The Ethics and Obligations of Wealth The present paper presents the critical analysis of the two articles: Lifeboat Ethics: the Case Against Helping the Poor authored by Garrett Hardin and Famine, Affluence, and Morality by Peter Singer. More specifically, the paper will discuss each author’s perspective, presentation and technique, as well as the way each argument is built and how the evidence is chosen and presented. The topic of the discussion is the level of an ethical obligation of wealthy countries to aid poor countries.
The positions of the two philosophers are rather extreme: Garrett Hardin argues that wealthy nations have no obligation to help poorer ones, while Peter Singer insists on a relatively strong ethical duty of wealthier countries to aid when possible the struggling countries. Hardin’s opinion is based on the assumption that Christian and Marxist ideals are utopian and following them in the real world practice will lead to catastrophe. On the other hand, Peter Singer believes that if it is in the power of people to prevent an evil without doing any morally significant sacrifice, they ought to do it.
The study in the paper will answer the following questions: Are the authors relying on certain assumptions or manipulative techniques to make their case? How well do the authors anticipate and address counter arguments? At the end of the paper the necessary conclusions will be made and the findings will be summarized. Hardin’s article is based on the following idea: wealthier countries do not have ethic obligation to the poorer ones because the resources on the earth can not be equally shared.
This idea is supported by the argumentations that life on the earth suits more the ethics of a lifeboat than the ethics of a spaceship; that common possession of a property is absurd; and that the concept of pure justice contradicts the reality. On the whole, the reasoning presented in Hardin’s argumentations looks fairly sound and it is supported by a number of reliable facts. First, Hardin claims that only ‘misguided idealists” can compare life on the planet with life in a spaceship. However, a true spaceship would have been submitted to one authority, who would determine the course.
Then Hardin argues that the earth can not be compared with spaceship, because it “has no captain; the United Nations is merely a toothless tiger, with little power to enforce any policy upon its bickering members. ” Moreover, Hardin states the fact that the two thirds are poor countries and only one third of all the countries on the earth are wealthy. Hardin holds, “Metaphorically each rich nation can be seen as a lifeboat full of comparatively rich people. In the ocean outside each lifeboat swim the poor of the world, who would like to get in, or at least to share some of the wealth. So, it becomes clear, that lifeboat metaphor and consequently the lifeboat ethics are more applicable to the real life on the earth than the comparison with a spaceship. Further, the argument about spaceship ethics becomes more solid in Hardin’s article. The philosopher with the help of a simple and bright illustration explains how the ethics of a lifeboat works. The reasoning is persuasive and logically sound. After the illustration the factual information comes: the growth of population in rich and poor countries is not equal: poor nations are doubling in number faster than rich.
This drives to the simple conclusion: even if rich countries share all their resources with the poorer ones, it will not be enough. The aid of the wealthier nations, in this way, will be a solution only for a short while, and, in a long term perspective, it can only worsen the state of things. The same technique, the use of illustration and images, is present in the article of the opponent of Hardin. In the beginning Singer appeals to the emotions of his readers and draws an impressive picture of inequity and injustice: “As I write this, in November 1971, people are dying in East Bengal from lack of food, shelter, and medical care. Then, using factual information, the philosopher puts forward the idea that the wealthy nations are wasting their money on unnecessary projects instead of sending aid to the poorer and starving nations. This, Singer states, makes the poorer countries choose between either letting their people starve or diverting funds from their development programs, “which will mean that more of her own people will starve in the future. ” In this way, Singer shows his belief in ethics of spaceship, which is rebut in Hardin’s article.
At this point, the argumentation of Hardin looks more objective emotionally neutral than the argumentation used by his opponent. I think, to make Singer’s reasoning more objective, the article Famine, Affluence, and Morality needs illustrations of a hard and uneasy life in the better world, otherwise the reader gets a rather simplistic idea that the wealthy nations live in paradise, while East Bengal is starving and suffering. On the other hand, the examples used by Hardin are really sensible and pragmatic. Although, of course, the compassion expressed by Singer in his article makes Hardin’s harsh ethics of a lifeboat sound rather cynical.
The second argumentation “the tragedy of commons” presented by Hardin is grounded on the knowledge of human nature. I think it is quite reasonable to admit that human beings are selfish and egoistic, than to hope that one day they will become equally altruistic. What in Hardin’s article is called “less than perfect human beings”, in Singer’s article is surrounded by vague phrases pointing out that a person can be taught to act better: “What it is possible for a man to do and what he is likely to do are both, I think, very greatly influenced by what people around him are doing and expecting him to do.
In any case, the possibility that by spreading the idea that we ought to be doing very much more than we are to relieve famine we shall bring about a general breakdown of moral behavior seems remote. ” Moreover, the knowledge of a human character helps Hardin to recognize the real motives of humanitarian aid to poorer countries: “The public emphasis was always on its humanitarian effects. The combination of silent selfish interests and highly vocal humanitarian apologists made a powerful and successful lobby for extracting money from taxpayers. The philosopher holds that the society needs to realize that behind the idea of humanitarian aid stands a great political push which advocates certain interests. Behind the compassion to the starting and needy there are billions of dollars profited by people who are involved in this humanitarian business. Singer, in his turn, does not discuss this point. In my opinion, Singer should have predicted this argument and should have prepared a contra argument in his article. More specifically, Singer should have mentioned the facts proving that humanitarian aid is not completely profitable for the nations-donors.
Or at least, the author of Famine, Affluence, and Morality should have described the positive outcomes of the already given aid, which can be valued more than the material gains of American farmers, sellers ect. In contrast, Singer claims that the amount of current humanitarian aid is not sufficient, and indirectly points out to inhuman politics of the wealthier nations. Finally, the reader gets the idea that his every new shirt bought is stealing money from the starving and suffering people in Africa.
So, the present study has shown that both the philosophers Hardin and Singer discuss the same topic, however, their approaches are different. Hardin more employs the facts taken from the experience of the past years, while Singer’s argumentations are primarily based on empirical judgments and theories. On the whole, I think, Hardin manages to convince his readers that the wealthier countries have a low level of moral obligation to aid the poorer ones, while the article of Singer operates with a quite doubtful reasoning.
To my mind, there is a certain level of moral obligation of wealthier countries to poorer ones, and this obligation really implies humanitarian aid. Moreover, I think the facts of unsuccessful attempts of aid in Hardin’s article do not evidence against humanitarian aid in general, they just demonstrate that the current strategy and the politics of humanitarian aid are wrong. References: Hardin, G. Lifeboat Ethics: the Case Against Helping the Poor. Psychology Today. September. 1974. 26 Jan. 2007 Singer, P. Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 1 (Spring 1972), pp. 229-243 [revised edition]