. You, Dora and Bob are morally obligated to save the child. It’s not just nice to save the child; if you don’t do it, you’ve done something wrong!”
      • (You might disagree, especially about Bob. We’ll talk about that in a bit!)
  • Question: What reasons can be given in favor of this view? Make a list!
some common reasons defenses
Some common reasons, defenses:
  • “If I were the child (or he/she were my child), I’d want to be saved . . .”
  • “Lives are more important or valuable than material things and comforts. . .”
  • “The harms to the child (death!) are much greater than the harms to the rescuer (getting wet, losing TV or even a whole retirement fund). . .”
  • “I’d feel guilty!”: Not the best reason because
    • (a) why would you feel guilty? Because you’d think you did something wrong [see above for reasons why!] and
    • (b) what if someone didn’t feel guilty: would that make his or her letting the child die morally ok?
singer s proposed moral principle
Singer’s proposed moral principle:
  • If there are (a) very bad things happening, (b) there is something that we can do that will prevent some of these bad things from happening and (c) we can do these things without sacrificing something of comparable moral significance, then we are morally obligated to do so (and it’s wrong not to).

Why accept this principle? . . .

What if you rejected this principle? . . .

the argument
The argument
  • If there are (a) very bad things happening, (b) there is something that we can do that will prevent some of these bad things from happening and (c) we can do these things without sacrificing something of comparable moral significance, then we are morally obligated to do so.
  • (a) There are very bad things happening (e.g., children starving, etc.)
  • (b) We can do something to prevent some of these bad things from happening (e.g., by donating).
  • (c) In doing this, we wouldn’t sacrifice something of comparable moral significance.
  • Therefore, we are morally obligated to donate (and it’s wrong not to).
some common objections
Some Common Objections:
  • If there are (a) very bad things happening, (b) there is something that we can do that will prevent some of these bad things from happening and (c) we can do these things without sacrificing something of comparable moral significance, then we are morally obligated to do so.
  • (a) There are very bad things happening (e.g., children starving, etc.)
  • (b) We can do something to prevent some of these bad things from happening (e.g., by donating).
  • (c) In doing this, we wouldn’t sacrifice something of comparable moral significance.
  • Therefore, we are morally obligated to donate (and it’s wrong not to).

If the argument is not sound, why? The argument’s conclusion follows logically from the premises (i.e., the argument is logically valid), so if there’s a problem, it’s that a premise is false.

objection 1 hypocrisy
Objection 1: “Hypocrisy!”

“Singer doesn’t perfectly practice what he preaches, so his argument is not sound!”

1. The person who gives this argument does not give away all (or even more than 20%!) to famine/disaster aid.

2. Therefore, I (or we) am not morally obligated to help and Singer’s argument is unsound.

There’s a missing, false assumption here:

objection 1 hypocrisy con t
Objection 1: “Hypocrisy!” (con’t)

Adding the missing assumed premise to make the argument logically valid:

1. The person who gives this argument does not give away all (or even more than 20%!) to famine/disaster aid. (T)

2. If someone says you are morally obligated to do something, but that person does not always or perfectly do that thing, then it’s not true that you are obligated do that thing.

3. Therefore, I (or we) am not obligated to help.

But premise (2) is false. Counterexample?

objection 2 others aren t helping
Objection 2: “Others Aren’t Helping!”
  • Very few people give anything, much less a lot, to help starving people. [T]
  • Therefore, I (or we) am not obligated to help.

There’s a missing, false assumption here:

objection 2 others aren t helping con t
Objection 2: “Others Aren’t Helping!” (con’t)

Adding the missing, assumed premise to make the argument logically valid:

  • Very few people give anything, much less a lot, to help starving people. [T]
  • If very few people are doing some action, then I am not obligated to do it.
  • Therefore, I (or we) am not obligated to help.

But premise (2) is false. Counterexample?

objection 3 if everyone contributed
Objection 3: “If everyone contributed…”

“If everyone helped out, I wouldn’t have to give very much, so I don’t have to give very much! I only have to contribute what would be needed if everyone else contributed their fair share!”

objection 3 if everyone contributed con t
Objection 3: “If everyone contributed…” (con’t)
  • In cases where a “group effort” could solve a problem, I am only obligated to contribute what would be needed if everyone were doing their part.
  • This is a case where a “group” effort could solve the problem. [True?]
  • Therefore, I (or we) am not obligated to help (beyond, say, $1 or so!).

