Guest Post: Should you give to beggars? Yes, you should.

Written by Richard Christian.


In a stimulating and controversial post on this blog, and later in a paper published in Think, Ole Martin Moen has argued that you should not give to beggars. His argument is simple and familiar. It is that the beggar one encounters in the rich world is, in the scheme of things, doing very well for herself. The London beggar is hungry, ragged, addicted, and schizophrenic; but she is like unto a king in comparison to the starving Ethiopian. If she receives only a few pounds a day and falls asleep in a doorway, she is still much better off than the millions of people in the world now dying for lack of food or clean water. It follows that a pound put in the hand of that beggar is a pound wasted: it should have gone to the person whose need is most urgent. Moen counsels you to ignore the beggar as you pass her on the street, and to give all your spare pounds instead to charities that assist the world’s most needy. In general, in your action, you should aim to do the most good you can. I wish to say here a word in favour of the beggar, and to show what I think is wrong with this currently fashionable line of reasoning in applied ethics. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: “Should You Switch to an Altruistic Career?” Written by Benjamin Lange

This essay was awarded second place in the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics graduate category.

Written by University of Oxford student, Benjamin Lange



Important Decision: Imagine that you are about to finish your philosophy PhD and are faced with the following two choices: You can either accept a postdoctoral position at a prestigious university or you can take up a job that will enable you to positively impact the lives of other people who are very badly off. Suppose further that you would strongly prefer to become a philosopher. However, you are having second thoughts. It’s also clear to you that you could spend your time and energy in a more beneficial way by helping others. And you recognise that you have strong moral reason to do so.

With this in mind, and standing at this important juncture in your life and career you now ask yourself:

“Given that there is some moral leeway, am I justified in pursing a philosophical (minimally helpful) career even though I could also choose a (more helpful) altruistic career?”

How would you answer? Continue reading

Five ways to become a really effective altruist

Written by Professor Julian Savulescu and Professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

This is a cross-post of an article which was originally published in The Conversation

Effective altruism is a philosophy and social movement which aims not only to increase charitable donations of time and money (and indeed more broadly to encourage leading a lifestyle which does good in the world), but also encourage the most effective use of these resources, usually by looking for measurable impacts such as lives saved per dollar.

For an effective altruist, the core question is: “Of all the possible ways to make a difference, how can I make the greatest difference?” It might be argued, for example, that charity work isn’t the best use of time; a talented financier may be better off working for a bank, and use their earnings to pay for others to work for charities instead. Continue reading

Guest Post: Why Don’t We Do More to Help the Global Poor?

Simon Keller, Victoria University of Wellington
Read more in the current issue of the Journal of Practical Ethics

There is good reason to believe that people living comfortable lives in affluent countries should do more to help impoverished people in other parts of the world. Billions of people lack the nutrition, medicines, shelter, and safety that the better-off take for granted, and there exist organizations that do a pretty good job of taking money donated by the relatively rich and directing it towards those who need it most. If I can address myself to others who count among the global rich: we could do more to help the global poor, but we don’t.

It is not just that we do not do much to help the global poor; it is also that our patterns of helping do not respond to the most morally significant aspects of global poverty. We will give more in response to a disaster, like a hurricane or a tsunami, than to ongoing systemic poverty. We are more likely to give when confronted with a photograph of a starving family, or when we take ourselves to be sponsoring a particular child, than when faced with truths about how many people are suffering and how much they need our help.

In a recent article in Journal of Practical Ethics, I try to say something about what explains our patterns of helping behavior, as directed towards the global poor. Part of the explanation, of course, is our selfishness, laziness, and willful ignorance; and part of it is the power of personal stories and photographs to engage our emotions while statistics and geopolitical truths leave us numb. But a further part of the explanation, I think, is that while we know we have good reasons to help the global poor, we do not know what those reasons are.

Continue reading

‘Competitive Altruism’ – Why attractive women are the most successful fundraisers

By Nadira Faber

Why do humans help others even when it is costly and nothing is to be expected in return? This question has not only developed into a classic in different empirical disciplines, but is also of high interest for fundraisers like charities who would like to know how to increase donations.

A study recently publish in Current Biology gives interesting real-life evidence for why people help that might sound like a paradox at first: ‘competitive altruism’.

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How morality might ask less of scrooges (and more of kinder folks)

Could the fact that someone is more scroogelike – less willing to sacrifice for the sake of doing good – entail that morality is less demanding for her?  The answer to this question has important implications for a host of issues in practical ethics, including issues surrounding adoption, procreation, charity, consumer choices, and self-defense.

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Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Can a Contractarian Rationally Donate to Charity? by Benedict Hardwick.

This essay, by Oxford undergraduate student Benedict Hardwick, is one of the four shortlisted essays in the undergraduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Can a Contractarian Rationally Donate to Charity?

 Charities Act 2011:

1.1 For the purposes of the law of England and Wales, “charity” means an institution which is established for charitable purposes only.

2.1 For the purposes of the law of England and Wales, a charitable purpose is a purpose which…is for the public benefit.

Although a moral theory, contract theory is concerned with rational decisions rather than “good” or “right” decisions. ‘Rational actions’ are here conceived, following Gauthier[1] (rather than, say, Scanlon) as maximising one’s own personal utility and so the theory already assumes that there are no rational justifications for purely altruistic/non-utility-maximising behaviour (“purely” because it is possible to maximise one’s utility by maximising that of someone else’s – but this is not what we would call “purely” altruistic). This is no bad thing since I believe such justifications are at best unnecessary complications and at worst demonstrably false, but that debate will not be had here. Instead I shall here show that charity, the supposed epitome of good moral action, is not good at all. Continue reading

Risky Giving

I highly recommend Leif Wenar’s essay “Poverty Is No Pond” – especially to those not yet familiar with, but interested in, the empirical complexities involved in giving to overseas poverty-fighting charities.  Wenar’s main aim in his essay is to criticize Peter Singer’s 2009 book The Life You Can Save for (i) being overly optimistic about the quality of information available on the effects of giving to various charities, and (ii) failing to emphasize that every charitable donation also comes with some risk of harming people living in extreme poverty.  I’ll only briefly address (i), and then turn to and focus primarily on (ii).

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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.

Continue reading

Saving administration costs or saving lives?

By Lucius Caviola & Nadira Faulmüller

Imagine a car company advertising as follows: “90c of any dollar you pay for your car goes directly to building cars. Only 10% of our expenses go into planning, designing, and advertising them.” Such a campaign strategy would seem patently bizarre; when buying a product few of us are interested in how much went into administration, all we care about is what we get for our money. Overhead ratio (the proportion of money going into administration) is irrelevant; only cost-effectiveness matters.

This common sense approach to purchasing goods or services does not seem to translate into the non-profit sector, however. Consider the following advertisement by the organisation CARE:  “More than 90 percent of our expended resources – among the highest of all philanthropic organisations – support our poverty-fighting projects around the world. Less than 10 percent of expended resources go toward administrative and fundraising costs.” Continue reading


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