You are on page 1of 17

North American Philosophical Publications

Perspectives on World Hunger and the Extent of Our Positive Duties

Author(s): Robert N. Van Wyk
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Public Affairs Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Apr., 1988), pp. 75-90
Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of North American Philosophical Publications
Stable URL: .
Accessed: 26/11/2012 15:26

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

University of Illinois Press and North American Philosophical Publications are collaborating with JSTOR to
digitize, preserve and extend access to Public Affairs Quarterly.

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Public AffairsQuarterly
Volume2, Number2, April1988


RobertN. Van Wyk

I. Introductionto the Issue

problem that faces institutions- especially govern-

ments,as wellas individuals,is thequestionoftheextentofthe
dutyto preventharmto otherpeople,and/orbenefitthem.This is
notan academicproblembutone thatstaresus in thefacethrough
the eyes of starvingand malnourishedpeople, and in particular,
children.Estimatesofthenumberofseverelymalnourished people
in theworldhave rangedfromseventymillion,1 to
to 460 million,2
one billion.3Whatdutiesdo individualshave to help?

II. Utilitarian/ConsequentialistApproaches

A. The ViewsofPeterSingerand GarrettHardin

Accordingto some moraltheoriestheveryfactofwidespread

hungerimposesa dutyon each personto do whateverhe or she is
capableofdoingto accomplishwhateveris necessaryto see toitthat
all people have enoughto eat. PeterSinger,a utilitarian,

I beginwiththeassumption thatsuffering and deathfromlackof

food,shelter,andmedicalcarearebad . . . Mynextpointis this:if
it is in our powerto preventsomething bad fromhappening
without therebysacrificing
anything ofcomparablemoralimpor-
tance,we ought,morally, to do it.4

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Does thismean thatgovernments ofprosperouscountriesoughtto

call upon theircitizensto sacrificeenoughoftheluxuriesoflifeto
paytaxesthatwillbe used to see to itthateveryonein theworldhas
the basic necessitiesof life?Suppose thatgovernments do not do
this.Suppose I givea considerableamountto faminereliefbutthe
needremainsgreatbecausemanyothershave notgiven.Is thiscase
parallelto the followingone to whichSingercomparesit? I have
saved thelifeofone drowningperson.Thereis stillanotherperson
who needs to be saved. Otherpeople could have saved the second
personwhileI was savingthe firstbut no one did. Even thoughI
have saved one, and even thoughotherpeople have failedin their
dutytotryto save theother,itwouldseemreasonabletoclaimthatI
have a dutytotryto do so. WouldI similarly have a dutyto keepon
giving more to aid thehungryregardless ofthe personalsacrificein-
volved?Many objectionsraisedagainstgivingsacrificially have to
do withwhether certainkindsofassistancereallydo muchgood.But
such objectionsdo notreallyaffectthe questionof how muchone
shouldsacrificeto helpothers,butonlyhaveto do withthebestway
ofusingwhatis given(forexample,forfoodassistance,development
assistance,familyplanning,encouraging politicalchange,support-
ing education, and so on). But if we reach the conclusionthatwe
have a dutyto do all we can,justas in thecase ofthedrowning peo-
ple, we are facedwiththe problemthatJamesFishkinhas written
about,ofbeingoverwhelmed withobligationsin a waythatexpands
thearea ofmoraldutytothepointofobliterating boththearea ofthe
morally indifferentand the area of the morallysupererogatory.5
There are, however,otherconsiderations. What are the long
rangeconsequencesofkeepingpeoplealive?'Neo-malthusians" and
"crisisenvironmentalists" argue that population growthis outstrip-
pingfoodproductionand also leadingbothto the depletionofthe
world'snaturalresourcesand thepollutionofthe environment, so
thatthemorepeoplewhoare saved themoremiserytherewillbe in
thelongrun.GarrettHardincomparesrichnationsto lifeboatsand
the poor of the worldto drowningpeople tryingto get into the
lifeboats.To allowthemin wouldbe to risksinkingthelifeboatsand
so to riskbringing disasteron everyone.The highrateofpopulation
growthamongthepoornationsinsuresthatevenifthereis enough
roomat themoment,eventually thelifeboatswillbe swamped.6The
lifeboatethicis an applicationofwhatHardincalls thelogicofthe
commons.Ifa pastureis heldas commonproperty eachherdsmanis
tempted overgraze it forthe sake of short-term profits.Even the
individualwho wantsto preservethe land forthe futurehas no
reason to stop as long as thereare otherswho will continueto

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

overgrazeit.Similarly,ifwe regardthefoodproduction oftheworld

as a "commons"towhicheveryoneis entitledwe undermineanyin-
centiveamongthepooroftheworldtoincreaseproduction and limit
population growth. The increasingpopulation will continually
reducethe amountavailable foreach individualwhileat the same
timeincreasingpollutionand puttingotherstrainson theenviron-
ment.7So Hardinwritesthat"forposterity's sake we shouldnever
send foodto any populationthatis beyondthe realisticcarrying
capacityofitsland."8This viewthatcertaincountriesshouldbe left
to have "massive diebacks of population,"9while othersshould
perhapsbe helped,has been called "triage."10

