Distance, Divided Responsibility and Universalizability
Karen Green
The Monist, vol. 83, no. 3 (July 1, 2003), pp. 501-515

Peter Singer is responsible for having developed a powerful argument that apparently shows that most of us are far more immoral than we take ourselves to be. Many people follow a minimalist morality. They avoid killing, stealing, lying and cruelty, but feel no obligation to devote themselves to the well-being of everybody else. If we are unstintingly generous, constantly kind or untiring advocates for the prevention of cruelty, we take it that we are doing more morally than is strictly required. We commend those who give generously to foreign aid, but we do not look on those who fail to give us unthinking criminals or moral reprobates. Yet, if Singer's argument is cogent, our standard judgements are seriously askew. Those who fail to do what they can to alleviate the absolute poverty of the worst off in the world are not quite as bad as murders and thieves, for they do not intentionally act in such a way as to kill and deprive others of their rightful share. They are, however, about as bad as reckless drivers who act in a way which will cause death and destruction, without desiring that these predictable consequences of their actions should come about (Singer 1993, p. 228).

Singer's argument is powerful partly because it involves an apparently consistent application of a plausible pair of the utilitarian principles; that we should act so as to maximise the good, and that we should count everybody's interests equally. Utilitarianism is by no means an undisputed ethical theory, but Singer claims, following R. M. Hare, that it follows from universalizability. It is at least a highly plausible ethical theory, and one that needs to be taken seriously. If such a theory has consequences which conflict with our intuitions it is possible that we need to revise our intuitions and the behaviour that flows from them. Following in Singer's footsteps, Peter Unger urges us to do just this (Unger 1996). But another possibility is that these unacceptable consequences give us reasons to revise our principles. If utilitarianism follows from universalizability, but leads to conclusions which most of us find counter-intuitive we are faced with a severe dilemma. We would have, as it were, a strong top down justification for utilitarianism, counterbalanced against a fairly good bottom up refutation. However, if we are to take conflict with our intuitions as a good reason for rejecting utilitarianism, we will need an alternative set of moral principles which can be shown to be compatible with the principle of universalizability. Indeed, it will be claimed in this paper that an analysis of the ways in which Singer's argument goes wrong can serve to show why utilitarianism as a first-order normative principle does not follow from the constraint that ethical principles are universalizable.

Singer's argument for our obligation to assist can be stated very simply:

... if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it. Since it is in our power to prevent people from starving to death without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it. Therefore we have a moral obligation to give as much to the starving as we can do without reducing ourselves to a comparable level of poverty. (Singer 1993, p. 231)

As it stands, this argument is somewhat ambiguous. We can begin to deal with the ambiguities by making its structure a little more formal;

P1. If it is in our power, by performing action A, to prevent some bad event E from happening, and we can prevent his bad event E from happening without causing an event E' which is morally at least as bad as E, then we ought to perform action A.

P2. It is in our power, by donating money to overseas aid, to prevent people from starving to death, and we can prevent people from starving to death without causing an event which is morally at least as bad as allowing people to starve to death.


We ought to donate money to overseas aid.

When it is pared down to such a simple structure it is clear that in order to show where the argument goes wrong one either has to show P1 is not always true or that P2 is not true. P2 looks like an instance of the more general P1, so if we can show that it is not true we will thereby show that P1 is not always true. Another possibility is that although P1 is true, P2 is not a genuine instance of P1. And indeed, I will argue that, because of certain ambiguities inherent in it, it can be shown that P2 is not a simple instance of PI. But this will not solve our difficulties completely, for Singer's argument raises complex issues which emerge because a collective responsibility has been divided, but there is a residue of collective responsibility that cannot easily be reduced to an aggregate of individual responsibilities. The approach taken here will have something in common with that developed by Robert Goodin and Philip Pettit. Goodin speaks of "distributed general duties" where I speak of "divided responsibility." They argue that our intuitions are justified by introducing the notion of responsibility, but do not show why we cannot help but divide responsibility (Goodin and Pettit 1986; Goodin 1988). My discussion demonstrates why divided or distributed duties are inevitable even from the perspective of universalizability, and why it therefore does not follow that as individuals we have an obligation to give of the kind Singer demands.

