According to the World Bank’s latest figures, around 700 million people live in utter destitution, on less than $1.90 per day, poorer than the average pet cat in the rich world. It is easy to agree that this is a terrible thing. It has so far been much harder – even for philosophers – to agree on what should be done about it. Peter Singer, for example, argues that rich people should donate more to effective charities. Thomas Pogge argues that rich world citizens should stop their governments from supporting less than ideally just global institutions. Yet this intellectual debate is an unnecessary distraction. We already have all the moral agreement we need to act. Ending extreme poverty is not an intellectual problem but a practical one, and not even a particularly difficult one. We just need to find the people who are poor and give them enough money so that they aren’t poor anymore.
Monday, 2 May 2022
Tuesday, 21 April 2015
The drowning season is an embarrassment because it threatens our moral complacency. We enjoy believing that we care about human rights and we have signed all sorts of treaties and agreements promising care to refugees fleeing lives of squalor, fear, and oppression. But we also have no serious intention of fulfilling our promises to help foreigners. That's why we make them climb into those leaky fishing boats to reach us.
Embarrassment is discomforting. How will we deal with it? By focusing on the deaths and who is to blame - the dastardly people smugglers, the under-resourced Italian navy, sclerotic EU institutions, Libya's warring factions, the foolish refugees themselves? Or by recognising and answering the moral challenge before us.
Monday, 14 July 2014
The contemporary animal rights movement owes a great intellectual debt to Peter Singer's pathbreaking book Animal Liberation (1975), also known as ‘the Bible of the Animal Liberation Movement’. In that book Singer made a break with the dominant but limited Kantian argument that mistreating animals is a bad – inhumane – thing for humans to do. In its place, Singer advanced a case against harming animals, such as by using them for food or experiments, based on their equal moral status, their right to have their suffering counted equally with that of humans.
Singer's book has influenced many people, including myself. Yet, reading and rereading it, I have come to wonder whether it is really a work of good philosophy rather than merely effective rhetoric. Its success relies on pathos - an appeal to the sentiments of the audience. Despite multiple revised editions, Singer's official argument, his logos, is far from clear or compelling.
It is disappointing that the revered urtext of the animal rights movement lacks the intellectual rigorousness it claims. Worse, the flawed utilitarian case pressed by Singer is intended to foreclose the consideration of more relevant ethical accounts, most obviously those that directly engage with sentimentalism rather than being embarrassed by it.