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Global harms, local responsibilities : obligations to the distant needy and the duty not to harm Fairley, Cory G.


The issue of obligations to aid the distant needy is often glossed in terms of positive duties. In this paper I will argue that many objections to the duty to aid the distant needy result from a conflation of obligations based on positive duty with those based on negative duty. In addition, I will argue that nearly every single individual member of affluent societies, such as Canada, has strong obligations to aid the distant needy that rest not on positive duties, maximization of utility, or charity, but rather result from violations of the negative duty not to harm. The following paper consists of four chapters. Chapter 1 discusses the basic points of the positive duty and negative duty approaches to obligations to aid the distant needy. I will also introduce and discuss Thomas Pogge’s argument that much of the world’s extreme poverty results from a lopsided economic order dominated by affluent nations and that responsibility for much poverty can be attributed to those affluent nations. If this view is correct, then even on a negative duty account, individual members of affluent societies may own a share of the moral responsibility resulting. Chapter 2 consists of a brief explanation of what I mean by collective and membership in a collective, as well as introducing a notion of responsibility and obligation based largely on the concept of liability. In chapter 3 I will set out five criteria by which we can establish whether or not it is reasonable to hold an individual responsible for the collective actions of his nation and its institutions, explain why these criteria are appropriate, and argue that nearly every individual member of affluent societies meets these criteria. Chapter 4 consists of a discussion of some potential strategies for attempting to meet obligations to the distant needy and why they are inadequate. Lastly, I will offer some explanation as to the type of action(s) that might be required to meet our obligations and why they might, quite reasonably, bear a high cost to individual members of affluent societies.

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