Outsiders: Our obligations to those beyond our borders

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In an article entitled “Famine, Affluence and Morality,”, first published in 1972, I argued that: it makes no moral difference whether the person I help is a neighbor's child ten yards from me or a Bengali whose name I shall never know, ten thousand miles away As far as I am aware, no one has disputed this claim in respect of distance per se - that is, the difference between 10 yards and 10,000 miles. Of course, the degree of certainty that we can have that our assistance will get to the right person, and will really help that person, may be affected by distance, and that can make a difference to what we ought to do, but that will depend on the particular circumstances we find ourselves in. The aspect of my claim that has been the subject of greatest philosophical dispute is the suggestion that our obligation to help a stranger is as great as our obligation to help a neighbor's child. Several critics have claimed that we have special obligations to our family, friends, neighbors and fellow-citizens. Raymond Gastil, for example, has objected that: There is no doctrine of nonuniversalistic obligation with which Singer seriously deals. The flatness of his map of obligation and responsibility is suggested by the remark that “… unfortunately most of the major evils - poverty, overpopulation, pollution - are problems in which everyone is almost equally involved.”.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Ethics of Assistance
Subtitle of host publicationMorality and the Distant Needy
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9780511817663
ISBN (Print)9780521820424
StatePublished - Jan 1 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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