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Does the severity of global poverty make it wrong for us to buy luxuries rather than using the money to help the global poor?

Par   •  26 Novembre 2018  •  2 006 Mots (9 Pages)  •  301 Vues

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have and keep it for yourself, even if you are not responsible for the fact that they don’t have any supplies of their own.

Overall he states that we have too much and that some people are in danger of death from having too little, and that even if we donate it will not endanger our own survival. But if we don’t, we will have a responsibility for the deaths of the people.

He is not only saying that it is morally wrong not to donate, but that it makes you a murderer not to do it.

Singer, Unger and O’Neil’s theories are very controversial and have been criticized many times. They were accused of radicalism and of not following their own arguments in real life. But they are not the only scholar that studied the question of a moral duty to help, and other authors developed other ideas about this questions. I will now present these ideas.

Scholars as Liam Murphy are thinking that there is a moral duty to donate, but not that everyone should donate everything they have left after having fulfilled their primary needs. Everyone should, in his theory, give the same amount, a share. Indeed, according to him (and in opposite to Singer), it is not morally wrong to buy luxuries as long as you donated your share (at the minimum). The amount of the share is issued from a calculation of how much is needed in the world to fight poverty. The need is then divided between all of the population and everyone has to donate their share. People will not be blamed for making other expenses as long as they gave their minimal share. If some people choose to give less than their share, or not give at all, this loss should not be compensated by other people (it would be unfair that they give more than their share). This is an egalitarian point of view. Murphy is not the only egalitarian, there are many others such as Simon Caney and Beitz;

This point of view is, of course, criticized. Indeed, in reality, not everyone is giving, and the consequence of some people not giving are people dying (as the share is calculated in a way that everyone has to give to eradicate poverty). The people that are not donating are morally wrong but according to the theory, the people that have donated don’t have to give more than the share, even if they could. As a result, it is morally not wrong to save two children from drowning and look at two others drowning without doing anything, even if we had the capacity for saving the four of them. Just because according to this theory, everyone should save the same amount of children and have fulfilled their duty after they saved two.

The second main critic against Murphy’s theory is that everybody has to give the same thing even if everybody has not the same level of richness. Being middle-class, rich or very rich don’t change anything. As a result, the « price to pay » don’t have the same weight and difficulty level from a donator to another, and they are people who would be able to donate way more than they are required to.

The next scholar we will present is the relational cosmopolitan Thomas Pogges. Pogges has a minimalist approach. He defends that people have a duty to help, but not only one. Indeed, his main argument is that there is not only a duty to help (positive duty), but also a duty not to do any harm to others (negative duty). He also links poverty and human right, because he considers that access to primary necessity is a human right that everyone has.

The negative duties are the most important for him, because they tend to cost less than the positive ones. For him, privileged people shouldn’t harm unprivileged people, for example by promoting an unjust institutional order with practices as corruption.

He is not the only scholar promoting fairer institutions. David Miller does too. However the promotion of a fairer institutional system is more relating to justice duties than humanitarian. About humanitarian duties, David Miller argues that there is one, even if the people’s situation is provoked by themselves. However the duty applies only if the helper’s situation permits it and if it does not cause a too big scarify.

To conclude, we can say that the different scholars studied in this essay tend to agree that a moral duty to help exists, even if there are some differences in the types of duties and the condition of existence of these duties in their work.

Overall the most radical theory is the consequentialist (the most famous consequentialist being Peter Singer). His approach is different from the one of the egalitarians such as Murphy and Caney, who think that all people should give the same amount and not whatever they have left after having fulfilled their primary needs. Both consequentialist and egalitarian approaches only have one type of duty though, in opposite with the minimalists as Pogge, who have two (a positive and a negative duty).


• Singer, P, (1972), Famine, Affluence and Morality, Philosophy and Public Affairs

• Pogge, T, (2002) World Poverty and Human Rights, Cambridge: Polity, Ch. 4 - 8

• Armstrong, C, (2012) Global Distributive Justice: An Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Chap 2-3

• Beitz, C, (1999), International Liberalism and Distributive Justice: A Survey of Recent Thought,

World Politics

• Barry, B. (2005) Why Social Justice Matters. Cambridge: Polity.

• Wing, F (2009), Ethnical problems in connection with world poverty, Lingnan university

• O’Neill, O, (1989). Constructions of reason : explorations of Kant’s practical philosophy.

Cambridge : Cambridge University Press

• Murphy, L-B. (2000). Moral demands in non ideal theory. Oxford: Oxford


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