Living with the extreme demand
Keywords:ethics, money, needs, poverty, charity, necessities, Peter Singer
Most of the ethical literature on extreme poverty suggests, that some, if not most, of the incomes of the residents of rich countries ought to be donated to the global poor. Yet complying with this ethical demand becomes increasingly more difficult as the changes in lifestyle in the (post)industrial north demand ever more consumption in order to obtain the necessities for survival in such societies. In this article, I will discuss Peter Singer's famous arguments for the ethical duty to donate one's possessions, and elaborate the conception of needs prevalent in both Singer's theory and the theories of many of his critics. My argument is that we have to recognise a category of needs called 'social necessities' that are neither luxuries nor basic needs. This leads to two main conclusions: first, the space for ethical deliberation on whether to donate to life-saving purposes is socially conditioned; and second, ethical strategies of redistribution ought to be accompanied with institutional changes, which also concern the conditions in wealthy countries.