27 August 2008: Australian philosopher, Professor Garrett Cullity, has tackled an age-old question in ethics and developed a new and compelling answer. His book The Moral Demands of Affluence asks: 'To what extent are we morally obliged to help those in need?'. It has won him the $10,000 Australian Catholic University (ACU) Eureka Prize for Ethics.
This prize is part of the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, the Oscars of Australian science. Coveted among science prizes, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes were announced at a glittering event in Sydney on 19 August, attended by a ‘who's who' of Australian science, government, academia and industry.
In a world where we see daily evidence of both excessive personal indulgence and appalling poverty, the constant question is: ‘How much giving is, morally speaking, ‘enough'?". This is known in ethics as the question of ‘moral demandingness'.
In his book, Professor Cullity who is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Adelaide, argues that a life well-lived should be the goal of every human, rich and poor. Friends, family and hobbies are the components of such a life and nobody, not even the affluent, should do without these in the quest to assist others.
Cullity's argues that the altruistic model of restricting one's life in order to aid another is flawed; that it is not morally wrong to live a life of rich personal fulfilment. In fact, this is exactly what it is to be human. But helping others is also part of being human and must be done with perspective, the book says.
"If you are not making an effort to find an effective way of helping the poor, then you are acting wrongly,” Professor Cullity states in his thesis, not letting the affluent off lightly.
He also partially disputes the leading argument of leading Australian ethicist, Peter Singer. Singer’s view, that refusing to give more to aid agencies is no different from not rescuing a child drowning in front of you, has dominated ethics for decades.
ACU Chancellor Brother Julian McDonald CFC says: “Too often, we find reasons not to give. I congratulate Professor Cullity for presenting a strong case for all people to give to help those in need. Failure to reach out to the needy diminishes us as human beings.”
The Moral Demands of Affluence provides a moral compass for individuals and aid organisations seeking to better the world. It has far reaching repercussions for aid agencies, NGOs and governments around the globe.
The $10,000 ACU Eureka Prize for Ethics is awarded for investigation of theoretical or practical ethical issues that contributes to the understanding and development of ethical standards.
Australian Catholic University (ACU) established as Australia’s only Catholic, national, publicly funded university is open to all. The University empowers its students and staff with a strong sense of social responsibility and concern for the moral and ethical dimensions of their study and their professional and personal lives.