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[Tejretics Tourney] Resolved: After meeting their basic needs, individuals have a moral obligation to donate all remaining wealth to effective social causes (such as poverty alleviation).


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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RESOLUTION: After meeting their basic needs, individuals have a moral obligation to donate all remaining wealth to effective social causes (such as poverty alleviation).


Basic needs: Everything needed to maintain the continued wellbeing of an individual and their dependents. Wellbeing includes physical, mental, and emotional health, as well as the opportunity for self-fulfillment.

Moral obligation: Something that one ought to do because it is morally right, but is not bound or required to do.

Effective social cause: An organized effort that efficiently and successfully helps to resolve societal issues, such as extreme poverty.

All other terms should be considered to have their commonplace usage, within the rational context of this debate.


R1PRO: Constructive

R1CON: Constructive

R2PRO: Rebuttals

R2CON: Defense/Rebuttals

R3PRO: Defense/Summary

R3CON: Summary


1. No Kritiks.

2. Arguments must (at least roughly) adhere to the structure provided.

3. Sources can be hyperlinked, either directly or in the comments section.

4. The burden of proof is shared between both sides.

5. The definitions, structure, and rules, are accepted upon starting the debate.

6. Penalty for breaking these rules is a conduct point, unless it is especially egregious or repeated.

Round 1
I. Preamble

At this present moment, you are most likely letting someone die. This is an undeniable, yet rather uncomfortable fact.  

Now, onto my argument. 

II. A Modest Syllogism  

I now present a logical proof, based on the essay “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” by philosopher Peter Singer.  
P1. Donating to effective social causes can prevent very bad things from happening. 
P2. Individuals have excess wealth, which can be used to donate to effective social causes. 
P3. This excess wealth is of comparably minimal moral significance (to the very bad things it could prevent). 
C1. Individuals can prevent very bad things from happening without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance. 
P4. If individuals can prevent very bad things from happening without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance, they have a moral obligation to do so. 
C2. After meeting their basic needs, individuals have a moral obligation to donate all remaining wealth to effective social causes. 

The mutually agreed-upon definition of “effective social cause” already assumes that it “efficiently and successfully resolves societal issues” - clearly, societal issues tend to be very bad things. Nevertheless, I’ll give a few examples. 

According to charity evaluator GiveWell, donating $5500 to this charity would directly save a single life - not even considering all the other indirect benefits (e.g. preventing non-lethal infections).

Of course, there are many other possible effective social causes to give to – it matters little, as long as your money is well spent in resolving societal issues. Animal welfare, poverty alleviation, the well-being of future generations, etc, are all potential candidates. 


To be clear, this statement does not apply to all people. However, the resolution is relevant only to those who do qualify for this, as evidenced by the part about “After meeting their basic needs, individuals...”  

And obviously, it is an inherent assumption that this excess wealth can be used to donate effective social causes. 

Thus, the premise is axiomatic. 


"Comparably minimal moral significance” is construed to mean that this excess wealth has comparably little moral importance, compared to the harm it could prevent. In other words, the moral value of luxuries beyond basic needs is insignificant compared to the moral value of saving a life or preventing suffering.

To give a few examples: morally speaking, why should a luxury car be more important than saving a child’s life? Why should a fashionable new coat take priority over access to basic healthcare?

As a reminder, the definition of “basic needs” states that they are “everything needed to maintain the continued wellbeing of an individual and their dependents.” It can hardly be asserted how any wealth past this point could be considered anything other than “excess wealth,” nor could it be construed as being of comparable moral significance. 


This follows axiomatically from P1, P2, and P3.  


This premise is perhaps the most controversial, yet even so, it can be easily proven using accepted ethical frameworks. I will prove this statement by showing how it holds true under five commonly accepted ethical values: utilitarianism, rights, justice, common good, and virtue.