B. Questionsabout TheseApproaches

One way ofrespondingto Hardin'sargumentis to raise ques-

tionsaboutthechoiceofmetaphorsand theirapplicability.11 Why
speak of lifeboatsratherthan of luxuryliners?Why should the
Asian or Africanpeople be comparedto the "sheep" who are the
greatestthreatto thecommonswhentheaverageAmericanuses up
thirtytimestheamountoftheearth'sresourcesas does theaverage
Asian or African,12 and whenthe developednationsimportmore
proteinfrom the developingnationsthan theyexportto them?13
How are thelifeboatmetaphorsapplicablewhenapartfromspecial
famineconditionsalmosteverycountryin the worldhas the re-
sourcesnecessaryto feeditspeople iftheywereused primarily for
The focushere,however,will be on moraltheory.In spiteof
theirverydifferent conclusions,Singerand Hardinbothpresuppose
a utilitarianpositionthatsays thatwhatwe oughtto do depends
completelyon the anticipatedconsequencesof our choices.15A
defenderofSingermightsay thatall Hardin'sobservationsdo is to
imposeon all peoplea dutytoredoubletheirefforts to findand sup-
portsolutionsthatavoidbothshortrangehungerand longrangedis-
aster.But thatansweronlyincreasesthe problemofoverloadthat
Fishkinis concernedwith.

III. Hunger,Respect for Persons and Negative Duties

Many philosophers,especiallythose emphasizingthe strin-

gencyofnegativeduties,subscribeto Kant'sprincipleofrespectfor
persons, whetheror not they are supportersof Kant's moral
philosophytakenas a whole.RobertNozickuses theprincipleofre-
spectforpersonsto defendabsolutedutiesto do no harmwhileat

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

thesametimedenyingtheexistenceofanydutiestobenefit others.16
Kanthimself, however,maintainedthatwe have imperfect dutiesto
help others.One mightstillclaimthatgovernment maynotcollect
taxesforthesake ofaidingothers,sinceone oughtnotto forcepeo-
ple (taxpayers)to fulfill imperfect dutieswhendoingso violatesthe
perfectduty respect right citizensto use theirresourcesas
to the of
theythemselveschooseto do so. Kanthimselfdid notreachsuch a
conclusion,17 but Nozickdoes, arguingthatsince "individualsare
ends and notmerelymeans;theymaynotbe sacrificed, or used for
the achievingof otherends withouttheirconsent."18
Nozick'sviewscan be attackedat manypoints.19 Even ifthey
werecorrect,however,it wouldnotfollowthatgovernments would
haveno righttotax citizensto aid peoplein distress.Thisis because
individuals,corporations (towhichindividualsare relatedas stock-
holdersand employees),and governments would stillhave duties
not to harm,and thus also dutiesto take correctiveactionin re-
sponseto past harms.So wealthycountriesand theircitizenscould
stillhave manyresponsibilities ofcompensatory justicewithrespect
to the world's poor. Some countriesface povertybecause their
economiesare heavilydependenton a singleexportmaterialor crop
(forexample,copperin Chile),the pricesof whichare subjectto
greatfluctuations. If the originalsituation,or the subsequentfluc-
tuations,were broughtaboutby policiesofwealthynationsor their
corporations, then suffering does notjust happenbut is caused by
the actions of people in developed nations.If corporationscan
strangleeconomiesofdevelopingnationsand chooseto do so ifthey
do not get special tax advantages,or unfairlyadvantageouscon-
tracts,thenpovertyand hungerareharmscausedbythedecisionsof
the wealthy.20 If, furthermore, government officialsare bribedto
keep taxes down, as was done in Honduras by the banana com-
panies, then is
poverty directly caused by human actions. If a
developed nation overthrows the of a
government poor nation which
triesto correctsome past injustice(as was done whenthe C.I .A.
helpedoverthrow thedemocratically electedgovernment ofGuata-
mala in 1954 in orderto protectthe interestsof the UnitedFruit
Company),thenpovertyis a harmcaused by humanactions.21 The
decisionsoftheSovietUnionto importlargeamountsofgrainfrom
theUnitedStatesduringtheNixonadministration led to a dramatic
and unexpectedrisein thepriceofgrainon theworldmarket, which
in turncaused hunger.Americans'use ofenergyat twicetherateof
priceincreasesby oil exporting nationsno doubtmeantthatpeople
wentwithoutpetroleum-based orenergytotransport
fertilizers, food

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

orpumpwaterforirrigation, and so led to additionalpeopledyingof

hunger.22 When petroleumpricesfallthepovertyofpeoplein some
oil-exporting countries is aggravatedbecause ofthedifficulty their
governments have financing their debts - debts which were ac-
quired partially due to the encouragement of the banks in the
What duties do the wealthycountrieshave to the poor and
hungryof the world?The firstdutyis not to harmthem.While
seldomare the hungryintentionally killed,theyare oftenkilledin
the same way thatsomeoneis killedby a recklessdriverwho just
does nottakeintoconsideration whathis actionsmightdo to other
vulnerablehumanbeings,and thereis no doubtthatrecklessdrivers
are to be held accountableforwhattheydo.23In some cases it may
be morallyjustifiable toendangerthelivesofpeoplein ordertowork
towardsome desirablegoal,as it maybe morallyjustifiableto risk
people's lives in orderto rusha critically ill personto thehospital.
But a personwhois speedingforgoodreason,or whobenefitsfrom
thatspeeding,is nottherebyrelievedofresponsibility forsomeone
who is therebyinjured,forotherwisethe endangeredor harmed
would be treatedonly as means to the ends of others.Similarly,
thosewhomakeorbenefitfromeconomicand politicaldecisionsare
notrelievedofresponsibility forthosewho are therebyharmedor
endangered.So evenifwe wereto accepttheviewthatno individual
or government has anydutyto aid thosein distresssimplybecause
they are in therewouldstillbe fewpeopleofmorethanade-
quate means in therealworldwhowouldnothave an obligationto
aid thosein need. As Onora Nell writes:

