Are Some Causes More Deserving than Others?
We shouldn’t be spending millions of dollars sending probes to Mars when there are people starving right here on Earth.
This may be a Q1 violation if you have an interest in pure science* or think you might benefit (even indirectly) from the space program.
This may be a Q2 violation if there are some things you think it is worth giving money to that others consider less important than human starvation.
When you are considering giving money to charity or petitioning elected officials to direct government funds toward a specific cause, you must use some criteria to select a cause (or causes) to champion. It is tempting to look at available options and select those that either deal with the most immediate need or benefit the largest number of people.
Unfortunately, if those criteria were always followed, some causes that many people consider important would likely never receive funding — at least not until food, water, shelter, health, education, infrastructure, basic freedom, and conservation issues across the world had been solved. Causes that would not be funded might include art, pure science, exploration, aesthetic public works, protecting diversity, and historic preservation, among others.
The situation becomes even more complex when we try to choose among those issues that we consider most important. Should a remote area get electricity or sewage lines first? Should prevention or treatment get priority in a disease-ravaged area? Are women’s rights more or less important than education, or are the two issues intertwined?
In order to allocate funds to issues that seem roughly equal in priority and to ensure that at least some of these less-than-top-priority items are not neglected, it may be useful to create the equivalent of a moral budget. You might think that, for example, preventing hunger is extremely important, but that preserving historic artifacts also has some value, so although more effort and charity must be directed toward solving world hunger, historic preservation must also be supported.
Does this mean that when the time comes to choose a cause, you should choose hunger first and history second? Perhaps, but perhaps not. What if you had enough time or money to give to significantly aid a particular preservation project, but not enough to significantly impact world hunger? What if there were a historic item that needed immediate attention so that it would not be lost forever? What if efforts at addressing hunger in a certain area were being impeded by a corrupt local government to the point that no progress could be made until the political situation changed?
Extreme conditions and immediate needs may also impact your decision or cause you to make a short-term change in priorities. After a disaster, perhaps all resources should be turned to relief and rescue efforts. In the face of rampant disease or widespread hunger, it may be that little else is important enough to deserve discretionary funds.
Getting back to the space program: is Martian exploration important enough to be given any part of the moral budget? It may be, if you think that scientific knowledge has intrinsic value, the space program has significant civilian benefits (such as innovation, employment, or national pride), or that there may come a time when we need more resources than are available on the planet. It may not if the country considering pursuing extraterrestrial research has pressing, immediate needs at home.
*I use the term "pure science" to indicate scientific research that does not have an immediate, intended, practical goal. Calculating universal constants with incredible precision would be pure science; investigating materials for more efficient solar panels would not.
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.