Critical Analysis Of Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping The Poor

In his article, Garret Hardin relates social and Environmental science to an overcrowded lifeboat. Hardin uses the example of the boat to suggest that the rich should not have the moral obligation to support the poor and they should, by all means, avoid the course of helping the underprivileged. Although Hardin published his article decades ago, he cites issues to do with population growth, environmental changes and even immigration which are a matters affecting the current affluent societies. He claims that rich nations should protect its resources and leave third world countries to fend for themselves. His primary point of an argument is that if wealthy nations share its resources, its future generations will not have any funds left. At the beginning of his article, He claims that those in power often decide without considering the consequences the citizens will have to suffer. He describes the world as a lifeboat will only a little space for only those already in the vessel with the rest of the people in water still begging for help.    

Besides, Hardin also talks about the solutions the United States came up with to help and feed the developing countries. He claims that such a decision costs the taxpayers millions of money while in turn, the government gains billions. Hardin concludes that humanitarians are only selfish idealists whose primary purpose is to make profits. Dr. Hardin also argues that developing countries were responsible enough, they would work extra hard to solve their problems. Besides, they would also learn from their experiences and learn how to set funds aside for emergency purposes. The author shifts from the concept of overpopulation to the issue of immigration in the United States. He claims that through allowing more people to settle in America, the government is only risking overpopulation in the country. He concludes his articles by stating that Americans can save themselves through governing themselves and setting rules similar to those in a lifeboat. He suggests that it is time Americans shut the doors of immigration before it is too late. He fears that if Americans do not choose to save themselves, then no one will.    

Although Hardin's proposals are not outlandish, they seem to stem from assumptions and unintended consequences. As previously explained, Hardin relates the nations within the globe to lifeboats. However, some governments do not have the carrying capacity. Besides, the fact that fossil fuels and other natural resources are abused and mismanaged by some nations, it does not mean that without such resources life will not go on. The truth contrary to Hardin's opinion since abandoning resources will only prompt human beings to abandon some limits that humanity has to adhere to after single scientific finding. At the rate which scientific experiments and studies and conducted, science will someday solve some of the major crisis affecting the society.    

Overpopulation is one of the significant issues which plagues the nation followed by the overreliance of natural resources. However, both issues should not concern people since they can be solved (Pojman et al., 45). For instance, the problem of overpopulation can be resolved through the construction of skyscrapers since humanity cannot be limited to how high it can construct homes. As scientist's understanding of space progresses, a time will come when heavenly bodies and even planets will accommodate human beings. Also, it evident that human beings are already past evolutionary restrictions such as carrying capacity.    

Moreover, even if Dr. Hardin is correct in comparing world nations to lifeboats, with an individual carrying capacity having a population far from the carrying capacity does not guarantee survival. Hardin creates a mental picture that in the entire community of the people swimming, none is saved to ensure that those already in the lifeboat survive. For instance, in case of a massive wave or a dangerous situation involving the raft, there are chances that individuals within the boat will not survive. Besides, although, the future is unpredictable similarly to the currently existing technology, scientific research has significantly improved over the last few years, and clearly, there are no signs of slowing down. Besides, Moore Law states that in every two years, the complexity of existing electronic devices is likely to double. Technological development will prompt the development of more efficient and powerful transistors which will, in turn, lead to the development of more efficient renewable energy. Besides, more powerful batteries are likely to be developed which will allow the storage of energy.    

Examining Hardin's ideas, it is evident that his thoughts were on the right track. According to recent studies, the global population is indeed significantly rising and therefore it is okay for Dr. Hardin to act concerned. However, some lifeboat ethics are not convincing although not all are irrelevant. If Hardin's Ethics were adopted at a positivistic point of view, the concept would hold much more ethics. There is hope that science alone can solve the issue of overpopulation and because most people still doubt technology and science, having Lifeboat ethics as a backup plan is still okay. 

Works Cited

  • Hardin, Garrett. 'Lifeboat ethics.' (1974).
  • Pojman, Louis P., Paul Pojman, and Katie McShane. Environmental ethics: Readings in theory and application. Nelson Education, 2015.
16 December 2021
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