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The University of Southampton
PhilosophyPart of Humanities

Charity Obligations - Does distance matter?

You have said that you have a stronger duty to save the child because he is right in front of you. You think distance matters morally.

But suppose that you are on holiday abroad and you are asked for money to help the orphanage next door. Is it morally wrong to refuse to give your holiday spending money to help?

If you think that it’s not morally wrong to hold on to your spending money, then it looks like you think that distance doesn’t make a moral difference after all. So, if you’re required to save the drowning child, it can’t be because of distance – some other factor must make the difference.

Or perhaps you think that it is morally wrong to hold on to your spending money - you are required to help the orphans, just because they are next door. But can it really be that you avoid obligations to help the needy just by keeping your distance from them?

For more on this topic, you might read Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence and Morality”, Peter Unger, Living High and Letting Die, or (Southampton’s own) Fiona Woollard, Doing and Allowing Harm, Chapters 7 & 8.
At Southampton, we run various modules that address these and similar issues: Ethics, Political Philosophy, Moral Philosophy, and Action, Reason, and Ethics. Many of our staff undertake research in this area, including Dr. Alex Gregory, Dr. Sasha Mudd, Dr. Jonathan Way and Dr. Fiona Woollard.


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