Utilitarianism aims to achieve the greatest amount of overall well-being. The premise is justified under this, as it would maximize good (by preventing bad things from happening) and minimize harm (by the fact that you do not have to sacrifice anything of comparable moral significance). 

Rights-based ethics aims to protect the rights of all people. The premise is justified under this, since it would protect the right to life, as well as the right to health.

Justice-based ethics aims to ensure justice in society. These include several values such as egalitarianism (that all people should have the same rights and
opportunities), and equality (that no one should be suffering while other people live in luxury). The premise helps to uphold these values.

Common good ethics aims to benefit the collective happiness of society as a whole. The premise is justified under this, since preventing suffering and death at minimal cost to yourself achieves this. 

Virtue ethics aims to consider what a virtuous person would do. Common “virtuous” qualities include empathy, selflessness, and compassion. Undoubtedly, preventing bad things from happening without sacrificing anything significant in return would certainly be a virtuous thing to do. 


C2 axiomatically follows from C1 (which is derived from P1, P2, and P3) as well as P4. To reiterate... 
  • “After meeting their basic needs, individuals...” - as proven in P2, this narrows down the statement to only those who have excess wealth. 
  • “...have a moral obligation to donate...” - as proven in P4, individuals in this situation indeed do have a moral obligation to do so. 
  • “...all remaining wealth...” - as proven in P3, this excess wealth is of comparably minimal moral significance. 
  • “ effective social causes.” - as proven in P1, donating to effective social causes can indeed prevent very bad things from happening. 
Therefore, the topic statement is upheld. 

III. The Analogy of the Drowning Child  

Of course, this radical conclusion may seem contrary to our views of morality. However, in this section, I will use a popular analogy to demonstrate how a moral obligation to donate is entirely consistent with  accepted values. 

The Analogy 

You are walking by a shallow pond when you see a child drowning. You have done nothing to cause this situation. Crucially, you can save the child’s life at no personal risk. However, it would be a minor inconvenience, and also ruin your expensive suit. 

Would you be morally obligated to save the child? Prime facie, the answer is yes.

So why is it that we fail to extend this obligation of saving lives, to donating to charitable causes? You can’t have it both ways. And although there may seem to be differences between the two situations, I will show that they ultimately are inconsequential. 


One obvious objection is uncertainty – helping a drowning child leads to a certain outcome, while donating to charity feels more uncertain. 

However, this is refuted by the significant evidence (such as that shown earlier) that shows that donating to effective social causes does have a direct and consequential impact.


Another objection is distance – saving a child next to you seems far more impactful than saving a child in a faraway country. 

Yet, there is no logical reason for why the objective value of a life should decrease with distance. After all, shooting someone from 500 meters away is hardly better than shooting from 5 meters.

Distributed Responsibility 

A final objection is the idea of distributed responsibility – here, you are the only person that can help the child, and if you walk past them, you are dooming them to die. In contrast, when it comes to charity, you are just one of millions of people who could do something.

This, however, is also invalid. If other people who can save the child are walking away, does that absolve you of your own moral obligation? 

IV. The Demandingness Objection Objection 

At this point, I have succeeded in proving my case in two ways: 
  • Showing how logically speaking, it is the natural conclusion of axiomatic principles.
  • Demonstrating how it is consistent with accepted moral values such as the “duty to rescue”, once you strip inconsequential differences away.
As such, the only thing that remains to make my argument entirely airtight is to prove that it is not inconsistent with existing moral values. 

An intuitive objection to a moral obligation to donate is the “demandingness objection” - which can be summarized (as simply as possible) as follows: 

P1. The idea of a moral obligation to donate is an unreasonably demanding moral theory.  
P2. An unreasonably demanding moral theory should not be accepted. 
C1. The idea of a moral obligation to donate should not be accepted. 

At first sight, this seems like a reasonable objection. A moral obligation to donate excess wealth certainly does seem demanding (perhaps unreasonably so), and shouldn’t unreasonably demanding moral theories be rejected? 