Many attempts to say what is wrong with P2 concentrate on the truth of the second conjunct, which says that we can prevent people from starving to death without causing an event which is morally at least as bad as people starving to death. At this point Singer's argument rests on the principle that we should give equal consideration to the interests of all people--no matter whether they are near or far from us, related or not related, or of the same or different nationality. If I donate money to overseas aid I may be unable to buy my child the new dress she desires. As Singer argues, failing to satisfy my child's desire for pretty clothes is morally trivial in comparison with failing to save a stranger's life, so it cannot rate in showing that the second conjunct is false. Those who say that I am entitled to buy my child a new dress, in circumstances in which I could rescue some other mother's child from death, are apparently forced to deny the equal consideration of interests principle. It appears that they must argue that it is legitimate to rate the fairly trivial interests of my own children above the basic interests of other children. Singer will admit that I should not send so much money abroad that my child may starve, or be deprived of life-saving medical treatment, but beyond that I should treat the desires of my own child, wife, mother or friend as on a par with the desires of those who are distant, unrelated, strangers to me. Since almost no-one lives by such a morality, and since one has a suspicion that anyone who did live by it would be an unfeeling monster, it is here that it is most obvious to bring pressure to bear. Impartialist moralities of the sort adopted by Singer have been attacked by many who point out that so much that is best in our moral motivation is tied up with partial emotions of affection, friendship and care that it is simply incoherent, impractical or too demanding to expect us to weigh the interests of strangers by the same scale as the interests of intimates. But partialist ethics have their limitations. The fact that it is natural to be partial does not make it right. And indeed, partiality for one's own kind can lead to the worst kinds of action. Partiality needs to be limited, but where can one find impartially justifiable limits to partiality? If partiality is to be sometimes justified we will need to show how it is compatible with the universalizability requirement. So in this paper, rather than attempting a direct defence of the partialist position, I plan to provide an impartialist justification for extensive partiality by examining some ambiguities in P2 which take us to the heart of the problem which I take to be a problem of divided responsibility.

Rather than directly attacking the second conjunct of P2, I will begin by discussing the first conjunct, which says that it is in our power, by donating money to overseas aid, to prevent people from starving to death. The phrase, 'it is in our power' admits two readings. On the one hand, "it is in the power of each of us individually" or "it is in the power of us as a unified group." What I mean by a unified group is a group capable of coordinated collective action. There are often situations in which something is within our power in the second sense, but not within our power in the first. It may be within our power (as a group) to shift the stone, but not within the power of any one of us to do so. Something similar is clearly the case with foreign aid. If the scope of "our" in Singer's article, is taken to be "members of the middle and upper classes of the OECD group of nations" or more generally "members of the richest quartile of the world's population" then it may well be that it is in our power to prevent people from starving to death, but it is not obviously the case that it is within the power of any one of us, individually, to prevent people from starving to death. Whether or not this is the case depends on how we read "prevent people from starving to death."

On one reading of the phrase, "prevent people from starving to death" we mean we can make it the case that no people starve to death. On this reading, since it clearly is not within the power of any one of us individually to eradicate starvation from the world, P2 is false. If, however, what is meant is "prevent at least one person from starving to death" then it may well be the case. Yet even this is not entirely clear. If I give to overseas aid can I be assured that there is some person who will live who would otherwise have starved to death? And, if I prevent someone from starving today, may I not simply perpetuate a situation which will lead to more people starving tomorrow? But these are difficulties that will be put aside for the sake of this paper.

Having disambiguated the first conjunct of P2 we have at least four readings:

C1 It is in our collective power to eliminate starvation.

C2 It is in our collective power to prevent some people from starving.

S1 It is in the power of each of us as individuals to eliminate starvation.

