For several decades, there has been a debate in the philosophical literature concerning whether those of us who live in developed countries are morally required to give some of our money to aid agencies. Many contributors to this debate have apparently taken it that one may simply assume that the effects of the work such agencies do are overwhelmingly positive. If one turns to the literature on such agencies that has emerged in recent decades, however, one finds a number of (...) concerns about such agencies and the work they do that put that assumption in serious doubt. This situation raises a number of pressing questions, many of which have received little or no attention from philosophers. After articulating a number of those questions, I focus mainly on what I call the ‘Epistemic Question (for potential contributors to aid agencies)’: How can those of us who are not experts in international aid arrive at an estimate concerning the effects of the work aid agencies do that we have at least some good reason to believe accurate? (shrink)
One of the ways in which transnational medical agencies (TMAs) such as Medicins Sans Frontieres aim to increase the access of the global poor to health services is by supplying medical aid to people who need it in developing countries. The moral imperative supporting such work is clear enough, but a variety of factors can make such work difficult. One of those factors is the wrongdoing of other agents and agencies. For as a result of such wrongdoing, the attempt to (...) supply medical aid can sometimes lead to significant negative effects. What should TMAs do in such situations? On one view, TMAs should take account of any negative effects arising from the wrongdoing of others in just the same way in which they take account of negative effects arising more directly from their own actions, or from natural forces. To many people, this view seems wrong. In this paper, I articulate and discuss several different reasons why one might think this. In doing so, I hope to contribute to a debate about the more general question of how TMAs should respond to the wrongdoing of others. (shrink)
It has become increasingly common recently to construe human natureas setting some pretty stringent limits to moral endeavour. Many consequentialists, in particular, take considerations concerning human nature to defeat certain demanding norms that would otherwise follow from their theory.One argument is that certain commitments ground psychological incapacitiesthat prevent us from doing what would maximize the good. Another is that we would be likely to suffer some kind of psychological demoralization if we tried to become significantly more selfless. I argue that (...) influential versions of both of these arguments underestimate our deliberative resources, and also fail to examine the kind of moral sources that may be able to sustain rigorous moral endeavour. Pessimism about our capacities for such endeavour results from the neglect of these factors, rather than from uncovering any significant limitations in human nature. (shrink)
The Authority Account provides a new explanation why commonsense morality contains prudential options—options that permit agents to perform actions that promote their own wellbeing more than the action they have most reason to do, from the moral point of view. At the core of that explanation are two claims. The first is that moral requirements are traditionally widely taken to have an authoritative status; that is, to be rules that morality imposes by right. The second is that in order for (...) moral requirements to have such a status, morality must contain prudential options. If both of these claims are true, then they will create a pressure to think of morality as containing prudential options. And according to the Authority Account, the fact that commonsense morality contains such options is the result of this pressure. (shrink)
One relatively straightforward way in which academics could have more impact on global poverty is by doing more to help people make wise decisions about issues relevant to such poverty. Academics could do this by conducting appropriate kinds of research on those issues and sharing what they have learned with the relevant decision makers in accessible ways. But aren’t academics already doing this? In the case of many of those issues, I think the appropriate answer would be that they could (...) do so much better. As an illustration, I examine the academic input into one decision about an issue concerning global poverty in some detail in this paper. I argue that that input has been seriously deficient, and suggest some ways in which it might be improved. Building on this discussion, I then formulate two questions that can be applied to any such decision, answers to which would indicate the quality of the input academics are currently providing. In cases where that input is deficient, and the decision in question an important one, I suggest that academics consider organising themselves in ways that will improve that input. I finish by briefly discussing how Academics Stand Against Poverty might help them do so. (shrink)
Over the last few decades, psychologists have amassed a great deal of evidence that our thinking is strongly influenced by a number of biases. This research appears to have important implications for moral methodology. It seems likely that these biases affect our thinking about moral issues, and a fuller awareness of them might help us to find ways to counteract their influence, and so to improve our moral thinking. And yet there is little or no reference to such biases in (...) the philosophical literature on many pressing, substantive moral questions. In this paper, I make a start on repairing this omission in relation to one such question, the 'Aid Question', which concerns how much, if anything, we are morally required to give to aid agencies. I begin by sketching a number of biases that seem particularly likely to affect our thinking about that question. I then go on to review the psychological research on 'debiasing' - that is, on attempts to counteract the influence of such biases. And finally I discuss and illustrate certain strategies for counteracting the influence of the biases in question on our thinking about the Aid Question. (shrink)