Upon careful review, however, this objection also fails to disprove this moral theory.

First, if a moral obligation to donate seems unreasonably demanding, then consider it from the perspective of a child suffering from entirely preventable disease or malnutrition, who can be saved by a wealthy donor who loses little. A lack of a moral obligation to donate seems quite unreasonably demanding on them. 

Second, a moral obligation to donate is not unreasonably demanding. As a reminder, the resolution allows individuals to entirely meet their basic needs, which involves good “physical, mental, and emotional health, as well as the opportunity for self-fulfillment.”
As such, a vacation to Hawaii would be entirely fine, if you need to destress from work. A night out to an expensive restaurant is perfectly acceptable, so long as it benefits your own happiness and health.  

Finally, even if we entertain the idea that a moral obligation to donate is unreasonably demanding, it doesn’t mean that it’s false. Rejection of a moral theory based on unintuitiveness, rather than logical grounds, is merely an appeal to consequences


Moral obligations only work in practice. In the heady world of spiritual, illusory “ideals,” moral obligations code would abstract too much from the real conditions of human existence to be practicable. A moral obligation that instructs people to give up *all* their wealth to the poor might be arrived at through abstract reasoning. However, if the real-world consequences of such an obligation produced immoral conditions, then the moral obligation undermines its own principles. For this reason, I argue that the only method of seriously analyzing Pro’s moral obligation is through real-world action. Let us presume that enough people internalize Pro’s moral theory and take subsequent action in line with the theory. Then what? In answering this question, I show that concrete conditions of existence worsen substantially for the entire world population under Pro’s proposition. Hence, a neg ballot is called for.

Spurring Poverty

Luxury industries, of which I include restaurants, movie theaters, and vast portions of the service sector, are primarily employed by the lower and middle classes (11 “table 4”, 12). Consumption comprises roughly 60% of countries’ GDP on average (13). Much of this consumption exists only because of luxury industries. While the poor are more likely to spend their money on necessities, 40% of their income (on average) is spent on non-essentials, and the percentage of income spent on luxuries increases as one climbs up the tax brackets (17). When even the poor are major contributors to luxury industries, one can only imagine the level of devastation to be expected from a rapid reduction in the purchase of luxuries. With “luxury goods” left unsold, unemployment, and thus the pool of people requiring aid will necessarily increase, especially since workers producing “luxuries” are usually poor. The proposition would have an international spillover effect too, since many countries have active labor forces that produce luxury goods for the US. In 2020, the Bureau of Economic Analysis estimated that multinational enterprises started in the US alone employed over 40 million international workers (15). These workers will lose their income, preventing them from caring for their dependents, and thus spurring poverty.

Further, under the resolution, indigency increases concomitantly with a decrease in the total pool of wealth that could possibly be distributed. While it is true that 90% of the wealth generated in the world is owned by 1% of the population, this calculation depends on firms, investments, and consumption remaining constant. CEOs and investors earn profit from other peoples’ labor. If restaurants, car shops, cinemas, amusement parks, etc. went out of business tomorrow, it would not just be the workers who lose money. The CEOs and investors who poured resources into the business expecting a profit would face steep losses because, without workers, there is no profit. This might not wipe out their capacity to live comfortably, but it does mean that we would be left with a shallower pool of money to distribute. International NGOs might experience windfall funds, but this could only last for a while. As “luxury” consumption, investment, and entrepreneurship falls, so will donations.

The fall of luxury industries will have an immense impact on daily life. The number of people employed in tourism and hospitality in the US is nearly 15 million (16). Internationally, US multinational companies employ 40 million people. These workers, who provide luxury goods and services, will be laid off, but the impact goes further than that. Even industries that can and do provide necessities (e.g., construction, grocery stores, etc.) will be affected too. Construction companies would have fewer projects to work on, so construction workers would be laid off. Grocery stores are likely to have fewer customers if they only stock more necessities in lieu of popular luxuries. The proposition goes further than ending luxury industries (already a policy that would harm millions). It also cannibalizes “necessity” industries as well, further reducing the pot of wealth to distribute and increasing the number of people in need.

