The Top 3 (Academic) Reasons to Help People

Writing the first paragraph is always the hardest: whenever I start a paper on poverty, health, or morals I always feel compelled to begin with a section on “Why Should I Care?” I’m not going to lie: I always struggle a little bit to make a good academic argument for caring. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1) BECAUSE YOU CAN.

The most fundamental moral argument simply suggests that if you’re able to help someone–at little or no personal expense–you should. Princeton philosopher Peter Singer seems to lead the charge for this logical reasoning. In his book, The Life You Can Save, explains “If it is so easy to help people in real need through no fault of their own, and yet we fail to do so, aren’t we doing something wrong?”

The Call to Action: You know about the issues in the developing world, have heard about malaria and dysentery, and have seen the photographs of malnourished kids. You have extra spending money, you know how to help. So do it.

(Admittedly, I always found it ironic that Singer reasons against all non-essential expenditures in his $22 book.)

2) BECAUSE IT’S YOUR FAULT.

Lots of people talk about legacies of colonialism and Western hegemony harming the third world. I like when Thomas Pogge talks about it.

Pogge argues that the global rich have a moral obligation to help alleviate poverty because they’ve we’ve contributed to plight of the poor. It’s not just through historical episodes of exploitation, but the institutions of today persistently contribute to global socioeconomic inequality. In World Poverty and Human Rights, he writes “severe poverty is [still] an ongoing harm we inflict upon the global poor.” Many policies–such as closed markets, high trade tariffs, strict intellectual property rights on life-saving technologies, and exploitation of regional natural resources–support systematic injustices and prevent individuals from overcoming problems of poverty.

The Call to Action: You voted for the politicians that allowed this to happen. You buy the products that rely on continued exploitation. Do something to fix it.

3) BECAUSE OF MOM’S GOLDEN RULE.

I’ve decided that I have figured out all of ethics (for the time being; Caveat: sometimes I flip-flop.) It’s all about equality: everyone starts out the same, no one is better than another, everyone deserves equal opportunities.

The American Declaration of Independence claimed, “that all men are created equal.” Your mother probably claimed that you should “treat others as you want to be treated.” People deserve an equal chance to prosper, regardless of their country of birth, annual household income, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Poverty doesn’t let this happen. Poor people can’t become president (or even become adults) if they suffer from malnutrition, have no access to clean water, and can’t afford basic necessities.

My new philosophy is that all morals come down to basic equality. Why should you care? Because all men ARE created equal. (Not just men, not just white men with land, but ALL humans are created equal). Because you should be morally compelled to treat others the same way you’d be treated in the same predicament.

The Call to Action: We’re all the same: one big team; let’s look out for each other.

What do you guys think?  Is one argument the best?  Is there a better (more eloquent) alternative out there?  Should everyone just look out for themselves?

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