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Theron Pummer (St Andrews): “Suboptimal Charity”

6 March, 4:30 pm6:00 pm

Abstract: Suppose a building is collapsing, and six children are trapped inside. If you do nothing, they will die. If you support the wall to your left, one child will escape unharmed. If you instead support the wall to your right, the other five will escape unharmed. Supporting either wall would result in both your arms being crushed. It seems plausible that (1) it is permissible not to save any of the children, and (2) it is wrong to save the one rather than the five. Joe Horton has argued that (1) and (2) together support the seemingly implausible claim that, if you are not going to save all five children, you ought to save none. I argue that there is a plausible way of avoiding this claim while nonetheless accepting (1) and (2). I then turn to the implications for charitable giving. I present three types of argument against suboptimal charitable giving, based on claims like (2). I show that, while the first two appeal to controversial general principles, the third does not, and constitutes a flexible tool for arguing against a variety of forms of suboptimal charitable giving.


6 March
4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
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LAK 2.06
Lakatos Building
London, WC2A 2AE United Kingdom
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