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Reader, Soran. Distance, Relationship, and Moral Obligation
2003, The Monist 86 (3):367-381
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Added by: Deryn Mair Thomas

How can we justify partiality to those near to us, such as our own families, friends, neighbours and colleagues, when we could act in much more morally valuable ways by helping others who are merely distant from us? In 1972 Peter Singer used two now-famous examples, Pond and Overseas, to challenge our complacent partiality. The charge of neglect of an obvious moral duty to meet distant grave needs is refined and developed by Peter Unger(1996).

Although Singer is a consequentialist, he intends the problem of distance to challenge all moral thinkers irrespective of their theoretical commitments. Singer's challenge has somehow to be met, and this is what discussions of the problem of distance in contemporary analytic philosophy attempt to do. To solve the problem, we have to reject
or modify impartialism or partialism.

Comment: This paper addresses the problem of moral obligation in relation to distance famously introduced by Peter Singer in his paradigmatic cases of Pond and Overseas (1972), by considered attempted solutions and proposing a new, relationship-based account which accomodates both impartialist and partialist intuitions about moral obligation. The arguments contained in this paper pre-empt some of Reader's later work on a needs-based moral theory. As such, the text could be used in a few different ways. It could be paired with some of Reader's later works to examine and discuss alternative moral theories to the traditional canon of consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics. Or it could be used in an introductory moral and political philosophy course as a supplemental text / further reading to Singer's original 'Famine, Affluence, and Morality', as a way to discuss how other authors have challenged Singer's position.

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