But premise (2) is false: counterexample?

objection 4 it s the job of governments
Objection 4: “It’s the job of governments!”

“It’s the government’s responsibility; they aren’t doing what they are supposed to, so I don’t have to help!”

  • Governments are responsible for assuring

that people have food and basic medical care.

2. Therefore, I (or we) am not obligated to help.

Adding the missing premise to make the argument valid:

  • Governments are responsible for assuring that people have food and basic medical care.
  • If governments are not doing what they are supposed to do, then I am never morally obligated to assist.

3. Therefore, I (or we) am not obligated to help

But premise (2) is false: counterexample?

objection 5 the child is a stranger
Objection 5: “The child is a stranger…”

1. In these cases, the person in need is a stranger.

2. Therefore, I (or we) am not obligated to help.

Adding the missing premise to make the argument valid:

  • In these cases, the person in need is a stranger. [T]
  • If someone in need is a stranger, then you are never morally obligated to help them.

3. Therefore, I (or we) am not obligated to help.

But premise (2) is false: counterexample?

objection 6 the child is a far away
Objection 6: “The child is a far away…”
  • In these cases (unlike the Fountain, Dora & Bob), the person in need is far away and I/we don’t see them.
  • Therefore, I (or we) am not obligated to help.

Adding the missing premise to make the argument valid:

1. The person in need is far away and I don’t see them. [T]

2. If someone is far away and you don’t see them, then you are never morally obligated to help them.

3. Therefore, I (or we) am not obligated to help.

But premise (2) is false: counterexample!

objection 7 i we did not cause their problem
Objection 7: “I/we did not cause their problem!”
  • I/we did not cause their problems.
  • Therefore, I (or we) am not obligated to help.

Adding the missing premise to make the argument valid:

  • I/we did not cause their problems. [?]
  • If we do not cause someone’s problem, then we are never morally obligated to help them.
  • Therefore, we are not morally obligated to help.

But premise (2) is false: counterexample?

objection observation 8 people will not accept this argument
Objection (observation?) 8:“People will not accept this argument. . ”
  • “People will not accept this argument; they won’t accept the conclusion and do what Singer says they should.” [T? F?]
  • For any topic, if people won’t accept some conclusion or follow it, then that conclusion is false or the argument for it unsound.
  • Therefore, Singer’s conclusion is false or the argument for it unsound.

But premise (2) is false. Why?

objection 9 we can t help
Objection 9: We Can’t Help!?
  • Premise 3 – that “we can do something to prevent some of these bad things from happening (e.g., by donating)” is false because:
    • “Helping these people will only make things worse for them.”
      • If true, then we are not obligated to help. But why think this always true?
    • “Anything we would donate would never make it to them.”
      • If true, then we are not obligated to help. But why think this always true?
objection 10 the fatal objection from opportunity costs for doing good
Objection 10: The Fatal Objection from “Opportunity Costs” for doing GOOD

Singer says that in donating to help save starving children, “we wouldn’t sacrifice something of comparable moral significance.”

  • Is this true? Need honest answers.
  • Honesty suggests that many of the things we routinely spend money on are not as significant or valuable as children’s lives.
objection 10 the fatal objection from opportunity costs for doing good1
Objection 10: The Fatal Objection from “Opportunity Costs” for doing GOOD

However,

If you donate $X to Oxfam, that’s $X less that you could (and would) donate to any other cause.

Are there any other causes of comparable moral significance, anything as bad and as worthy of concern?

  • Possible causes? _____________________________

Ifthere are, then giving to starving children is not, contrary to Singer’s argument, morally obligatory. His argument is unsound.

not so easy not so fast
Not so easy! Not so fast!
  • This response concedes that we can do good for others, and that we should, but gives us a wider range of morally acceptable options.
  • The only morally impermissible option would be doing nothing.
  • So what could you do? What should you do?