Jurisprudence Essay – Ethics and Philosophy Paper
“Does utilitarianism provide an appropriate ethical basis for determining the existence and content of any duties we owe towards poor people living in developing countries and/or towards animals?”
Introduction – It is important in any argument to have boundaries, structure and guidelines. There is no one definition of utilitarianism. Provided below are particular extracts that endeavour to define the foundations of utilitarianism.
Macquarie Dictionary ‘Concerning practical or material things.’1
Will Kymlicka ‘… claims that the morally right act or policy is that which produces the greatest happiness for the members of society.’2
Kymlicka’s extract refers to society; this term can be related to any perceived injustice throughout the world. Utilitarianism is demonstrated by many modern day philosophers as the building block for animal rights fundamentalist and the ever expanding concept of globalisation. The obvious problem with a utilitarianism argument is that it is based on personal moral and ethical opinions and perceptions. Ethics is seen to be a ‘system of moral principles, by which human actions and proposals may be judged good or bad or right or wrong.’3
Ann Atkinson (Ed), Macquaire Dictionary (1991) 509.
Will Kymlicka, ‘Utilitarianism’ in Contemporary Political Philosophy An Intro (2nd Ed, 2002) 10.
Atkinson, above n 1, 164.
Therefore, utilitarian theory does provide an ethical basis for determining the existence and content in any particular moral issues in modern society.
The moral issues that will be expanded on throughout this essay are in relation to the duties that modern day societies owe to the poor people living in developing countries and towards man’s best friend, animals.
The United Nations has defined all countries and nation-states as either developed or developing. There are many factors and considerations that contribute to the classification of a developing country. The most commonly highlighted characteristics of a developing country are as follows: high poverty and malnutrition, medical access and standard of medical care limited, high infant mortality rate, poor housing, low literacy levels, access to clean water limited, poor infrastructure, exploitation of natural resources, lack of military and police forces, and political/racial or religion based fighting. Countries that fall into the developing section seek foreign aid to help improve their lives from developed countries.
Foreign aid does not only come from donations of money from either government or non-government organisations, aid can come in other shapes and disguises. Medical staff, teachers, and engineers are renowned for their participation in developing countries throughout the world.
People who give up there own time or money to help those in need support the view that it is morally correct to assist those in a less fortunate position then oneself. These people see it as their personal duty on this Earth to help those who cannot help themselves due to location and situation. Is it ethically correct to help poor people in developing countries? It should be the opinion of all personnel that poor people in developing countries (or those less fortunate) do require help from those that are in a position to provide the appropriate aid, ‘…most of us unquestioningly support declarations proclaiming that all humans have certain rights, and that all human life is of equal worth.’4 To what extent and scope does this aid entail is the moral and ethical argument.
A brick in the foreign aid building is the concept of globalisation. Some people are of the opinion that they must aid their family, friends, neighbours and countrymen before helping those from a different background or country. Singer states, ‘…citizens give their primary, and near exclusive, loyalty to their own nation-state rather than to the larger global community, and such a system has not led to a great enough will to meet the pressing needs of those living in extreme poverty.’5 Singer is of the belief that we should ‘consider ourselves as members of an imagined community of the world.’6 Globalisation is gaining momentum throughout many industries. Some examples of the expanding globalisation trends are evident in daily society, these are multi-national companies, international laws and treaties, global environmental issues, joint military objectives, the stock exchange and joint currency (Euro).
Peter Singer, One World: the Ethics of Globalisation (2002) 168.
Utilitarian foundations are made on the assumption that the globe needs to be a happy and more fulfilling place. The ethical basis of providing aid to developing countries is to assist the poor people to have a better quality of life, happiness and thus producing a better outcome for all mankind. Hence, society acknowledges that duties do exist for richer people to provide to those who are poor. These duties are not only based on personal ethics, but also can be forced. An example of forced aid is personnel income tax. The more one earns the more tax they pay. These tax dollars contribute to governments helping those less fortunate in national and global arenas.
It is thus established that duties do exist for developed countries and their kinsmen to aid developing countries. To what content does this aid evolve? There are no written rules about how much a government or a single person must contribute to foreign aid. In the opinion of a utilitarian theorist, the more aid donated to a developing country, the better. Singer makes the point that a person should give all they can spare, ‘…advocate that everyone with income to spare, after meeting their family’s needs, should contribute a minimum of 0.4 per cent of their income to organisations working to help the world’s poorest people.’7 This continues with Soros calling the proposed US government foreign aid contributions, ‘a token gesture instead of something that could successfully impact most of the poor countries.’8 Singer and Soro are appalled at governments and everyday people for not carrying out the socially required content of their duty to the developing countries.
