A Journal of Philosophy, Applied to the Real World

Volume 7 Number 1. June 2019


Being Good in a World of Need: Some Empirical Worries and an Uncomfortable Philosophical Possibility
Journal of Practical Ethics 7(1): 1-23
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.
Each-We Dilemmas and Effective Altruism
Journal of Practical Ethics 7(1): 24-32
In his interesting and provocative article ‘Being Good in a World of Need’, Larry Temkin argues for the possibility of a type of Each-We Dilemma in which, if we each produce the most good we can individually, we produce a worse outcome collectively. Such situations would ostensibly be troubling from the standpoint of Effective Altruism, the project of finding out how to do the most good and doing it, subject to not violating side-constraints (MacAskill, forthcoming, p. 5). We here show that Temkin’s argument is more controversial than it may appear initially regarding both impartiality and goodness. This is because it is both inconsistent with (i) a plausible conception of impartiality (Anonymity) and inconsistent with (ii) the standard view of goodness (the Internal Aspects View). Moreover, because (i) and (ii) are entailed by the sense of ‘impartial goodness’ that Effective Altruism tentatively adopts, Temkin’s argument is less relevant to Effective Altruism than he suggests.
Being Good in a World of Uncertainty: A Reply to Temkin
Journal of Practical Ethics 7(1): 33-39
This reply affirms Temkin’s critical perspective on effective altruism but seeks to draw out its constructive implications. It first encourages Temkin to defend the practical urgency of global poverty in the face of doubts about aid effectiveness. It then argues for a more holistic conception of effectiveness to mitigate these doubts. It considers some alternative aid strategies that respond to this broader conception. Finally, it exhorts effective altruists to think more seriously about the reform of global institutions.
Medical Crowdfunding, Political Marginalization, and Government Responsiveness: A Reply to Larry Temkin
Journal of Practical Ethics 7(1): 40-48
Larry Temkin draws on the work of Angus Deaton to argue that countries with poor governance sometimes rely on charitable giving and foreign aid in ways that enable them to avoid relying on their own citizens; this can cause them to be unresponsive to their citizens’ needs and thus prevent the long-term alleviation of poverty and other social problems. I argue that the implications of this “lack of government responsiveness argument” (or LOGRA) are both broader and narrower than they might first appear. I explore how LOGRA applies more broadly to certain types of charitable giving in developed countries, with a focus on medical crowdfunding. I then highlight how LOGRA does not apply to charitable giving aimed at alleviating the suffering of the absolutely politically marginalized, or those especially vulnerable people to whom governments are never responsive.
Aid Scepticism and Effective Altruism
Journal of Practical Ethics 7(1): 49-60
In the article, ‘Being Good in a World of Need: Some Empirical Worries and an Uncomfortable Philosophical Possibility,’ Larry Temkin presents some concerns about the possible impact of international aid on the poorest people in the world, suggesting that the nature of the duties of beneficence of the global rich to the global poor are much more murky than some people have made out. In this article, I’ll respond to Temkin from the perspective of effective altruism—one of the targets he attacks. I’ll argue that Temkin’s critique has little empirical justification, given the conclusions he wants to reach, and is therefore impotent.
First Steps Towards an Ethics of Robots and Artificial Intelligence
Journal of Practical Ethics 7(1): 61-95
This article offers an overview of the main first-order ethical questions raised by robots and Artificial Intelligence (RAIs) under five broad rubrics: functionality, inherent significance, rights and responsibilities, side-effects, and threats. The first letter of each rubric taken together conveniently generates the acronym FIRST. Special attention is given to the rubrics of functionality and inherent significance given the centrality of the former and the tendency to neglect the latter in virtue of its somewhat nebulous and contested character. In addition to exploring some illustrative issues arising under each rubric, the article also emphasizes a number of more general themes. These include: the multiplicity of interacting levels on which ethical questions about RAIs arise, the need to recognise that RAIs potentially implicate the full gamut of human values (rather than exclusively or primarily some readily identifiable sub-set of ethical or legal principles), and the need for practically salient ethical reflection on RAIs to be informed by a realistic appreciation of their existing and foreseeable capacities.