The Rock Ethics Institute Fellows Seminar met earlier this week to discuss the issue of global responsibility. The readings that provided the basis for the discussion were Iris Marion Young’s “Responsibility and Global Justice: A Social Connection Model”, Andrew Kuper’s “Global Poverty Relief: More than Charity” and Peter Singer’s “Poverty, Facts, and Political Philosophy”. The following summary of the discussion was provided by Cori Wong:
Our conversation on the Peter Singer-Andrew Kuper debate and Iris Marion Young’s presentation of a social connection model of responsibility started with the questions, What are we to do? and Why don’t we act? When all three theorists are trying to address practical ethics and global responsibility, the fact that we (and most others) are not immediately compelled to do significant ameliorative actions is troubling. It was noted that among Singer, Kuper, and Young, there are differing, and at times conflicting, descriptive accounts of global poverty and injustice. More specifically, Singer and Kuper disagree on what sort of actions will actually be helpful and harmful to those who suffer from hunger and poverty. This descriptive discrepancy results in the divergence between their normative claims–Singer says all people who can “afford to” should donate their excess money to aid agencies like Oxfam and Unicef; Kuper says this will do more harm than good, and instead, our focus should shift from individual responsibility to the role of agencies that work for structural changes and support development in other countries. By highlighting this apparent tension in their accounts, it was restated that the fact that so many people do not act on a feeling of responsibility raises, again, the problem of moral motivation. Despite the different emphases on individual responsibility or an alternative notion of responsibility by virtue of one’s involvement in institutional and structural processes that produce inequality and injustice, none of them seemed to be able to convincingly motivate us as readers to do anything in particular. Simply knowing the facts of the matter, reasoning about justice, and then being shown that one has the moral responsibility to act are not enough.