Uncontacted peoples

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Should We Contact Uncontacted Peoples?: A Case for a Samaritan Rescue Principle

This essay was a joint runner up in the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics Graduate Category

Written by University of Oxford student Brian Wong

Uncontacted peoples refer to individuals who live (by choice or by circumstance) without coming into contact with broader, greater civilisation.[1] I make the idealised[2] assumption that our act of contacting seeks to provide these peoples with goods, opportunities, and access to advantages. I outline a tentative argument as to why it can be obligatory to contact[3] uncontacted peoples, basing my claim on a Samaritan modification to Singer’s Rescue Principle[4]. I will then raise several limiting conditions to the above Samaritan considerations. Noting that the key difference between contacting uncontacted peoples and more ‘uncontroversial’ Samaritan acts lies in the heightened epistemic indeterminacy in the former, I conclude by presenting a principle of epistemic prudence that has wider implications for broader instances of paternalistic intervention.[5]

Consider first the relevant facts: in 2013, it was estimated that there were over 100 uncontacted tribes around the world, residing in densely forested areas of South America, Central Africa, and the Indian Ocean. These tribes generally live without access to modern medical or communicative technology, and are more vulnerable to natural threats (e.g. predators, disasters etc.).[6] Continue reading

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