2017 Annual Uehiro Lectures (1/3)
Obligations to the Needy: Effective Altruism, Pluralism, and Singer’s Pond Example
The world is filled with people who are badly off. Each day, many die from hunger or disease, much of which seems easily preventable. Yet the world is also filled with many who are well off, some extraordinarily so. This vast inequality, between the world’s well off and the world’s worst off, gives rise to an age-old question. What, if anything, ought those who are well off to do on behalf of those who are badly off? In these Uehiro Lectures, I aim to explore the nature and basis of our obligations, if any, to the needy, and some problems that may arise when the better-off attempt to ameliorate the plight of the worse-off. In doing this, I will explore a wide-range of empirical and philosophical issues.
In this first Lecture, I introduce a version of Effective Altruism, which holds, roughly, that insofar as the well-off give to charity, they should identify and contribute to the most effective international relief and development organizations. I then present an alternative, pluralistic approach, arguing that in addition to the sort of consequentialist-based reasons for aiding the needy favored by Effective Altruism, there are virtue-based and deontological-based reasons for doing so. I then present Peter Singer’s famous Pond Example, which has had a profound effect on many people’s thinking about the needy. I note that Singer’s example is compatible with both Effective Altruism and my pluralistic approach. I then offer variations of the Pond Example, together with other considerations, in support of my approach.
My discussion shows that despite its far-reaching impact, Singer’s Pond Example doesn’t actually take us very far in answering the question of what we should do, all things considered, to aid the world’s needy. Unfortunately, my discussion isn’t much better in that regard, except that it reveals that there are a wide-range of morally relevant factors that have a bearing on the issue, and that we must be fully responsive to all of them in considering what we ought to do in aiding the needy. The “act so as to do the most good” approach of Effective Altruism reflects one very important factor that needs to be considered, but it is not, I argue, the only one.
Larry S. Temkin is Distinguished Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Rutgers University. He graduated number one from the University of Wisconsin/Madison (B.A.-Honors Degree, 1975), before pursuing graduate studies at Oxford University (1978-79), and Princeton (Ph.D., 1983). Temkin's book Inequality (Oxford University Press, 1993), was hailed by critics as "brilliant and fascinating," "an extraordinary achievement," and as "one of the most important six or seven contributions to analytical political philosophy in the … whole of [the twentieth] century." His book Rethinking the Good: Moral Ideals and the Nature of Practical Reasoning (Oxford University Press, 2012) has been described as a "tour de force," "a genuinely awe-inspiring achievement," and "an utterly original work of philosophy, almost breathtakingly so." Temkin has lectured extensively worldwide, including for the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (funded by the Gates Foundation), and his individualistic approach to inequality has been adopted by the World Health Organization and the Gates Foundation in their measurements of the Global Burden of Disease. Temkin has received fellowships from Harvard University's Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, All Souls College Oxford, the National Institutes of Health, the Australian National University, the National Humanities Center, the Danforth Foundation, and Princeton University’s Center for Human Values, where he was the Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching. He is also the recipient of eight major teaching awards. Temkin will be a Visiting Fellow at Corpus Christi College in Hilary Term 2018.