Being Good in a World of Need: Some Empirical Worries and an Uncomfortable Philosophical Possibility

Journal of Practical Ethics 7 (1):1-23 (2019)
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Abstract
In this article, I present some worries about the possible impact of global efforts to aid the needy in some of the world’s most desperate regions. 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 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. 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 article ends by briefly noting a number of claims and arguments that I made in my 2017 Uehiro Lectures regarding how good people should respond in a world of need. As I have long argued, 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.
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Archival date: 2019-07-02
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