Al-Noor's MA (Philosophy) Thesis


Thesis Excerpt (From Introduction)
The cost of dinner for two in a moderately expensive New York restaurant, Thomas Nagel has remarked, is roughly equivalent to the per capita annual income of Bangladesh. Information from reputed international aid sources indicate that three dollars is likely a reasonable estimate of the average cost of purchasing, transporting and administering several packets of oral rehydration therapy, designed to stem dehydration caused by diarrhea, to a child in the developing world who, were it not for her appropriately consuming them, would otherwise likely become one of the approximately 30,000 children on the planet who die each day from easily preventable causes.

These statistics evidence a set of circumstances which raises a compelling moral question for the world's materially fortunate: what obligations does such a state of affairs impose, if any, on those who have access to the means by which to mitigate the suffering thereby caused - a category into which most peoples of the developed world fall?

Two important works in the philosophical literature appear to have become benchmarks against which philosophical attempts at engaging the issue are often juxtaposed. Peter Singer left little scope for the leisure pursuits of the wealthy in the famed and controversial Famine, Affluence and Morality . Peter Unger's more comprehensive treatment of the question in Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence, more than two decades later, is dedicated in part to providing, via dissimilar means, argument for an identical conclusion. The central claim of both authors, and one which this work will take as its starting point, is that the citizens of the industrialized world have a moral obligation to contribute substantial portions of their earnings to lessening suffering and premature death from poverty-related causes.

That such a claim would meet with considerable and strenuous objection in the academic philosophy community, let alone the wider populace, is hardly surprising. Yet the sheer import of that conclusion, if it is indeed defensible, on our generally accepted understanding of what it means to lead a moral life in affluent societies, suggests that it is insufficient to dismiss such claims as tenuous or counterintuitive without more careful scrutiny.

The following is an attempt to take up that challenge, albeit in modest proportion. My aim will be to selectively focus on several potentially powerful objections that have been leveled at Singer and Unger’s central claim in an effort to determine whether these constitute reasonable responses or rationalizations of wrongful selfishness. As a portion of Singer's work implicitly, and Unger's work explicitly, is premised on the fallibility of these objections, an attempt to deconstruct them will assist in the partial evaluation of these authors’ works, though this shall not by any means be the object of this enterprise. Nor will this project aim to provide, owing to limitations of space, any sort of overarching account of, or firm conclusion regarding, the obligations of the world’s affluent to its poorest. It is nevertheless my hope that the exploration will shed more light of reason on the grave and daunting question of what it means for the materially well-endowed to live morally.

Download the Entire Thesis (pdf format):
Singer and Unger on the Obligations of the Affluent: Rationalized Selfishness or Reasonable Skepticism?
(If you're not into reading 120 pages of philosophical analysis, the Introduction and Chapter 2, in my opinion, are the most interesting)