World’s Famine and Virtue
In his article called “Famine Relief: The Duties We Have to Others”, Christopher Heath Wellman focuses on the subject of ethics in the act of helping other people. His major statement is that if one has the resources and an ability to help someone who is in need of help without having to make a significant sacrifice, one ought to do so and provide help.
Wellman describes a situation of an infant falling into a pool as an example of a setting where an individual resting at the pool could save the child even if it leads to the ruination of the cocktail and a book the person had in their hands. Wellman’s argument is that if the sacrifice is minor (a cocktail and a book versus the life of an infant), it ought to be made (420).
In other words, the author specifies that two conditions are necessary for the decision to help to be a moral duty – the danger is to be a serious threat to someone’s life and the solution – an insignificant sacrifice (Wellman 421).
Further, the author points out that the nationality or the physical proximity of the people in need of help are irrelevant if they do not contradict with the initial two conditions – the helper’s physical ability to help (that refers to the sacrifice being insignificant for this party) and the seriousness of the threat that needs addressing.
Finally, Wellman adds that the use of medial devices for the provision of help to the party in need is also not an obstacle.
As a result, the author makes a conclusion that the differences in geographical location and nationality, and the need to use certain means should not be seen as barriers preventing one from providing help to the starving people in the poor countries. In fact, Wellman notices that this moral duty is just as relevant as that of saving an infant falling into the pool right in front of one (422).
Moreover, responding to the common argument that the impoverished populations are responsible for their own poor life conditions by stating that the international relations in the modern world are designed in a way that generates riches for the wealthier nations while simultaneously depriving the third world countries of benefits and stimulating their poor conditions artificially (Wellman 426).
This statement makes sense because it is beneficial for the wealthier states of the world to suppress their weaker neighbors and counterparts financially for a purpose to have access to cheap resources that in turn, facilitate higher rates of consumerism and advantages for the rich.
That way, the world operates in a way there the wealthy are supported and live in more beneficial conditions allowing them to multiply their wealth, while the poor are intentionally kept at the bottom as the sources of accessible cheap resources.
Developing this thought further, it is possible to notice that the financial aid sent to the wealthier states to the poorer ones does not make any difference even though many funds are being sent on a regular basis.
In fact, many researchers of financial aid impact are convinced that instead of being directed to address the existing poor living conditions in the recipient countries, it serves to make them dependent on the funds forcing them to live through a limited life-cycle supported only by the foreign aid over and over again (Rena 113; Durbarry, Gemmell, and Greenaway 55; Awan and Moeen-ud-Din 319). Practically, this is one of the means for the financial suppression by the wealthier states.
Raising the issues of this correlation between the rich and the poor countries, Wellman proceeds with his argument pointing out the connections between the people in need and the societies whom he compares to the loungers at the pool capable of providing help.
As a result, the author attempts to emphasize the moral duty to assist. Besides, Wellman maintains that there is a set of negative moral duties the people are to accomplish in order to live in a moral society; they involve not harming one another and each other’s private property; also, there are positive ones such as providing help in imperiled situations.
Responding to the argument of Wellman, Cohen states that an infant drowning right in front of a person and an abstract number of starving people somewhere on the other side of the planet imply very different attitudes and the duty that is strong in the former situation turns out much weaker in the latter (433).
In other words, the intuitive feeling of good and moral that would most definitely push one to drop the book and rush to save the drowning child is not going to make an effect as powerful when one hears about the unknown people starving somewhere far away.
Accordingly, the desire to help is much weaker and this is not an indicator of immorality of the society providing or not providing a response. Cohen proceeds with his argument providing description to the nature of charity as an act and views it as one’s ability to feel sympathy towards the other people when they are in need and respond with timely help delivered for the right reasons (434).
However, one’s lack of spontaneous sympathy towards a total stranger cannot and should not be positioned as immorality. Differently put, one has a full right to remain unsympathetic to people they do not know or have never seen in their life. In fact, in many situations, this particular type of distrust is the key to survival.
The lack of response to the requests for charity is based not on the fact that people are immoral or insensitive toward someone’s sufferings. These same people, who do not rush to send money to the charity funds as soon as they see an advertisement, may be very helpful toward their close ones and the people in need who are around.
Besides, this lack of response can be reversed or impacted if the individual stories of the people in need are shared. For instance, many charity funds today make detailed presentations about the individuals who represent the community to which they provide help. This technique is based on the creation of public images of the people in need, and it works.
More responses to charity requests appear when the population in need is not described as the faceless masses but is presented with the help of individual stories of real people. Seeing faces, learning names, and discovering the stories of struggle increase the rates of relatedness and sympathy and in turn, result in a better response in a form of charity.
That way, it is possible to conclude that low charity response to the starvation in the world is not due to the immorality but due to distance and abstractness of the population in need.
Awan, Abdul Ghafoor, and Muhammad Moeen-ud-Din. “The Impact of Foreign Aid on Pakistan’s Economy.” Science International 27.4 (2015): 3455-3459. Print.
Cohen, Andrew I. “Famine Relief and Human Virtue.” Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics. Eds. Andrew I. Cohen and Christopher Heath Wellman. New York: Wiley Blackwell Publishers, 2014. Print.
Durbarry, Ramesh, Norman Gemmell, and David Greenaway. “New Evidence on the Impact of Foreign Aid on Economic Growth.” CREDIT 8.4 (n. d.): 1-47. Print.
Rena, Ravinder. “Is Foreign Aid Panacea for African Problems? The Case of Namibia.” Managing Global Transactions 11.3 (2013): 223-241. Print.
Wellman, Christopher Heath. “Famine Relief: The Duties We Have to Others. Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics. Eds. Andrew I. Cohen and Christopher Heath Wellman. New York: Wiley Blackwell Publishers, 2014. Print.
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