Some moral principles require agents to do more than their fair share of a common task, if others won’t do their fair share – each agent’s fair share being what they would be required to do if all contributed as they should. This seems to provide a strong basis for objecting to such principles. For it seems unfair to require agents who have already done their fair share to do more, just because other agents won’t do their fair share. The (...) philosopher who has written most about this issue, however, Liam Murphy, argues that it is not unfair to do so, at least in the standard sense of that term. In this paper, I give Murphy’s reasons for saying this, explain why I think he’s wrong, and then say a little about why this issue might be important. (shrink)
Global ethics is no ordinary subject. It includes some of the most urgent and momentous issues the world faces, such as extreme poverty and climate change. Given this, any adequate review of that subject should, I suggest, ask some questions about the relation between what those working in that subject do and the real-world phenomena that are the object of their study. The main question I focus on in this essay is this: should academics and others working in the field (...) of global ethics take new measures aimed at having more real-world positive impact on the phenomena they study? Should they take new measures, that is, aimed at bringing about more improvements in those phenomena, improvements such as reductions in extreme poverty and in emissions of greenhouse gases? I defend a positive answer to this question against some objections, and also discuss some of the kinds of measure we might take in an attempt to have more positive impact. (shrink)
In this article I develop and defend what I call the ‘Epistemic Argument for Activism.’ According to this argument, some moral and political philosophers have certain features that give them epistemic advantages when tackling topics such as the moral status of certain practices, policies, and institutions (‘PPIs’). Because of these advantages, when these philosophers study those PPIs carefully they generally develop views about the moral status of those PPIs that have a number of enhanced epistemic properties. And because their views (...) have such enhanced epistemic properties, these philosophers have distinctive, epistemic-based reasons to take activist steps in certain circumstances. (shrink)
In recent decades there has been a great expansion in the number, size and influence of International Non-Governmental Organisations involved in international relief and development. These changes have led to increased scrutiny of such organisations, and this scrutiny, together with increasing reflection by INGOs themselves and their staff on their own practice, has helped to highlight a number of pressing ethical questions such organisations face, such as: should INGOs attempt to provide emergency assistance even when doing so risks helping to (...) fuel further conflict? How should INGOs manage any differences between their values and those of the people they seek to benefit? How open and honest should INGOs be about their own uncertainties and failures? This book consists of sustained reflections on such questions. It derives from a workshop held at Melbourne University in July 2007 that brought together a group of people – for the most part, reflective practitioners and moral and political philosophers – to discuss such questions. It explores honestly some of the current challenges and dilemmas that INGOs face, and also suggests some new ideas for meeting these challenges. Our hope is that the kind of explicit reflection on the ethical issues INGOs face exemplified in this publication will help to promote a wider debate about these issues, a debate that in turn will help INGO managers and others to make better, wiser, more ethically informed decisions. (shrink)
"Globalisation and Equality" examines the way in which conceptions of equality are being challenged by increasing globalisation, analysing not only the problems presented, but also the significant opportunities for equality both within states and internationally.
In this paper, I critically discuss a number of arguments made by John Kekes, in a recent article, against the claim that those of us who are relatively affluent ought to do something for those living in absolute poverty in developing countries. There are, I argue, a variety of problems with Kekes' arguments, but one common thread stems from Kekes' failure to take account of the empirical research that has been conducted on the issues which he discusses.
It has become increasingly common recently to construe human natureas setting some pretty stringent limits to moral endeavour. Many consequentialists, in particular, take considerations concerning human nature to defeat certain demanding norms that would otherwise follow from their theory. One argument is that certain commitments ground psychological incapacitiesthat prevent us from doing what would maximize the good. Another is that we would be likely to suffer some kind of psychological demoralization if we tried to become significantly more selfless. I argue (...) that influential versions of both of these arguments underestimate our deliberative resources, and also fail to examine the kind of moral sources that may be able to sustain rigorous moral endeavour. Pessimism about our capacities for such endeavour results from the neglect of these factors, rather than from uncovering any significant limitations in human nature. (shrink)