You are a citizen of the world: how should you act on that? 

Appiah is sympathetic to the view that we have significant obligations to our fellow human beings wherever they are. He agrees that we should see ourselves as connected, our lives inextricably intertwined. Even so, he argues, Singer goes too far. For Appiah, the affluent have a duty to pay their fair share to alleviate extreme poverty around the world. But that needn’t entail giving until you yourself become relatively poor. His point is that we only have an obligation to pay what is fair for us, and that we needn’t feel bad if we fail to go beyond this. We in the West don’t have to follow Diogenes’ example of giving everything away and sleeping rough: ‘If so many people in the world are not doing their share — and they clearly are not — it seems to me I cannot be required to derail my life to take up the slack.’

Singer has responded to this with a variation on his pond thought experiment. What would you do if there were 10 children in the pond and 10 adults, including yourself, nearby? If only you and four others jumped in while the other five adults strolled on, you wouldn’t just save your ‘fair share’ of one child and let the others drown, and no one would excuse you if you did that. Singer is convinced that our obligation to others goes far beyond our sense of a fair share of the solution.

Is this a sticking point for cosmopolitanism? If you want to see yourself as a citizen of the world, as I think you should, does that mean you have to give up most of your worldly goods, forego opera, fine wine, live football, or any other expensive indulgences? Even if Singer is right about our moral obligations, there is a danger that the sacrifices he demands will just make the whole view unattractive. Who is ready to follow him even as far as donating five per cent of their annual income? This is a genuine philosophical problem about how to live. It is a serious challenge to complacency and indifference. And there are many ways of avoiding the problem, including embracing inconsistency — the ‘living high and letting die’ option.

Source: You are a citizen of the world: how should you act on that? | Aeon Essays

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