A Critique of "Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor"

Essay by goldngrl1611College, UndergraduateA+, October 2007

download word file, 12 pages 5.0

Since 1991, the southern half of Somalia, a poverty stricken African nation, has seen various tribal militias battle for dominance and power over individual regions of the country. Violence has plagued Mogadishu, the capital, since warlords ousted the former president. Mere months after the collapse of the government, men, women and children in torn clothes ran helplessly towards packages dropped from military planes towards the hot sand of their tiny village. This action was one of many attempts to help underdeveloped nations receive food by the United Nations' World Food Programme. Within his article titled "Lifeboat Ethics: the Case Against Helping the Poor", Garret Hardin, a well-known philosopher of ecology, analyzes the difficulty and ultimate ruin associated with providing aid to these nations. Hardin's argument for the preservation of well-to-do societies is embodied by his extended metaphor of each society as a lifeboat, with the citizens of developed nations riding calmly amongst a sea of drowning poverty-stricken individuals.

Ultimately, Hardin argues for a very harsh thesis: regardless of the current situation, privileged nations simply should not provide aid to those individuals trapped within the vortex of underdeveloped nations. His argument is consequentialist: he claims that the net result of doing so would be negative and would, in the long run, court large-scale disaster. Although Hardin's argument appears logic-based, his excessive metaphors fail when applied to real-life scenarios, for oftentimes he misconstrues facts to create a claim that may be perceived as more accurate than reality illustrates. Furthermore, any counter-arguments Hardin feels may refute his claim are pushed aside, avoiding factual evidence that may prove his argument inaccurate or misleading. Much like a lifeboat, Hardin leaves the assertions of the "humanitarian apologists" to drown so as to avoid the overturn of his claim.

Within the section titled "Adrift in...