Philosophy Colloquium: Famine, Affluence, and Bourgeois Morality

Posted on 11/9/2015 7:37:12 AM

The Philosophy Department is pleased to announce that Mathew Snow (University of Pittsburgh) will give a talk titled “Famine, Affluence, and Bourgeois Morality” on Friday, November 13, at 3:30 p.m. in McElhaney 101.


Peter Singer and proponents of a growing social movement he has inspired (“Effective Altruism”) argue that affluent individuals ought to give significant portions of their income to cost-effective charities that benefit those living in extreme poverty. As innocuous—or even salubrious—as this might appear in the abstract, their actual arguments belie a bourgeois morality so caught up in individual economic choices that it promises an all-too-easy solution to the ills of global poverty.

Poverty and its ghastly consequences are treated as natural maladies afflicting an unlucky lot with no social cause aside, perhaps, from isolated bouts of unchecked greed and corruption. Affluence is treated similarly as individuals’ more or less just deserts naturally apportioned by the impartial, free market. Such shibboleths undermine what might otherwise be a welcome movement and perniciously obscure two related points: (1) the moral values Effective Altruists endorse constitute an important ground for critiquing capitalism as such and (2) those values can find expression in capitalist society only in adulterated ways that cut against their adequate realization. 

Department of Philosophy