Essay on Garrett Hardin: Lifeboat Ethics

1281 Words May 26th, 2006 6 Pages
Garrett Hardin argues for a very harsh thesis: we simply should not provide aid to people in poor countries. His argument is consequentialist: he claims that the net result of doing so would be negative -- would in fact be courting large-scale disaster. One of the things that we will notice about Hardin's essay, however, is that whether he is right or wrong, he paints with a very broad brush. This makes it a good essay for the honing of your philosophical skills; you should notice that there are many places where the reasoning procees with less than total care.

Hardin begins with metaphors. He points out that while the metaphor of earth as a grand spaceship has a certain popularity (or did 23 years ago) it is a flawed metaphor
…show more content…
Aren't we irresponsible if we don't plan ahead for possible emergencies by leaving ourselves some excess capacity? (Recall that in this metaphor, capacity includes things like supplies.)

It should be obvious that this is a dubious metaphor. To begin with (and this will come up again) not all countries are either rich or poor. Furthermore, it is not as clear as Hardin assumes that we lack the resources to save everyone. And the argument from the safety factor may seem dubious. Couldn't we help some people -- even if we select them in a fairly arbitrary way?

Leave the safety factor aside. Presumably it is true that we should not give all our "excess" resources away; not planning for emergencies is irresponsible. The main reply that Hardin would make to our doubts is this: even if we have enough resources to help everyone in the short run, we don't have nearly enough to do so in the long run.

Why not? Because of the difference in rates of population growth between rich and poor nations. Suppose that in 1974, the U.S. had decided to share its wealth with a group of countries such as Columbia, Venezuala and Pakistan. Suppose that the combined population of the poor countries equaled the total (1974) populationof the U.S.: about 210 million. The populaiton in the U.S. increass at a rate of about .8% per year; the population of those countries increases at a rate of about 3.3% per year. By 2061 -- 87 years later -- the population of the U.S. would
Open Document