Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 189–204 | Cite as

How Much for the Child?

  • Christian BarryEmail author
  • Gerhard Øverland


In this paper we explore what sacrifices you are morally required to make to save a child who is about to die in front of you. It has been argued that you would have very demanding duties to save such a child (or any adult who is in similar circumstance through no fault of their own, for that matter), and some examples have been presented to make this claim seem intuitively correct. Against this, we argue that you do not in general have a moral requirement to bear more than moderate cost to save even a child who is just in front of you. Moreover, we explain why you have a much more demanding moral requirement in certain cases by appealing to the notions of undue risk and cost sharing.


Duties of assistance Global poverty Peter Singer 



An earlier version of this article was presented as seminars at the Australian National University and Charles Sturt University. We are grateful for comments received from audiences on those occasions, and especially to Stephanie Collins, Bashshar Haydar, Holly Lawford-Smith, Seth Lazar, Alejandra Mancilla, Leif Wenar, Luara Ferracioli and Ole Koksvik for written comments on earlier drafts. This article is part of a larger project on responsibilities to address poverty that has received financial support from the Australian Research Council and the Research Council of Norway.


  1. Arneson R (2004) Moral limits on the demands of beneficence? In: Chatterjee DK (ed) The ethics of assistance: morality and the distant needy. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 33–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Chappell TD (2009) The moral problem of demandingness. Palgrave, BasingstokeGoogle Scholar
  3. Cullity G (2004) The moral demands of affluence. Clarendon, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Food and Agriculture Organization (2009) 1.02 billion people hungry. Malnutrition. News release, 19 June 2009, Accessed 6 October 2010
  5. International Energy Agency (2011) World energy outlook: access to energy. Electricity 2008. Accessed 7 September, 2011
  6. Miller D (2001) Distributing responsibilities. J Polit Philos 9:453–471CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Miller R (2004) Beneficence, duty and distance. Philos Public Aff 32(4):357–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Murphy L (2000) Moral demands in nonideal theory. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  9. Scanlon T (1998) What we owe to each other. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  10. Scheffler S (1982) The rejection of consequentialism. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  11. Schmidtz D (2000) Islands in a sea of obligation. Law Philos 19:683–705Google Scholar
  12. Singer P (1972) Famine, affluence, and morality. Philos Public Aff 1:229–243Google Scholar
  13. Singer P (1993) Practical ethics. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  14. Singer P (2007) Global poverty, how demanding are our obligations? Lecture at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, September 21, 2007.
  15. Singer P (2009) The life you can save. Text Publishing, MelbourneGoogle Scholar
  16. Unger P (1996) Living high and letting die. Oxford University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (2006) Child labour, Accessed 7 September, 2011
  18. Wenar L (2003) What we owe to distant others. Philos Polit Econ 2(3):283–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. World Health Organization and UNICEF (2010) Progress on sanitation and drinking water: 2010 update. Water and Sanitation. WHO, Geneva, pp. 6–7, Accessed 7 September, 2011.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Christian Barry, School of Philosophy, RSSSAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for the Study of Mind in NatureUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  3. 3.Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public EthicsCharles Sturt UniversityCanberraAustralia

Personalised recommendations