S2 It is in the power of each of us, as individuals, to prevent some people from starving.

I do not want to deny C1, indeed, I accept that Singer's argument is sound if the 'we' is interpreted collectively. There is some ambiguity as to who 'we' are, but if 'we' are the wealthiest quartile of the world's population, it is highly likely that we collectively are able to prevent starvation, and therefore that there is a collective obligation on us to do so. It is even more obvious that we collectively can prevent some starvation, and so collectively we have an obligation to do so. But the move from collective obligation to individual obligation is not simple, and Singer's argument is directed at each of us as individuals. His conclusion is that each of us ought to give as much as we are able, and it is only near the end of his original paper that he considers collective action (Singer 1972, p. 239). His conclusion will follow without more ado if either S1 or S2 is obviously true. Since S1 is clearly false, it is S2 which is the relevant reading of the first conjunct of P2, and which is, at least under some circumstances, true.

Having belaboured the point that it is as individuals that Singer is claiming that we have a duty to contribute, I will go on, in a moment, to cast some doubt on the general truth of P1. But before doing so I want to point out that the ambiguity between S1 and S2 can be used to mount an argument against any obligation to give to overseas aid. While it is true that if it is in our power, by performing action A, to prevent some bad event E from happening ... then we ought to perform action A, it is also true that if it is not in our power, by performing action A, to prevent some bad event E from happening ... then we have no obligation to perform A. Singer convinces us of the plausibility of P1 with the simple example of a child drowning. If we see a child in trouble in the surf, and we are able by swimming out, to save it, then we have a prima facie moral obligation to do so. However, if I know that I am unable to swim so far in these conditions, I have no obligation to attempt to swim out to save the child. I am not obliged to attempt to prevent something bad from happening when I know that my action will be futile, or at least, the fact that I believe that my action will be futile is a good excuse for not acting. It is true that we say in cases like this, "You could at least have tried." Moreover we look on the person who does try, but fails, as a kind of ineffectual hero. Yet, if we are quite sure that an action would be futile as an attempt to stop some evil, we do not think anyone morally obliged to perform the action. Since no donation of mine could eliminate starvation, if I take my goal to be the elimination of starvation, it appears that there is no strong obligation to donate to overseas aid. If the best I can do for the drowning child is to wade a few steps into the water, I would be better off desisting and attempting to do something more effective, such as finding a strong swimmer. If my small donation is completely ineffectual as an attempt to eliminate starvation, I may be better off desisting and attempting to do something more effective, perhaps righting some smaller evil that is within my power, or attempting to organise a greater power capable of eliminating starvation. So if one's individual goal is to eliminate starvation then it seems that Singer does not have an argument to the effect that one ought to donate to overseas aid, because it is not within one's individual power to eliminate starvation by donating to overseas aid. In this respect, Singer's own self-sacrifice may seem noble but futile.

It is for this sort of reason that Singer has, in later versions of the argument, made it clear that it is $2 which he holds to be true and which implies that each of us is obliged to do what we can. But now we seem to be faced with a new dilemma. While I am obliged to save some one among the starving, there is no particular person that I am obliged to save. If I have $1000 surplus I cannot send it to the Sahal without failing to send it to Bangladesh, to earthquake victims in China, to the poor of Peru, to the refugees in Afghanistan. There are so many whom I ought to consider equally, but I have not the means to consider them all. If none of them have a particular claim on me, how am I to decide where to send my money? If I ought to save someone, but there is no one in particular that I ought to save I am faced with a pragmatic paradox. It can be solved by choosing arbitrarily to save one person rather than another, but now it is not so clear that I can do this without sacrificing something of equal moral importance, for if I donate to the Sahal, and let some children in Bangladesh die, I will not have prevented starvation without having sacrificed something of equal moral importance.

