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Famine Relief

Background Concepts

Charity vs. Justice

Acts of Charity: acts that promote the welfare of others who are in need, but do not have
a right to assistance.

Acts of Justice: Acts that give others something to which they have a right or promote
fairness.

Distributive Justice: Justice that promotes a fair distribution of social benefits and
burdens.

Rectificatory Justice: Justice that promotes a fair remedy for an injury.

Retributive Justice: Justice that promotes a fair penalty for some infraction of
rights.

Morality vs. Justice

Morality concerns right and wrong where no threat of physical harm may serve as an
enforcement technique.

Justice is a special type of right and wrong where compliance may be enforced through
physical harm (or imprisonment).

Thus, the Issue: Is famine relief a matter of charity or of justice? Or, should we view famine
relief as an issue of morality or of justice?

Singer’s View

Famine Relief is a matter of charity that is obligatory. Those in need have a right to assistance.
Is it a matter of justice as well?

Greater Moral Benefit Principle: If we can prevent something bad from happening without
sacrificing anything of comparable moral worth, then we ought to do so.
Applied to famine relief:
1. Donating a large sum of our income/wealth to famine relief will enable us to prevent
something bad from happening without sacrificing anything of comparable moral
worth.
2. If we can prevent something bad from happening without sacrificing anything of
comparable moral worth, then we ought to do so.
3. Therefore, we ought to donate a large sum of our income/wealth to famine relief.
Consider Bob and the Bugatti.

When Bob first grasped the dilemma that faced him as he stood by that railway switch,
he must have thought how extraordinarily unlucky he was to be placed in a situation in
which he must choose between the life of an innocent child and the sacrifice of most of
his savings. But he was not unlucky at all. We are all in that situation.

“This is a silly example!”—


Two responses
1. In order to test moral principles, we must push the situation to extremes.
2. Is it analogous or not? If not, what is a relevant difference between the two
cases? If yes, then singer is right, you are in this situation.

Narveson’s View

Famine relief is a matter of charity and is not enforceable.

Entitlement Principle: We have rights to our property which entitles us to determine how that
property will be used, so long as our use does not violate the rights of others, this is true even if
we can significantly benefit other at no significant cost to ourselves.

Applied to Famine Relief:


1. Even if our donating to famine relief will prevent something bad from happening
without sacrificing anything of comparable moral value, our right with regard to our
property entitles us not to do so.
2. If our right with regard to our property entitles us not to donate to famine relief, we
have no moral obligation to do so.
3. Therefore, we are not morally obligated to donate to famine relief.
Notice, in cases of wrongdoing on our part, there still remains rectificatory or retributive
justice.

Donating to charity is virtuous, but not enforceable.

Is there a difference between starving (actively causing starvation in another) and


allowing to starve?

Which of the two principles is correct, if either?


What are we to say about the cases that motivated the competing principles?

Is charity a moral obligation?


Is it an obligation of justice?