Does Charity Begin - and End - at Home? Singer and Kant's Views on Our Duties of Foreign Aid
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In "Famine, Affluence, and Morality," Peter Singer urges citizens of wealthy countries to make immense personal sacrifices in order to assist the poor overseas. Though Singer has moderated his view in recent years and now supports widespread tithing, the motivation remains the same. By contrast, Immanuel Kant contends that the first right of humanity is freedom and that the purpose of a political order is to unite people into a rightful condition. As part of this, taxes should be imposed in order to support the domestic poor - an obligation that does not extend across borders. Although their underlying assumptions are quite different, Singer and Kant’s concerns can both be addressed by a common solution: the creation of a global tax to support the poor, implemented by a global state. Such an arrangement would permit substantial coordinated flows of aid to the needy (meeting Singer’s utilitarian concerns) while also ensuring that all people of the world are in a rightful condition with each other, thereby providing the justification for global social assistance (respecting Kantian deontology.) This solution requires expanding Singer’s proposals and a revisionist reading of Kant that dismisses his arguments against the creation of a global state. (Rawls’ support for a world of distinct states that support each other can also be dismissed, as his approach does not sufficiently connect political structures with personal duty, as Singer and Kant both do.) Though the final form of the solution is largely the same, Kant’s framework is superior: while Singer cannot eliminate the danger of becoming overwhelmed by duty, Kant’s focus on individual autonomy can guard against this.