Onlyifwe knewthatwe werenotpartofanysystemofactivities

deathscouldwe have no dutiesto support
policies seekto avoidsuchdeaths.Moderneconomiccausal
chainsare so complexthatit is likelythatonlythosewho are
economically couldknowthattheyare
isolatedand self-sufficient
partof no such system ofactivities.24

Withrespectto compensating thosewho have been harmedwe do

nothave to be partofthecasual chainthatcauses harmin orderto
have an obligationto thosewhostillbeartheeffects
A stoleJS'smoneyyesterday gave themoney C today,C ob-
viouslyhas a dutytoreturnit.Whilein somecases mentionedabove
decisionsweremade by companies,individualsand governments
stillwerebeneficiaries lowerpricesand in-
creasedtaxrevenue.Furthermore, itwouldnotmakeanydifference

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

ifA stole5's moneybeforeC was born. Considerthe following


Bengal(today'sBangledeshand theWestBengalstateofIndia),
thefirst theBritishconqueredin Asia,was a prosperous
provincewithhighlydevelopedcentersof manufacturing and
trade,and an economyas advancedas anypriortotheindustrial
revolution.The BritishreducedBengalto povertythrough plun-
der,heavy land taxesand traderestrictions
tiveIndiangoodsfromEngland,butgaveBritish goodsfreeentry
intoIndia.India'slatePrimeMinister Nehrucommented bitterly,
"Bengalcan takeprideinthefactthatshehelpedgreatly ingiving
birthto theIndustrialRevolutionin England."25

Those whobenefited fromtheIndustrialRevolutionin England,in-

cluding thosealive today,wouldstillhave dutiesto aid Bengal,just
as thosewho inheriteda fortunepartiallybased on stolenmoney
have a dutyto returnwhatwas stolen,withinterest, even though
they themselves are in no wayguiltyof the it
theft.So is withmost
citizensoftheindustrialized Westwithrespectto thepoorofsome
partsoftheworld.However,inthelightofthecomplexity ofboththe
causal chainsofharmand thecausal chainsofb snefit, we are again
facedwitha greatdeal ofuncertaintyas totheallocationofresponsi-
for for
bility correcting past injustices.26

IV. Hunger,Positive Duties,and the Idea of a Fair Share

So thereis no doubtthata Kantianethicwouldincludeduties

of reparationforharms done to people in the past and thatthis
wouldbe a basis ofobligationsto aid manyoftheunderdeveloped
countriesin the worldtoday,even thoughit would be difficult to
specify the extent of But
obligation. is therea to
duty help those in
severeneed evenifthecauses oftheneedare notdue to anypastin-
justiceor are unknown,as mayalso be trueaboutpartsoftheworld
today?Kantdoes notalwaystreatdutiesto aid othersas fullybind-
ing,butwhetheror not,as one Kantianargues,"it is impermissible
notto promotethewell-being ofothers,"27 itcan be arguedthatitis
impermissiblenot to relieveothersin distressand providethem
withthebasic necessitiesoflife,forthisis tofailtotreatthemas hav-
inganyvalue as endsin themselves.28 To putitanotherway,failing
to help is to violatesubsistencerights,and, as HenryShue argues,
whateversortsofreasonscan be givenin favorofregarding human
beings havingsecurityrights can also be givenin favorofregard-
ingthemas havingsubsistencerights.29 Or,to putitanotherway,it