Rather than being faced with one drowning child, easily saved by individual action, our situation is comparable to that of the strong swimmers on the beach at Bondi, after a freak wave has washed away the sand bank. Many people are drowning, and at least a goodly number have a prima facie obligation to help them, but which one is any particular strong swimmer to save? In a situation like this, a pragmatic principle solves the decision problem. Each drowning person has an equal right to be saved; efficiency dictates that one saves the closest. If one person is equally close to two potential rescuers, they should co-ordinate their activities, one agreeing to save the closest, the other the next closest. Lifeguards divide their responsibility for saving people on the beach, thus turning a diffuse and unfulfillable duty into a particular and achievable one. Without a pragmatic tiebreaker, which divides their responsibility, their collective aim of saving as many of the drowning as possible, would not be achieved. Many of our intuitive moral judgements arise, I will argue, from the past adoption of systems that divide responsibility. Where such systems are in place P1 is no longer always true. Where there is a collective capacity to prevent some evil, or bring about some good, which no individual can bring about unaided, we need to find a mechanism for achieving the collective good that transfers the individual's diffuse and unachievable obligation into a precise and achievable responsibility. Once a system of divided responsibility has been instituted it is no longer obvious that we always have an obligation to prevent something bad from happening if we can. For instance, given that a beach is patrolled by lifeguards, an ordinary individual may well be excused from saving someone who is drowning by the fact that it was not their responsibility. We divide the responsibility for care within society, and having established some system whereby certain people are responsible for certain acts, we do take it to be an excuse that one was not the designated responsible person. Nevertheless, situations in which other people neglect their responsibilities pose serious problems. The fact each family is responsible for its own children means I am not guilty if my neighbour neglects her child. It is not my responsibility to care for her child, and no-one will deem me a monster if I do not. Nevertheless, I may surely feel that I have some duty toward the child. Where others are unwilling or unable to fulfil their duties we face particular problems, to which we will return below.

We do not usually look at the problem of caring for society's children in these terms, since it has been deemed natural to care for one's own children. Actually, in the case of men, this is not particularly natural: the whole social edifice of marriage and naming is designed to provide a mechanism for identifying men's children and allocating male responsibility for children. However, we can look on the family as providing a solution to a problem of collective responsibility. Adults are collectively obliged to look after the children of a society, the responsibility needs to be divided. Proximity of kinship is an obvious way of determining how the general obligation to care for some children can be transformed into a precise obligation to care for these children. It has the added advantage that moral responsibility follows causal responsibility, and that natural inclination tends to favour the care of one's own children.

It has not been usual to attempt to give an impartialist justification for the care of one's own children. However, recently Singer has followed in the path of Godwin, and moved from a position which was severely impartialist towards the adoption of an impartialist justification for following the sentiments of love and affection which motivate most people to care more for the well-being of their children and parents than for the well-being of strangers (Singer, Cannold et al. 1995). This introduces a form of indirect or split-level utilitarianism which recognises that our natural inclinations to care for loved ones, and reciprocate generosity, usually result in good consequences and hence ground acceptable non-reflective principles of action. Such split-level theories suffer, however, from an important weakness. While it may be the case that our partiality towards our own children will in general have good consequences, there will be situations in which we will be able to do more good by sacrificing the good of our children for the sake of strangers. At what level of material happiness am I obliged to turn from satisfying the wants of my child towards supplying the greater needs of a stranger? Moreover, even if I do believe that there should be limits to my partiality, if I live in a society in which most mothers believe that their moral obligations are limited to satisfying the needs of their own children, why should I make my child go without things that other children take for granted?

