Hypocrisy, Poverty Alleviation, and Two Types of Emergencies
Peter Singer is well known to have argued for our responsibilities to address global poverty based on an analogy with saving a drowning child. Just as the passerby has a duty to save that child, we have a duty to save children ‘drowning’ in poverty. Since its publication, more four decades ago, there have been numerous attempts to grapple with the inescapable moral challenge posed by Singer’s analogy. In this paper, we propose a new approach to the Singerian challenge, through offering a different explanation for why our intuitions about rescuing a threatened person in front of us are more demanding than our intuitions about rescuing those living under equally threatening conditions of poverty. We argue that understanding the underlying motive or mechanism by which people come to endorse intuitions about duties of assistance undermines our confidence in the validity and robustness of some of the highly demanding intuitions that Singer relies on. This, in turn, puts serious limitations on the normative and practical reach of Singer’s analogy.
KeywordsIntuitions Poverty alleviation Principle of assistance Cost Peter Singer Peter Unger
An earlier version of this article was presented to the Moral Philosophy Seminar at the University of Oxford. I would like to thank the audience of the Seminar for their valuable comments. I also would like to thank Christian Barry, Lars Christie, Oliver Conolly, Roger Crisp and Jeff McMahan and the referees for the Journal of Ethics for their extremely valuable comments and suggestions.
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