Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Foreign Aid – OK?

In the last little while, we’ve been talking in class and learning about Ethics in Philosophy. I’ve decided to write this about Foreign Aid because it is interesting to me, and I don’t think that it is talked about all that much, at least not as much as something like abortion or euthanasia (although maybe rightly so, considering that they are dealing with human life and death directly), and because it affects me and and all of us, with taxes and the fact that we have a say about our Foreign Aid.

In Foreign Aid, the main issues are:

  • “Why should I be taxed my hard-earned dollars in order to help some people on the other side of the world who don’t have anything to do with me?”
  • There are a significant amount of people here in Canada and the United States who are living below the poverty line, so why not help our own country before spending it on foreign ones?
  • Foreign Aid money is often not accounted for after being given, poor community majority continue to suffer while the corrupt dictators/leaders and aristocracy pocket the money and improve their already-extravagant lifestyles.
  • “Is our money even doing anything?”

John Rawls’ Theory of Justice

Using John RawsTheory of Justice, behind the ‘Vail of Ignorance’, where we know nothing of the situation we will be born into, including race, gender, location, family, etc., it is reasonable to assume that we would decide to create a society where all was fair.  If you didn’t know whether you would be born into rural Africa or Middle East, or to the British Royal family, or to a rich or poor family in the United States, then we would almost always say, “the wealthy people and nations of the world should do their best to elevate the living standards of those who are less fortunate”. We would all hope that if we happened to be born into a situation which traps us in poverty and oppression, others would try to help make our situation better.


In the utilitarianism view, considering the ‘greatest good/happiness for the greatest amount of people’, we would still be ethically obligated to give aid to those who are in poverty and with poor living standards because that would result in their elevated happiness and ultimately wouldn’t really hurt the wealthy all that much.


To adress the second point, we could say the same thing about poverty in the more wealthy and higher standard of living countries of the world. Most people born into poverty do not escape it, so again we would want help for those in poverty, to help them escape it. But then should we focus more on the poor in our own country just because they were born here? Behind the vail of ignorance, we would say no! Where we are born is nothing of our own doing.

So then, how should we decide who we should aid and with how much? The third and fourth point brings up a good question of how aid should be given. The effectiveness of foreign aid is widely debated and is pretty much unknown so I think I’ll leave that up to leader of our country to decide, although it is becoming clear that the lack of follow up and significant thought to what would help the less fortunate best by donor countries is part of the problem, which leads to another question of the moral value of foreign aid.

Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative

According to Immanuel Kant and his categorical imperative, an act is not really moral unless it is done out of duty (for the sake of the act), not for selfish purposes. Foreign aid (by countries) is primarily, if not completely, used for selfish purposes. Foreign aid is used to develop good relations with other countries, create or secure alliances, impose the culture of the donating country, control political leadership, enforce political ideology (as in the Cold War and the battle between communism and capitalism), etc. Although, it is not surprising that countries do not want to give without getting back in return, since it is their job to keep the best interests of their own countries in mind.


So to wrap up, the giving of foreign aid is almost certainly the right thing to do (and not more to poverty in your own country) ethically; however, if it is being done for personal (or national) gain, Kant would say the act is no longer ‘right’. The way in which aid is given should be given is still a very big and important question, but that’s another debate for another day.



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