The problem becomes acute when some people are unable to satisfy the needs of their own children, or some children have no parents or close relations to care for them. A system of divided responsibility will only work if each person has the means to fulfil their responsibilities, and every child has someone who is responsible for it. In many countries failures in the system of divided responsibility used to be dealt with by charity, often organised by the Church, but charity is highly problematic, because it appeals to individual beneficence rather than providing basic sustenance as a right. A paradox results from accepting an individual obligation to give, since it appears to justify the pursuit of great wealth. Singer accepts that it would be futile to give so much that one impoverished oneself so far that one was unable to hold down a good job. Should it be necessary, in order to be highly paid, that one wears good clothes, owns a car, goes to overseas conferences, etc. one is justified in doing so, for if one were to impoverish oneself, one would be unable to give. But if one should give as much as one can should one not become as rich as one can? A millionaire giving 1% of her income will be able to give more than an average worker giving 10% of her income. So the fact that riches enable magnanimity perversely justifies riches. What is needed in the long run is not charity, based on inequality, hut a solution to the problem of gross inequality. As Wollstonecraft said in an age when state-based social welfare and universal free education were still revolutionary dreams for the future; "... a being with a capacity for reasoning, would not have failed to discover, as his faculties unfolded, that true happiness arose from the friendship and intimacy which can only be enjoyed by equals; and that charity is not a condescending distribution of alms, but an intercourse of good offices and mutual benefits, founded on respect for justice and humanity' (Wollstonecraft 1989, pp. 10-11).

Since the late eighteenth century those who live in Western-style democracies have largely solved the limitations of individual beneficence by introducing taxation. A properly functioning system of taxation allows us as individuals to fulfil our obligations towards others, without suffering from the pragmatic paradox discussed above. We do not need to give to one person at the expense of other needy people, for everyone who is capable is required to give, and everyone who is needy has a claim on the State in accordance with their need. If we leave our obligations to others to charity, then each of us will be inclined to give too little. Universalizability tends to come in a variety of forms. As well as believing that the principle of their action should be such that they should not do to others what they would not have others to do to them, many people follow a negative version of universalizability which places limits on the demandingness of morality. They believe that they need not do for others what others would not do for them, or for others in general. If the positive principle of universalizability is that one should only act in such a way that one can desire the principle of one's action to be universally applied, the negative principle might be expressed as allowing that one need only act in such a way that it is possible for the principle of one's action to be universally adopted. So given that people in general believe that their direct obligations are limited to their families, it is reasonable for others to feel that it is unjust that they shoulder an unusual burden and extend their care beyond those for whom they are immediately responsible. Responsibility having been divided, in order to solve a problem of collective responsibility, individuals will justly question why they should do more than their share. It is only by ensuring that the burden is placed on people equally in relation to their capacity to help that each feels happy to contribute in proportion to that capacity.

By analogy, we will not solve the problem of international poverty and starvation by putting individuals in a situation in which they feel guilty if they merely pay their taxes and care for their own families. We need rather to formulate principles of organization that will enable each country to fulfil its obligations towards its own people. We saw that from an impartialist perspective, a fair way of dividing the responsibility for children was to make parents responsible for their own children. However, since not every parent will have funds and not every child will have competent parents, some redistribution of funds will be necessary in order to provide all parents with the means to care for their children and in order to provide children without parents with care. In a similar fashion an impartialist perspective could come up with no better scheme for dividing responsibility among nations than to make each nation responsible for the care of its own people. This has the same sort of advantages as dividing responsibility for children. Each nation has its own history, customs, and priorities. No matter how strange and ungrounded these may seem to outsiders they will be the sorts of things nations will want to develop in their own way. Just as a family that is sufficiently well run offers, besides basic care, a history, set of habits and sense of one's place in the community, so a state that is sufficiently well run offers a set of traditions, a history and a sense of one's place in the international community. Each nation has a prima facie obligation to care for its own people, and in a well-ordered system of divided responsibility it will then have no further obligations. But Singer, Unger and others will object, we do not have a well-ordered system of divided responsibility. Many nations are not capable of providing basic welfare for their citizens, and while this is the actual situation, each of us has an obligation to do as much as we can, even if others are not fulfilling their obligations.

