In R. G. Frey & Christopher Heath Wellman (eds.), Blackwell Companion to Applied Ethics. Blackwell (2003)
W e are watching television, and an advertisement for UNICEF, OXFAM, or the Christian Children’s Fund interrupts our favorite show. We grab our remotes and quickly flip to another channel. Perhaps we mosey to the kitchen for a snack. Maybe we just sit, trying not to watch. These machinations may banish these haunting images of destitute, starving children from our TVs and our thoughts, but they do not alter the brutal facts: millions of people in the world are undernourished; thousands die each day; most of those who suffer and die are children, and, with collective effort we could end the suffering of millions without too much strain. At the same time, many of us talk as if we were nearly indigent. Relative to the rich in our society we may be financially strapped. But relative to most citizens of the world, we are awash with money. Given that, what, if anything, should we do, individually or collectively, to alleviate their suffering and save their lives? Most of us interpret this as asking: should we be charitable, and, if so, how charitable? That seems to be the guiding premise of organizations who implore us to send money: they tell us to open our hearts, to be generous, to give of ourselves, to help those in need. The character of their appeal reveals just how pervasive the “charity view” is. W e think that although it would be nice of us to assist the starving, none of us is morally required to assist them—that we have done nothing (very) wrong if we ignore those strangers in need. Indeed, most people assume that if we help, then we are moral heros
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