Tuesday, May 06, 2003

I was having a heated discussion with (of all people!) a philosophy student friend of mine [suspicious compound noun notwithstanding]. He and I were arguing about whether spending money on so-called "luxuries" instead of giving it to a charity which could otherwise save the lives of children in deep poverty makes us as morally guilty of their deaths as if we had strangled them ourselves. Of course, this is total nonsense, but why? Took me a while to even begin to answer this, and even now I haven't quite worked out all the details. Help me if you're reading this, agree with me, are a dab hand at philosophy (especially ethics and "acts and ommisions" which my learned friend tells me this covers), and can write better English than me. Not too tough, I know. Here's what I wrote to him (because for some reason he wanted me to write my argument in the form of a paragraph. Pah!):
It is not necessarily morally worse for me to spend �20,000 on a car than it is for me to give �20,000 to African citizens. It can be argued that by spending �20,000 on a car, I have killed a number of African citizens whose lives could have been saved by giving them the �20,000 directly. Unfortunately, the situation is not as simple as that, as it cannot be argued that a priori it is necessarily the case that by buying the car I have not saved just as many lives, or even more lives, in the long run, than if I had given the money to African citizens. This is because one could genuinely believe in the following theory, which cannot be dismissed out-of-hand: by buying the car, I have used the money in a way which maximises individual utility (for it is true that for most people buying a car is preferable to giving the equivalent amount to charity, assuming there is only enough to spend on one or the other). Moreover, I have invested in, and thereby encouraged, a system to come about and flourish which tries to maximise people's individual utility, and thus I am creating and nurturing, in my honest opinion, the best system long-term for creating jobs and wealth, which means it will reduce unnecessary, unnatural deaths more than any other system.
So what do you think? Whether you agree or disagree, or have a link to some relevant site, tell me: email, forum, comment, or telepathise. Of course, the last one is not free, but prices are availiable on request. Just make sure you don't kill any children while you do it, of course...


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