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

is to failto take intoaccountthe vulnerability ofthe world'spoor

towardtheaffluent and itis thevulnerability
(takencollectively), of
people to others or
(individually collectively) thatis the foundation
of most (or all) of both our positive and negative duties to
To what extentdo individualsand nations have a duty to
relievethosein distress?Is therea middlewaybetweenSingerand
Nozick?Perhaps the followingline of reasoningwould providea
guideline.An estimatecan be made of what resourceswould be
needed to feed the hungry,bringabout politicaland economic
change,promotedevelopment, limitpopulationgrowth,and to do
whateveris necessaryto see thatall peoplehave a minimally decent
standardofliving(or thattheirbasic rightsare met).Some formula
based on abilityto helpcould determine whata fairsharewouldbe
foreach citizenofa developedcountryto contribute to theneedsof
thosein distressin thatcountry and to that country'sshareofhelp-
ingthepeopleofothernations.To theextentthatnationsadoptthis
procedureand make it part of theirtax structurea personcould
fulfillthe dutyofdoinghershareby payinghertaxes.31The ideal
wouldbe fornationsto do thisso thattheresponsibilities wouldbe
carriedoutand theburdenwouldbe distributed fairly.32 theex-
tentthatnationshavenotdonethis(and itis unlikelythatanyhave)
what duties do citizens have to contributethroughprivate or
religiousagencies?HenryShue correctly observesthat"How much
sacrificecan reasonablybe expectedfromone personforthesake of
another,evenforthesake ofhonoring theother'srights, is one ofthe
mostfundamental questionsin morality."33 Nozick,as we haveseen,
answerswith"None." Manyanswerwith"Some" withoutgoingon
to givea morepreciseanswer.In the absence ofadequate govern-
mentactioneach individualcouldstillmakesomesortofestimateof
whata fairsharewouldbe and givethatamount(orwhatremainsof
thatamountaftertakingintoconsideration thatpartofhertaxesthat
are used for appropriatepurposes) throughprivateor religious
agencies.I am claimingthatit is a strictdutyor dutyof perfect
obligationforan individualto giveat leastherfairshare,according
tosomeplausibleformula,34 towardseeingthatall humanbeingsare
treatedas ends in themselves, whichinvolvesseeingthattheyhave
thebasic necessitiesoflifein so faras thatcan dependon theactions
ofothers.35 This conclusioncan also be supportedby a generaliza-
tionargument. If everyonecontributed at leasta fairsharethesub-
sistencerightsof humanbeingswould cease to be violated(since
thatwouldbe one ofthecriteriafordecidingon a fairshare).Thereis
a problemabouttheapplicability ofgeneralization arguments where

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

theefforts ofone individualaccomplishesnothingifmostotherpeo-

ple do notalso do theirfairshare.(It is,forexample,probablypoint-
less tobe theonlypersonwhorefrains fromtakinga shortcutacross
thegrass;thegrasswillnotgrow.)In such cases thefailureofsome
to fulfilltheirdutiesmayrelieveothersoftheirs.The dutyto con-
tributeto the cause of combatting hunger,however,is not of this
sort, since one individual'scontributions stillaccomplishsomegood
whetheror not otherpeople are givingtheirfairshare.
On theotherhandthereis theproblemofwhether thefailureof
some people to fulfilltheirdutiesincreasesthe dutiesof others.If
manyare notgivinga fairshare,does theindividualwhois already
givinga fairsharehave a dutyto givemore?The exampleofthetwo
drowningpeople suggeststhattheindividualwho has done his fair
sharedoes have a dutyto do more.But thereis a majordifference
betweenthetwocases. Savingpeoplefromdrowning, in so faras the
chancesoflosingone's ownlifeare notgreat,is something thattakes
a minimalamountof timeout of the rescuer'slifeand does not
threaten his abilityto livea lifeofpursuinggoalshe setsforhimself.
A similardutyto keep on givingofone's resources,even afterone
has done his fairshare,wouldthreatento eclipseeverything else a
personmight choose to do with his life,for example,develop his
talents, raise a family, send his children to college,and so on,so that
thatpersonwouldbecomenothingbuta meansto meetingtheneeds
of others.36 The idea of a strictdutyto do at least one's fairshare
seems to avoid the problemof overload(unless the totalneed is
overwhelming) and drawsa lineat a plausiblepointsomewherebe-
tweendoingnothingand sacrificing one's wholelifeto thecause of
relievingthe distressof others.37 This approachdoes make one's
dutytothosein needagent-specific, sinceone's dutydoes dependon
one's pasthistory, on whatsacrificesone has alreadymade,butitis
not clear to me whythis is a defect.38 Of course a personmight
choosetomaketherescuingofthosein distressherspecialvocation,
and itmaybe nobleforherto do so, butto claimthatiftheneedsof
othersaregreatenoughshe has a dutyto surrender anychoiceabout
thedirectionofherownlifeis to claimthata personhas a dutyto be
purelythemeanstomeetingtheneedsofothers,and so infacta duty
to love othersnot as oneself,but insteadof oneself.On the other
hand,notto recognizea dutyto givea fairshareis to indicatethat
one believeseitherthatitis notimportant thattheneedsofthosein
distressshould be met (perhapsbecause theydo nothave subsis-
tencerights)or thatothersshoulddo morethantheirfairshare.39It
mightbe said thatthefirstis at leasta sin againstcompassion(ifnot
also againstjustice)and thesecondis a sinagainstfairnessorjustice.

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

In eithercase one is treatingtheendsand purposesofothersas hav-

ing less than
validity one's own, or,fromanotherpointofview,one
is notlovingothersas oneself.