The content becomes complicated when developed nations are paying for the mistakes and inabilities of another country to sort out their own problems. Global inequality is a natural occurrence, so why are we determined as a global concept to redistribute the wealth evenly. Some nations throughout the world, like Australia, have been blessed with a large proportion of the world’s natural resources. Natural resources are a naturally significant inequality between nations. Natural resources generally provide a viable and reasonably steady export income for the government. Rawls makes a pertinent argument that, ‘… it unacceptable for a person who has worked hard and achieved wealth to be taxed in order to support someone who has led a more relaxed life and so is now, in terms of resources held, among the worst-off members of society?.’9 On reflection of Australia’s recent colonial history, one might avoid accepting such strong opinions against the duties towards developing countries. As Australia once was a developing country only 150 years ago, without the help of her colonial parent the ‘United Kingdom’, Australia would still be developing today. The United Kingdom originally saw Australia only for exploitation, not for it to become a real society within itself. Does every developing country require a parent to look after it and help it to become more developed? Singer describes certain governments only providing foreign aid where it will benefit their nation, by advancing their own strategic and cultural interests.10 This type of aid is how Australia become developed. The aid by these governments is not donated without ulterior motives, though it is still benefiting the global community.
The theory of utilitarianism provides an ethical basis for outlining the global duties in the context of developing countries. The theory defines the basis of duties that must exist in a stable, happy and equal global community. The ethical debate over the content of duties required by developed countries towards developing countries will be harder to resolve, as all individuals share a different opinion on the amount of aid appropriate to be given from one’s own wealth.
The issue of animal rights stems from the precedence that all living things on Earth have a right to live be happy and not exploited for human gratification. ‘Men and women are similar beings and should have similar rights, while humans and nonhumans are different and should not have equal rights’.11 Singer uses utilitarianism as an ethical basis for comparing the arguments of animal rights (speciesism) with women’s rights (feminism), though the phrase ‘rights’ should be changed to ‘equal consideration’. ‘Equal consideration for different beings may lead to different treatment and different rights.’12 Singer suggests that all living organisms on Earth should be given equal consideration when making decisions that may affect that organism. He also continues to explain that, ‘the interests of every being affected by an action are to be taken into account and given the same weight as the like interests of any other being.’13 The reason why this argument exists in society today is due to the present exploitation of many animals on Earth i.e. animals for human consumption (livestock, seafood); animals for human entertainment and recreation
Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (2nd Ed, 1991) 2.
(caged animals, domestic pets); laboratory test subjects; animals for clothing and animals for the production of other household products. This list does not include the animals dislodged from their ecosystems due to logging, tourism and housing developments. Therefore, ‘the taking into account of the interests of the being, whatever those interests may be – must, according to the principle of equality, be extended to all beings, black or white, masculine or feminine, human or nonhuman.’14 Singer’s argument is that all organisms on Earth should be given equal consideration when assessing a future action.
Due to numerous animals each year suffering due to humans, there exists a moral need to grasp the duties expected of humans towards other organisms on Earth. ‘If possessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one human to use another for his or her own ends, how can it entitle humans to exploit nonhumans for the same purpose.’15 Humans do not use each other for food, clothing, laboratory test subjects or household products so why should we not give equal consideration to animals.
The content of the duties required by humans towards animals is hard to define, as humans do need to exploit animals in some context. Society’s current acceptable exploitation of animals includes but is not limited to: organic and natural farming of livestock (cattle, sheep, chickens, fish, and crustaceans) for food; clothing and household items; limited laboratory test animals for essential experiments16; and domestic pets. Animals are a great source of food and natural fibre for clothing and materials; it would be near impossible to completely substitute all products they can
Peter Singer, ‘Tools for Research’, in Writings on an Ethical Life (2000) 54.
provide with synthetic alternatives.
There is a need for some animals to be exploited by humans, though all animals, especially those living in their natural ecosystems are to be given equal consideration when taking action that could affect the area and its inhabitants. Kymlicka’s explanation of utilitarianism17 suggests animals belong to their own society. They have an inherit right to be happy and be given equal consideration as appropriate, in comparison to other societies within the world.
If a person has morals which reflect equality for all organisms on earth, utilitarianism can be the basis of any ethical debate. This was proven within this essay by utilitarian theory being relevant and adaptive to both contrasting ethical debates. If there are society accepted morals involved in any debate, the theory of utilitarian could be used to mould a possible resolution or response.
Utilitarianism proves that there is a distinct ethical requirement for developed countries to conduct duties towards developing countries. The extent of these duties is a matter of opinion. This opinion will evidently change as the phenomenon of globalisation increases. Eventually, developing countries could become developed countries, if enough aid was given by the current wealthy countries.
17. Kymlicka, above n 2, 10.
The duty towards animals is to make sure as humans we give all organisms due and equal consideration. Hence, complete happiness for every animal will be quite unachievable in present society. This is due to humans need to exploit animals for consumption. It is unlikely that a substitute will replace this need for consumption.
In summary, there are limitations to utilitarianism for both debates: a person of reasonable wealth should not be expected to part with their money when they have worked for it; and most humans consume meat as part of their daily diet, therefore, some exploitation of animals needs to continue.
Ann Atkinson (Ed), Macquarie Dictionary (1991).
Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously (1977).
Will Kymlicka, ‘Utilitarianism’ in Contemporary Political Philosophy An Intro (2nd Ed, 2002).
Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (2nd Ed, 1991).
Peter Singer, One World: the Ethics of Globalisation (2002).
Peter Singer, ‘Tools of Research’ in Writings on an Ethical Life (2000).