Food Ethics

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 123–138 | Cite as

Famine Ethics

  • Olivier RubinEmail author
Research Article


This paper revitalizes the debate of an ethics of contemporary famine. Famine constitutes a distinct development challenge that has only received moderate public and academic attention. Singer’s Famine Relief Argument from 1972 emphasizing a strong obligation of charitable benevolence towards victims of famine, for example, continues to constitute the dominant ethical principle of famine. The paper argues this revisionary principle still constitutes a strong and convincing ethical argument. However, the dynamics of contemporary famine makes it necessary to expand this ethical obligation outside the realm of pure philanthropy. Concretely, the paper argues for the obligation of criminalizing famine and prosecuting the perpetrators of famine that have either callously allowed famine to unfold or have intentionally created and exacerbated the conditions for famine. While such an obligation is not void of ethical dilemmas, a famine ethics relying on obligations of charity as well as obligations of criminal prosecution constitutes a superior ethical principle for the alleviation of famine.


Famine relief argument Philanthropy Famine attention Famine criminalization ICC 



I am grateful to Howard-Hassmann for detailed comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social Sciences and BusinessRoskilde UniversityRoskildeDenmark

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