Saturday, 11 April 2009

The moral of the story

The other day, I discovered a new blog in the online edition of The New York Times. It is called The Moral of the Story, the ethicist's take on the news, and written by Randy Cohen. A good idea, I find. Many readers, I'm sure, are more interested in ethics than journalists and all the other people in the PRopaganda business assume. The post that I skimmed (I hardly ever thoroughly read an online text) was about Madonna and her failed adoption in Malawi. Here's an excerpt:

"Several readers assert that rather than undertake foreign adoption with its attendant problems, ethical and otherwise, Madonna and others should adopt locally. Sadly, as many people who have attempted this can confirm — and as some readers note — it’s not easy, and sometimes it’s all but impossible. I know a couple of families who turned to foreign adoptions only after being thwarted in their other efforts to have children, including through adoption here in the U.S.

Which raised this question for some readers: isn’t there a greater moral obligation to help those close by? It was once commonly thought so. Samuel Johnson, the great 18th-century moralist, said as much to James Boswell, as recorded in the latter’s “Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides”: “A man should first relieve those who are nearly connected with him, by whatever tie; and then, if he has anything to spare, may extend his bounty to a wider circle.”

Particular relationships do entail particular obligations. Parents have duties to their children that they do not have to strangers. But national borders do not define such relationships: they are not moral borders. And “nearly connected” has a different meaning today than it did in the 18th century. Our ease of travel (if “ease” can be said to apply to anything involving an airport) as well as the flow of images and ideas, both foster and make increasingly apparent the connectedness of humanity. The philosopher Peter Singer is a notable proponent of the worldwide reach of our moral obligations, a subject he takes up in his book “One World: The Ethics of Globalization.”"

For the full text go to

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