Bioethics Blogs

Optional whether to give, therefore optional where to give?

You might think that if it’s not wrong not to donate to charity, then it’s not wrong to give to whatever particular charity you choose (as long as no harm is done).  I’m going to argue against this view.  Very often, it is wrong to give to an ineffective charity, even when it’s not wrong not to give at all.

It’d be wrong of you to refuse to greatly help others (save lives), if the cost to you of doing so were very small (muddied shoes).  But how much are you morally required to sacrifice, for the sake of helping others?  At present, there’s significant disagreement among moral philosophers about this, but most would agree that we – those likely to be reading this post – are morally required to give substantially more to help others (especially those living in extreme poverty) than we currently do.  As Larry Temkin noted in an engaging talk, in just one year Americans spent $306 billion on philanthropic causes; but the majority of this money went to religious institutions, alma maters, etc., and at best only $13.3 billion went to aiding people in extreme poverty.  Compare this with:  $74 billion spent on toys and sports equipment, $323 billion on tobacco, $457 billion on alcohol, $300-600 billion on soft drinks, chips, and candy, $841 billion on recreation, and $2.7 trillion on eating out at restaurants.  (These figures come from the 2010 US Statistical Abstract.)

According to many, once you’ve given some sufficiently large amount, it is supererogatory to give still more of yours for the sake of benefiting others.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.