V. ConsiderationsBeyonda Fir Share

If redistributionof wealthwerein factthe major need of the

mostvulnerablein theworld,and ifin factgovernment foreignaid
programs could be modified so thatthey could be trusted to meet
thatneed,then,in agreement withShue and Goodin,I wouldclaim
thatforthesake offairnessbothtothosein needand thosewillingto
help,it would be betterifeveryonedid his or herfairshareand it
would be legitimate to coercepeople throughthetax systemto do
so.40In theabsenceofsuchtaxationand in theabsenceofany offi-
cial calculationofsucha share,individualsgenerally do nothavethe
information on whichto assess theirownfairshare,and iftheydid
theywould probablytend to underestimate it. What mostpeople
tendto thinkof as theirfairshare dependsmuch less on any in-
formedcalculationthanon whattheythinktheirneighbors,fellow
ciizens,or fellowchurchmembers,are contributing,41 consoling
themselveswiththethought thatitcannotreallybe theirdutyto do
morethanothers.Butsincemostpeoplewhodo something probably
tendtothinkthattheyare doingmorewithrespecttotheirresources
thanothers,theidea ofa dutyto do a fairshareis in dangerofsuc-
cumbingto a downwardpressureto requireless and less. If the
vulnerableareto be protected thenperhapsdoingone's fairshareto
meettheirneeds is notthe onlyduty.Rathertheremustalso be a
dutyto put upwardpressureon theprevailingidea ofa fairshare.
Thiscan be doneonlybythosewhodo considerably morethanwhat
is perceived as a fairshare, and oftenmore than an actual fair
share.This is embodiedin Christianethicsin the ideal of beinga
lightto witnessto a higherand moredemandingway oflifeand in
theideal ofbeingthesalt oftheearththatpreservesit fromdecay,
perhapsprimarily thedecaybroughtaboutby downwardpressure
on prevailingstandards.42 Probablya secularcounterpart to these
ideals would be acceptedby others.
Thereare doubtsaboutwhetherredistribution ofwealthis the
major need, opposed to various in
changes policies,including
tradepolicies.Thereare also gravedoubtsconcerning thedegreeto
whichgovernment aid in the past has reallybenefitedthe most
vulnerableand aboutitsprospectsofdoingso in thefuture.43 That
raisesthepossibilitythatthemajordutyindividualshave is thatof
exerting pressureon government to makesurethatpoliciesdo pro-

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

tectthe vulnerable.(In Americansocietypeople are not quick to

recognizethisas a moralduty.Churcheshavemuchmoresuccessin
getting theirmembersto contribute to "One GreatHourofSharing"
and "HungerFund" offerings thantheydo in getting themto write
lettersto theirSenatorsand Congressmenabout hungerissues.)
Donald Regan writesthatour dutyis "to cooperatewithwhoever
else is cooperating,
intheproduction ofthebestconsequencespossi-
ble giventhebehaviourofnon-cooperators."44 Thereis an organiza-
tion,Bread fortheWorld,whichanalyzespolicy,supportslegisla-
tion on hungerissues, and conducts coordinatedletter-writing
drivesthroughits membersand its affiliated churches.Those who
wouldwritelettersto theirrepresentatives in conjunctionwithsuch
an effort wouldbe actingin accordancewithRegan'sprinciple.But
theprincipledoes notsay howmuchtime,effort, and moneyan in-
dividualhas a dutyto devoteto cooperating withothersto bringit
about thatgovernments act in ways thatprotectthe vulnerable.45
Givingone's fairshare to help those in need accomplishessome
goodwhetheror notothersare cooperating by doingtheirshare.In
thematterofinfluencing legislationan insufficient
doing theirfairshare(withrespect to all who mightparticipateinthe
effort) mayaccomplishnothing. Does the failureofenough others
do theirfairsharereleaseone fromone's dutytoworkforchange(as
itmayreleaseone fromthedutynotto walkon thegrass)?If so, the
vulnerableare leftwithoutprotection. Or does sucha failureimpose
a dutyon othersto do as muchas possible(as in thecase ofsaving
drowning people),so thatwe could againbe facedwiththeproblem
of overload? In this case, however,one sort of fairshare is so
minimalthereis no problemin doingmuchmore.If an individual
wroteat leastone lettera yearto herSenatorsand Congressmanon
one pieceoflegislationcriticalto meetingtheneedsofthehungryin
theworld,thatindividualwouldon thismatterbe doingperhaps50
timesa fairshare,in thatlettersfromtwopercentofthe electorate
would be regardedby those legislatorsas an overwhelming man-
dateon theissue. But an individualcouldwritemanysuchlettersa
year,and encourageothersto do likewise,withoutsacrificing any-
thingsignificant. Perhapsthereis no preciseanswerto thequestion
ofjusthowmuchmoremoneyoreffort thanprevailingstandardsre-
quire one "ought" to devote to the cause here being considered,
sincethismaybe a matteroflivingup to an ideal ratherthanfulfill-
inga peri,ctdutyto a specificindividual,ora perfect dutyofdoinga
fairshare.Even in theabsenceofanywayofdetermining whata fair
share mightbe one can attemptto live by this ideal by doing
significantly morethanthe societyas a whole generallythinksis

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Furthermore, may not some people have an agent-specifice

duty to do more than a fairshare(perhapsmuchmore)aboutsome
specificmatter because oftheirpeculiarawarenessoftheproblem,
knowledge ofwhat needs to be done,and sensitivity
to it?Religious
people mightsay that all people have a dutyto ask themselves
whether theymayhave been "called" to a specialvocationoftaking
on thiscause,withtheassurancethatsomepeopleare calledto this
vocationand all peopleare calledto somesuchvocation(s).In addi-
tion,a religiousethicgenerallyemphasizesthefaithfulness ofone's
witnessmore than the extentof one's accomplishments, and so
may succeed in sustaining an individual's to
efforts bringabout
change when the of
prospects succeeding seem slight.Perhapssome
would argueforsecularequivalentsto theseemphases.

vi. postscript:additional kantian

Reflectionson Duties to Others

Therearestilla numberofthingstobe takenintoconsideration.

