The most substantial and important ethical problem of the 21st century will be the correction of the vast and undeniable imbalance of the possession and consumption of the world’s material, economic, and cultural resources. In this paper, I will argue that the primary long-term moral obligation the world’s over-privileged have to the underprivileged is to provide those in need with the means necessary to develop a foundation for fair future interactions. This will lead to the idea that a necessary part of the long-term obligation to the underprivileged, in addition to the redistribution of economic and material resources, is the redistribution of ideas and knowledge through philanthropic educational programs.
The principle I will use to motivate my argument for the obligation of the world’s over-privileged to adopt powerful programs of redistribution is, in my view, extremely difficult to deny. The consequences of this principle, however, will doubtless be met with opposition. For, the action to which these arguments call the world’s most affluent directly challenges these individuals’ and nations’ levels of affluence, comfort, and personal satisfaction. In addition, admitting that the world’s over-privileged are obligated to allow and administer the redistribution of ideas and knowledge leads to a number of difficult theoretical and practical challenges.
First, I will consider how a strong commitment to educational redistribution seems to come into conflict with dominant ideas on intellectual property. Second, I will consider our conception of the rights of individuals to the obedience of conscience and in what cases, if any this right could change or limit the demands of justice. Finally, I will consider how taking the obligation to educate the underprivileged seriously could force the world’s over-privileged to re-evaluate the validity of their own economic and political practices, and how this could build a foundation for the creation of new kinds of international cooperation and understanding.
It feels a bit awkward to present an argument for the simple and intuitive conclusion that the world’s over-privileged have an obligation to help improve the lives of those in serious need. However, I do think it is helpful to give such an argument for two reasons.
First, simply recognizing that there is a moral obligation to fulfill leaves many crucial issues untouched. The majority of the relevant work consists of designing and implementing programs of assistance that fulfill the moral obligations which are recognized. Making clear the nature and motivation of obligations informs the choices made in designing and implementing meaningful programs of assistance. Stating clearly the moral principle on which I think the obligation to the world’s underprivileged rests will lead to my argument that programs of assistance must include the redistribution of ideas and knowledge.
Second, I think that there are interesting objections to the...