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.
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The data does not distinguish between singular/plural or the chronology of words. Restricting the sample to news searches produces a similar outcome but with fewer observations. The use of English search terms, although a potential source for bias, cannot be responsible for the marked difference between famine and other types of disasters.
In the period after Singer’s influential article in 1972, only 19 articles in the Ethics category of the Web of Science’s database mentioned “Famine Relief Argument” or just “famine” in the abstract/title/or the author keywords (if no author keywords were available, KeyWord Plus was applied). The impact of these articles appears limited. While Singer’s article has been cited 954 times (as of July 24, 2019), the average number of citations for the subsequent 19 articles was three.
Naturally, these two categories do not cover all ethical objections that been waged against Singer’s principle. Hardin (1974) argued that Singer’s principle was downright immoral because it would lead to overpopulation and thus greater suffering. Kekes (2002) argued against the principle along the same lines by arguing that impoverished families are responsible for their own plight, as they should have realized the easily foreseeable consequences of having more children. Lastly, Jamieson (2005) rendered Singer’s principle invalid due to a long litany of flaws with development aid and humanitarian interventions.
Thanks to an anonymous reviewer on a previous version of a related manuscript for this argument.
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I am grateful to Howard-Hassmann for detailed comments on an earlier draft of this paper.
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Rubin, O. Famine Ethics. Food ethics 4, 123–138 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41055-019-00047-3
- Famine relief argument
- Famine attention
- Famine criminalization