Kant says thata personshould "not push the expenditureof his
means in beneficence ... to the pointwherehe would finallyneed
the beneficenceof others."46That could be regardedas treating
othersas a meansto one's ownend oftrying to achievesomekindof
sainthood.Secondly,help shouldnotbe givenin a manneror to an
extentthatreducestheabilityoftheperson(or group)thatis helped
to be self-reliantand self-determining. It is doubtfulwhetherthe
wealthy have ever given too much help to the poor,but theyhave
sometimes(perhapsfrequently) givenin a mannerwhichmade the
recipientsmore dependent in thelongrun,forexample,in a waythat
reduced the incentives of local farmersto increase production.
Thirdly,accordingto Kant,everyeffort mustbe made to "carefully
avoid anyappearanceofintending to obligatetheotherperson,lest
he (thegiver)notrendera truebenefit, inasmuchas byhisacthe ex-
presses that he wantsto lay obligationuponthereceiver."47
an Pre-
sumably nations such as the United States can and do giveaid forul-
teriorpurposes,such as to get rid of agriculturalsurpluses,help
farmprices,gainpoliticalinfluence, ortostimulate marketsand/ora
favorable climate of investment for U.S. companies, but then
citizensofthesenationsoughtnotcongratulate themselveson their
generosity(as Americansoftendo). Such acts are not acts of
beneficence and fromKant'spointofviewtheyhaveno moralworth
sincetheyare notdone forthesake ofduty,norare theydone from
othermotivesthatmightbe regardedas beingotherthanmorally
Fourthly, thereare conditionsunderwhichit could be argued

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

thata wealthycountryhas therightto refuseto giveaid, otherthan

emergencydisaster aid, if it is not somethingthat is owed as
reparations.Suppose thatachievingthegoal ofadvancingthe self-
sufficiency and self-determination ofa nationdependsin parton the
receiving nation's own effortto make necessarychangessuch as
redistributing land,bringingpopulationgrowthundercontrol,and
so on. It could be arguedthatifthereceivingnationfailsto makea
good-faith effortto bringaboutthesechanges,and ifitthenasks for
additionalaid, thedevelopedcountrymaylegitimately claimthatit
is beingused, and itspeople are beingused, solelyas meansto the
ends oftheunderdevelopedcountryor itspeople.The majorprob-
lemwithusingthislineofargument is thatthepeoplewhoarefacing
hungermay have littleto say about the decisionsof theirgovern-
ment.Thatproblem,however,does notpreventtheaid-giving coun-
tryfromlegitimately makingdemandsforreformin advance,from
doingwhatit can to see to it thattheyare carriedout,and from
threatening sanctionsotherthanthosethatwouldincreasethedep-
rivationof hungrypeople.48Perhaps it has seldom,if ever,hap-
penedthata developednationhas givenenoughnon-military aid to
an underdevelopednationto be in a positionto dictatewhatsteps
thereceivingnationshouldtaketo improvetheabilityofitspeople
to be self-sufficient; or perhapsit has been in the interestof the
politicalstrategy,militaryeffort, or business investmentof the
developednationsnot to demand thatspecificremedialsteps be
takenon thepartofthereceivingcountry;but it would seemto be
legitimate to make such demands.

22, 1987

1. This is a projectionmadebyNickEberstadtfromtheWorldHealth
Organization'sestimatethatthereare ten millionseverelymalnourished
childrenunderfivein theworld.("MythsoftheFood Crisis," New York
Review ofBooks, vol. 23 Feb. 19, 1976,) pp. 32-37.
2. This is a figurepreparedbytheUnitedNationsforthe1974 World
Food Conferencein Rome.
3. LesterBrown,In theHuman Interest(New York: Norton,1974),
p. 98.
4. PeterSinger,"Famine,Affluence, Philosophyand
and Morality,"
Public Affairs,vol. 1 (1972), p. 231.