The international situation in the early twenty-first century has remarkable similarities to the national situation in Britain in the eighteenth century. In Britain there were vast extremes of wealth and poverty. The industrializing urban centres were thriving, the aristocracy and some of the merchant class were extremely rich, and those with property were able to live a life of opulence. At the same time there was a poverty-stricken underclass, many of whom resorted to crime, who had been forced off the land by enclosure, or had left the countryside because they had no claim to viable land. The local parish organization of charity was breaking down. Some parishes were wealthy and able to look after their poor, others had no money and the poor starved. People were unable to move to where there was social welfare, because parishes would not accept those who had not been born within their boundaries unless they had work. Moralists exhorted the wealthy to give to the poor, and the wealthy gave a little, but not enough to change the structural inequalities which were the source of the problem. It was in this context that Wollstonecraft made her comment quoted above, as part of her defence of the French Revolution, which, she believed at that time, would usher in a new system capable of offering every person the means to fulfil their responsibility to themselves and their family. It was also in this context that Adam Smith wrote his Wealth of Nations.

One important example in The Wealth of Nations suggests that one could solve the problem of nations that are unable to provide for their own people by allowing people to move to those places where work and welfare are available (Smith 1976, vol. 1, p. 152-57). In the England of Adam Smith's time, wages were high is some parts of England, and low in others, where work was scarce. But labourers were unable freely to move to find work because of regulations designed to prevent parishes being burdened by too many poor. At the national level free movement ultimately involved replacing local parish welfare with a national welfare system. Justice suggests that at the international level also we should make state boundaries permeable and allow people to move to wherever they can make the best living (Barry and Goodin 1992, pp. 8-9). Yet such a proposal strikes most people as abhorrent. Surely this would just be a recipe for moving overpopulation, land degradation and poverty from some areas to others. A country which has been careful to maintain the standard of living of its people (as has Australia since the days of the white Australia policy) surely has a right to continue on the path of responsibility. As Rawls says in his discussion of the obligations we have to other states:

An important role of a people's government, however arbitrary a society's boundaries may appear from a historical point of view, is to be the representative and effective agent of a people as they take responsibility for their territory and the size of their population as well as for maintaining its environmental integrity and its capacity to sustain them. The idea here appeals to the point of the institution of property; unless a definite agent is given responsibility for maintaining an asset and bears the responsibility for not doing so, the asset tends to deteriorate. In this case the asset is the people's territory and its capacity to sustain them in perpetuity; the agent is the people themselves as politically organised. They are to recognise that they cannot make up for their irresponsibility in caring for their land and conserving their natural resources by conquest in war or by migrating into other people's territory without their consent. (Rawls 1993, pp. 47-48)

Yet countries like Australia and the United States ought to think twice about such principles, for it was only two to three hundred years ago that our ancestors migrated into these territories, without the consent of the occupying peoples, and at lest partly because the governments of the countries of origin had failed to keep their populations in balance. Here it is perhaps interesting to note that the Netherlands seems to have been unsuccessful as a coloniser in North America because things were not too bad for people of Dutch descent in Europe. It was persecution of religious sects, many of them committed to redistribution of wealth, which sent the first migrants to the United States. It was poverty and crime which provided the convicts who were sent to Australia. Hence it is rather hypocritical for us to discover the integrity of our ownership of our land, at this late stage. Nevertheless, Rawls is surely right that a system of divided responsibility strikes most of us as just. And since past injustice should not justify continued injustice, the important task for the future is to institute a workable international division of responsibility. This still leaves us with the problem of what we should do when our neighbours are unwilling or unable to fulfil their responsibility to the people within their borders. At a national level we have solved this by instituting a system of taxation that provides the means to step in where parents default on their responsibilities or are unable to fulfil them. At the international level, also, we could tax the wealthiest in order to provide basic education, health care and disaster relief for those whose governments are unable to provide for those within their borders. A tiny tax on international monetary transactions would both help dampen the speculative flows of capital that are so destructive of emerging economies, and produce huge sums of money. Although not initially designed to be an instrument of global redistribution, a tax of the sort initially suggested by James Tobin in 1972 would be one way to provide assistance to the international poor, at the expense of the international rich (Walker 1993; D'Orville and Najman 1995; Haq, Kaul et al. 1996). While it is open to discussion whether this is the best, most effective, and just mechanism for providing the funding for an international system of social welfare it is one practical option. Avoiding the sort of volatility in currency that does so much harm to weaker economies, is an important benefit in itself.

