Severe poverty as an unjust emergency

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6 Citations (Scopus)


On the one hand, recent literature on global justice urges us to correct features of global structures that contribute to the persistence of severe poverty. On the other, Peter Singer has argued that our obligations to donate to agencies such as Oxfam are at least as stringent as the obligation to rescue a child we happened to pass who is drowning in a pond. His argument has triggered a movement, known as “effective altruism,” which encourages people to donate a substantial proportion of their income to the most effective NGOs and advises them on how they can do the most good with their money. This paper examines the debate between these two positions and argues for a pluralist view, according to which duties to donate to aid agencies should be seen as back-up duties. that arise because primary duties of justice not to deprive people of even enough resources for subsistence are violated. It is built into this framing that the status quo is fundamentally unjust, and that duties of aid are no substitute for recognition and fulfillment of duties of justice that would empower those who are currently overwhelmingly vulnerable to social and economic forces beyond their control to the point of lacking any realistic means of earning a subsistence income. Nevertheless, the duties of aid are of the utmost moral urgency.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe ethics of giving
Subtitle of host publicationphilosophers' perspectives on philanthropy
EditorsPaul Woodruff
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780190648909
ISBN (Print)9780190648879
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2018


  • Global justice
  • Structural injustice
  • Effective altruism
  • Peter Singer
  • The human right to subsistence


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