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

5. JamesFishkin,TheLimitsofObligation(NewHaven:Yale Univer-
sityPress, 1982), especiallychapters1-7, 9 and 18.
6. GarrettHardin,"LifeboatEthics:"The Case AgainstHelpingthe
Poor,"PsychologyToday, vol. 8 (1974), pp. 38-43, 123-126.
7. Garrett Hardin,"The TragedyoftheCommons,"Science,vol. 102
(1968), pp. 1243-1248.
8. GarrettHardin,"CarryingCapacityas an Ethical Concept, in
GeorgeR. Lucas and Thomas W. Ogletree(eds.), LifeboatEthics: The
MoralDilemmasof WorldHunger,(NewYork:Harperand Row,1976), p.
9. Part ofthetitleofan articleby GarrettHardin,"AnotherFace of
Bioethics:The Case for Massive 'Diebacks' of Population,"Modern
Medicine,vol. 65 (March 1, 1975).
10. The wordoriginallyhad to do withthe choiceofgivingmedical
help to thosewho could be expectedto recoverif and onlyif theywere
treatedratherthanto thosewho would likelyrecoverwithouthelp or to
thosewithlittlehopeofsurvival.[See StuartW. Hinds,'RelationsofMedi-
cal Triageto WorldFamine:A History,"in Lucas and Ogletree,op. cit.pp.
29-51.] The termwas firstappliedtoproblemsofhungerand populationin
1967 by Paul and William Paddock in Famine-1975! (Boston: Little,
Brown& Co., 1967). The applicationofthetermto worldhungerand to
nations ratherthan to individuals has been challenged. [See Hinds,
"Relations,"and Donald W. Schriver,Jr.,"Lifeboaters and Mainliners,"in
Lucas and Ogletree,op. cit.,p. 144.]
11. Paul Verghese,"MuddledMetaphors,in Lucas and Ogletree, op.
cit.,p. 152.
12. Ibid. Whilechangesin cattleproductionand eatinghabitsmay
have broughtsome changes,at one timeit was estimatedthattheaverage
Americancitizenconsumed 1,850 pounds of graina year directlyand
throughmeat production,comparedto 400 pounds in poor countries.
[ArthurSimon,Bread for the World(New York: Paulist Press; Grand
Rapids,Michigan:Wm B. Eerdmans,1975), p. 56.] It was also estimated
thattheUnitedStatesused as muchenergyforits air-conditioners as the
billionpeople of China used forall purposesand thatthe UnitedStates
wastedas muchenergyas Japanused.
13. U.N.'s Handbook of International Trade and Development
Statistics,1972; and U. N.'s MonthlyBulletinofStatistics,July1975 and
Feb., 1976; bothcitedby Ronald J.Sidor,Rich Christiansin an Age of
Hunger (Downers Grove,III: Inter-varsity Press, 1977), p. 154; U.S.
BureauoftheCensus,StatisticalAbstractoftheU.S., 1976, pp. 818, 820,
citedby Sidor,p. 156. Proteinis importedintheformof oilseed,oilseed
products,and fishmeal whilegrainis exported.
14. FrancesMooreLappe and JosephCollins,ExplodingtheHunger
Myths(San Francisco:InstituteforFood and DevelpmentPolicy,1979),
pp. 5-7.
15. JohnPlamenatzpointsoutthatPaleyand Benthamalso arrivedat
incompatibleconclusionson almostall practicalissues fromverysimilar
theoreticalprinciples[The English Utilitarians(Oxford:Blackwell,2nd
ed., 1958), p. 56]. WhenJosephFletcherinterprets the Christianethicof

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

lovingone's neighborin a way thatmakesit indistinguishable fromsuch

utilitarianism it faces the same difficulties.See Fletcher,"Feeding the
Hungry,An EthicalAppraisal, in Lucas and Ogletree,op. cit.,pp. 52-
16. RobertNozick,Anarchy,State, and Utopia (New York: Basic
Books,Inc., 1974), pp. 30-35.
17. ImmanuelKant,The MetaphysicalElementsofJustice(Part 1
of theMetaphysicsof Morals), tr. by JohnLadd (Indianapolis:Bobbs-
MerrillCo., 1965), p. 93 (326).
18. Nozick,op. cit.,p. 31. Presumablyno government has a rightto
take one person'skidneyto give it to someonewho needs a transplant.
Nozick'sviewis thatifthehistoryofanywealthsomeonepossess,fromthe
timeofitsfirstcreationorfirstpossessionby a humanbeingup tothepres-
ent,revealsno violationofthe(negative)rightsofothersthroughforceor
fraud,thenthatpersonhas justas naturaland absolutea righttoittodayas
to each of his kidneys.[Ibid., pp. 150-182.] Thus taxationof one in-
dividual even forthe best of purposesis to use thatpersonsolely as a
means,and so is morallywrong.This viewofproperty rights,at bestonly
partiallytrue,even in theory,has little
applicationto therealworld,except
perhaps to a of
group people shipwrecked on a previouslyuninhabited
19. Reviewsand paperscriticalofNozickby Granrose,Singer,Hon-
ore,Sterba,Varan,Kearl,Scanlon,etc.,are probablytoo wellknownand
too numerousto list.
20. As occurredin Panama,Honduras,and CostaRica atthehandsof
the fruitand banana importedcompanies,United Brands, Castle and
Cooke,and Del Monte.
21. At thattimetheU.S. Secretaryof Statewas JohnFosterDulles,
pastpresidentofUnitedFruitand a largeshareholder. AllenDulles,whose
law firmhad written agreements betweenGuatamalaand UnitedFruit,was
head oftheCIA. See Carl Oglesbyand RichardShaull,Containmentand
Change (New York: Macmillan,1967), p. 104.
22. This occurredafterthedevelopednationsintroducedintoThird
Worldcountriesmoreproductive typesofgrainwhich,unfortunately, need
morewaterand fertilizer thanothertypes.
23. There are, of course,stillproblemswiththe moralrelevanceof
different sortsof causal relationshipsbetweenpast actionsand harmto
others.Have Westernnationsincurredspecialobligations to do something
aboutpovertyand hungerbecause theyencouragedpopulationgrowthby
providingmedicineand sanitationwithoutdealingwiththebirthrate?If
advantagesto somecountriesand disadvantagesto othersare a byproduct
ofchanceconditionsand theoperationofthefreemarketsystem,do those
who have benefitedfromtheseconditionshave dutiesto thosewho were
harmed?(For example,in 1968 it costBrazil45 bags ofcoffeeto buyone
U.S. jeep as comparedto 14 in 1954) [PierreGhedo, Whyis the Third
WorldPoor? (Maryknoll,N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1973), p. 64.1)
24. Onora Nell, "LifeboatEarth,"Philosophyand Public Affairs,
vol. 4 (1975), p. 286.

