Volume 21

The Moral Status of Beneficence

by Ryan W. Davis

What do we owe distant strangers? Effective altruists, as well as philoso-phers, have offered differing views. A demanding answer holds that we are sub-ject to strong moral requirements to provide aid, the satisfaction of which may undermine other values associated with living one’s own life. Another answer, popular among philosophers, is moderate: We are subject to a requirement to provide aid, but this requirement is limited so as to be compatible one’s own val-ues in living a life. A third answer, which I sketch in this paper, is minimalist: There are no non-voluntary obligations to contribute to aid. This paper argues against the probative value of moral intuitions on the matter, and on this basis favors either the demanding or minimalist answers. Second, the paper suggests the minimalist answer merits greater attention, and is compatible with at least some prominent descriptions of effective altruism.


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