Global trade makes our responsibilities for people in other countries global. Since a Tobin tax makes the cost of foreign money more expensive, it might be thought to restrict global trade. This could be the case, but this would tend to make local produce relatively cheaper, thus having a beneficial environmental effect, without ad hoc country-by-country protective measures. Far more than dampening global trade, however, a Tobin tax would dampen speculative foreign exchange transactions that ultimately do nothing but add external costs to trade. The considerable sums generated could be allocated to governments to help provide the basic food, education and health care necessary if individuals are to be able to participate in the market economy and to make use of the benefits that technology and organisation can bring. The just distribution of these funds would no doubt require an agency of the United Nations more representative and better organised than current United Nations agencies, and the principles for distributing funds would be hard fought and raise complex moral and political issues. Yet these issues need to be faced if we are ever going to have a system of global justice and global peace. It is only when we engage with poorer countries from the perspective of a genuinely impartialist justification for recognising our obligation to provide the framework in which others have the means to look after their own partial interests, that we will begin to enjoy the intimacy that can only be felt among equals, and rid ourselves of the condescending charity of alms which is our inheritance from colonialism.

It is important that one responds to Singer's challenge not by unthinkingly endorsing partialist motivations. That way lies the excess of nationalism, self-interest and war. From an impartialist perspective it is clear that we need to divide responsibility, and our partial inclinations make it easy for us to accept the sort of division of responsibility embodied in the family and the nation state. Self-sacrificing impartialism is a more noble option, but has in the past remained, and in all probability will remain, ineffectual. There is little point arguing that in the non-ideal context in which we live we have an obligation to follow a morality more demanding than that adopted by our compatriots. That way leads only to either futile self-sacrifice or the perverse pursuit of riches for the sake of greater magnanimity. The only effective long-term solution to world poverty is to attempt to institute a system of redistribution that approaches more closely to the ideal than the post-colonial hodge-podge that currently exists. Achieving this may seem utopian, but it is no more utopian than was the aim expressed at the end of the eighteenth century of instituting the welfare-state, universal affordable primary education, health care and the basic right to life and liberty that we now take for granted in first-world democracies.


Barry, B. and R. Goodin (1992). Free Movement: Ethical Issues in the Transnational Migration of People and of Money. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

D'Orville, H. and D. Najman (1995). Toward a New Multilateralism: Funding Global Priorities. New York: United Nations.

Goodin, R. (1988). "What Is So Special about Our Fellow Countrymen?" Ethics 98: 663-86.

Goodin, R. and P. Pettit (1986). "The Possibility of Special Duties." Canadian Journal of Philosophy 16: 651-76.

Haq, M. u., I. Kaul, et al., eds. (1996). The Tobin Tax: Coping with Financial Volatility. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rawls, J. (1993). "The Law of Peoples." Critical Inquiry 20: 36-68.

Singer, P. (1972). "Famine, Affluence and Morality." Philosophy and Public Affairs 7: 229-43.

Singer, P. (1993). Practical Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Singer, P, L. Cannold, et al. (1995). "William Godwin and the Defence of Impartialist Ethics." Utilitas 7: 67-86.

Smith, A. (1976 ed'n.). An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Unger, P. (1996). Living High and Letting Die. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Walker, M. (1993). "Global Taxation-Paying for Peace." World Policy Journal 10: 7-12.

Wollstonecraft, M. (1989). Vindication of the Rights of Men. The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft. J. Todd and M. Butler. London: William Picketing. 5: 7-60.

Utilitarian Philosophers :: Peter Singer :: 'Distance, Divided Responsibility and Universalizability', by Karen Green