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

25. ArthurSimon,Bread for the World,(New York: Paulist Press,

1975), p. 41.
26. For some oftheseproblemssee Goodin,Protectingthe Vulner-
able (Chicago:University of ChicagoPress, 1986), pp. 159-160.
27. Alan Donagan, Iheory oj Morality (Chicago: Universityot
ChicagoPress, 1977), p. 85.
28. J..G. MurphythinksthatKantgetsintodifficulty becausehe fails
to distinguish the dutyto relievedistressfromthe dutyto benefitothers
(whichhe treatsas not absolutelybinding).[Kant: The Philosophyof
Right(New York: St. Martin'sPress, 1970), pp. 45-46.1
29. Henry Shue, Basic Rights (Princeton:PrincetonUniversity
Press, 1980), Chapters1 & 2.
30. This is thethesisof Goodin'sbook (op. cit.) withwhichI am in
31. I would agreewithHenryShue s claim thatthe positiveduties
thata government has towardpersonsoutsideitsjurisdictionare dutiesit
has, not directly, as an agentofitscitizensas theyemployittocarryout
theirduties.(HenryShue, op. cit.,p. 151)
32. As is also arguedforby Goodin(op. cit.,p. 164) and Shue (op. cit.
p. 118).
33. Shue, op. cit.,p. 114.
34. Ofcoursetheidea ofa fairshareis ratherinexact.Presumablyone
shouldthinkin termsof placinga graduatedincometax on oneself.But
35. HenryShue placesthingsthatmightbe sacrificed on a scale.Each
individualhas a dutyto sacrificethefirstlevel and onlythefirstlevel of
goods,thatis, the fullfillment of preferences,in orderto meetthe basic
sufficientto meetthoserights.In thatcase he has a dutyto sacrificegoods
ofthenextlevel,thoseofculturalenrichment (op. cit.,pp. 114-115). Sup-
pose,however,thatthebasic rightsofotherscould be metifeach affluent
personsacrificed25% ofhis or herpreferences (assumingforthesake of
theexamplethattheyhave thesame numberofpreferences) butthat75%
failto do so. Does this mean thatthe other25% have a dutyof perfect
obligationto sacrifice100% of theirpreferences? I would say thatthey
do not.
36. Shue's viewsseemtobe similar.He saysthata personneverhas a
dutyto sacrificea basic rightand that,whiledoingso forthe sake ofthe
basic rightsofotherswouldalwaysbe super-erogatory, doingso forsome-
thingotherthanthebasic rightsofothersshouldbe forbidden (op. cit.,pp.
115-116). Butwhatcouldbe a morebasic rightthantherightto have a life
of one's own to live? Saving many people fromdrowningdoes not
37. Againthisis the"overload"problemthatFishkindevotesatten-
tionto.Some otherformulacouldalso avoidtheoverloadproblem,suchas
whateveris necessaryup to one and a halftimesone's fairshare.But I do
notsee any way to argueforone formularatherthananother.
38. Fishkinpointsoutthatan agent-specific principlesuchas thisone

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

"wouldbe difficult to defendon groundsofimpartiality . . . sincean agent

subjectto the obligationcould not thenchangeplaces withanyoneelse
(who could perform the action)and leave the obligationunchanged"(op
cit.,pp. 167-168). It seemsto methatFishkingroupsdutiesintothosethat
meetall possiblecriteriaofgenerality and impartiality,and thosethatdo
not.A positionthatis agent-specific in thatthepast sacrificesoftheagent
are takenintoconsideration, but notrecipientspecific,stillmeetsimpor-
tantrequirements forbeinggeneraland impartial.Iftheimpartialdecision
proceduresFishkinconsiderscannottakeintoaccountthepast actionsof
the agent,thenperhapsthatis a reasonto regardthemas defective.
39. See also Goodin,op. cit.,p. 165.
40. Ibid., p. 164; Shue, op. cit.,p. 118.
41. See Singer,"Famine,Affluence, and Morality,"op. cit.,p. 30.
42. See Matthew5:6, 13-18, 20, 46-48.
43. See FrancesMooreLappe and JosephCollins,WorldHunger:10
Myths(San Fransisco:Institute forFood and DevelopmentPolicy,4thed.,
1982), pp. 39-45.
44. Donald Regan,Utilitarianism and Cooperation(Oxford:Claren-
don Press,1980), p. 124; also citedby Goodinas expressinghis ownview
(op. cit.,p. 164).
45. For some suggestionsconcerningsuch ways, see Lappe and
Collins,WorldHunger:10 Myths,op. cit.,pp. 49-50.
46. MetaphysicalPrinciplesof Virtue,op. cit.,p. 118 (454).
47. Ibid. (453).
48. See Shue, Basic Rights,PartHI, "Policy Implications,"op. cit.,
pp. 155-174.

This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:26:01 PM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions