Giving Your All

Julian Savulescu argues that “few people if any have ever been anything like a perfect utilitarian”:

It would require donating one of your kidneys to a perfect stranger. It would require sacrificing your life, family and sleep to the level that enabled you to maximize the well-being of others. Because you could improve the lives of so many, so much, utilitarianism requires enormous sacrifices. People have donated large parts of their wealth and even a kidney, but this still does not approach the sacrifice required by utilitarianism. …

People think I am a utilitarian, but I am not. I, like nearly everyone else, find Utilitarianism to be too demanding. I try to live my life according to “easy rescue consequentialism” – you should perform those acts which are at small cost to you and which benefit others greatly. Peter Singer, the greatest modern utilitarian, in fact appeals to this principle to capture people’s emotions – his most famous example is that of a small child drowning in a pond. You could save the child’s life by just getting your shoes wet. He argues morality requires that you rescue the child. But this is merely an easy rescue. Utilitarianism requires that you sacrifice your life to provide organs to save seven or eight lives. Easy rescue consequentialism is, by contrast, a relaxed but useful moral doctrine.