Some Empirical Worries and Uncomfortable Philosophical Possibilities

larry s

This lecture on 'Obligations to the Needy: Some Empirical Worries and Uncomfortable Philosophical Possibilities' is the final lecture in the series of three given by Professor Larry S. Temkin (Rutgers University).

In this third Uehiro Lecture, I consider a number of worries about the possible impact of global efforts to aid the needy. Among the worries I address are possible unintended negative consequences that may occur elsewhere in a society when aid agencies hire highly qualified local people to promote their agendas; the possibility that highly successful local projects may not always be replicable on a much larger regional or national scale; the possibility that foreign interests and priorities may have undue influence on a country’s direction and priorities, negatively impacting local authority and autonomy; and the related problem of outside interventions undermining the responsiveness of local and national governments to their citizens.

I also discuss a position that I call the Capped Model of Moral Ideals, which may have a bearing on the intuitively plausible approach of always prioritizing the greatest need when making one’s charitable contributions. Another issue I discuss is the possibility that efforts to aid the needy may involve an Each/We Dilemma, in which case conflicts may arise between what is individually rational or moral, and what is collectively rational or moral. Unfortunately, it is possible that if each of us does what we have most reason to do, morally, in aiding the needy, we together will bring about an outcome which is worse, morally, in terms of its overall impact on the global needy.

The lecture ends by taking stock of the main claims and arguments of all three Uehiro Lectures, and considering their overall implications for our thinking about the needy. I consider the implications of my discussion for Peter Singer’s view, and the implications of my view for the approach and recommendations of Effective Altruism. I also consider where my discussion leaves us given my pluralistic approach to thinking about the needy. I have no doubt that those who are well off are open to serious moral criticism if they ignore the plight of the needy. Unfortunately, however, for a host of both empirical and philosophical reasons, what one should do in light of that truth is much more complex, and murky, than most people have realized.

This event is organised by the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics.

Booking: All are welcome to attend these public lectures. Please book for each lecture separately here.


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Contact name: Rachel Gaminiratne

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Audience: Open to all