National Sovereignty

Hannah Arendt, philosopher and political theorist, characterizes citizenship as “the right to have rights” (1 p.296). Arendt observes that the rights to “opinion” and “action” are made effectual only by belonging to a political community. As she notes, a refugee may have greater enjoyment of speech rights in an internment camp, though these opinions won’t end their detention. For rights to matter, the state (in its variety of forms) must support them. When the nation-state does not act on public opinion, when it fundamentally restricts acts in accordance with supranational authority, it removes the effectual power of the right to “act” and “opine,” per Arendt’s formulation. The proposition undermines sovereignty through its increase of rentierism and by undermining the institutional capacity of less developed countries.

A. Rentierism

Knack (2001) found that a 15 percentage-point increase in aid as a share of national income reduced ICRG scores by 1 point on an 18-point ordinal scale that measured corruption, bureaucratic quality, and the rule of law (2 p.12). While old, the principal logic supporting the paper still holds. When states are buttressed by external sourcing of funding outside of their own national markets, they are less accountable to their citizens, more accountable to donors (for whom they depend on to fund their government programs) and are more capable of mollifying democratic demands for accountability through generous social spending coupled with low taxes (3). Similar results have been found with countries that nationalize their large natural resource endowments (3). More recently, Prichard et al. (2018) found that an increase in non-tax revenue as a percent of GDP to Angola’s level (43%) is associated with a reduction in that country’s democracy score of over 40 points on a 100-point scale (14 “Results”). To put this discrepancy into perspective, roughly 40 points separates Canada and Algeria (14 “Results”).

An example can be found in Ethiopia. Before PM Abiy Ahmed came to power, the ruling EPRDF party redirected aid dollars to party supporters while eschewing political dissidents with the seeming tacit approval of the international community (6, 7 “Donor Strategy Toward Ethiopia”). In May 2010, the EPRDF attained 99.6% of parliamentary seats through using aid as a weapon, sustaining the rule of PM Meles (7 “Summary”).

By pursuing a poverty-alleviation-at-all-cost approach under the resolution, we sustain global dictatorship. With such a massive increase in aid, dependency skyrockets, allowing dictators a perpetual power monopoly.

b. Institutional Capacity

Aid can cause underdevelopment of domestic institutions. When donations flow in, governments no longer need to prioritize building up the necessary infrastructure to make governing possible. From 2000-2019, external aid as a percentage of underdeveloped countries’ healthcare spending rose from 16% to 29%, while domestic government transfers receded by 7 percentage points (8, “Dependency on…”). Mozambique is illustrative here. From 1980 to 1985, Mozambique halved its domestic spending on healthcare, while donors funneled millions of dollars into Mozambique’s healthcare sector (9 p.237). Aid propped up foreign NGOs which could hire talented medical staff at higher salaries, causing brain drain from the country’s NHS, and this problem is not unique to Mozambique (9 p.241). As one observer pointed out, in Sub-Saharan Africa “technical assistance seems to have been the only real growth area in aid over the past half decade” (9 p.241, 10 p.179). In Uganda and Ghana, it was found that the arrival of an NGO specializing in a particular sector (i.e., health) reduced government funding to that sector by 6.8%, while funding on other, non-NGO sectors increased by over 7% (19).

This lack of institutional expertise fundamentally limits the expression of political sovereignty as healthcare services are taken out of the hands of ordinary citizens and handed to NGOs. NGOs lack citizen accountability. So, when Red Cross dropped millions of dollars of unspent donation funds on a luxury hotel and conference rooms, Haitian citizens had no room to object (20). Nor could the citizens of Haiti object when, after raising half-a-billion dollars, the Red Cross barely eked out 6 homes (21). In establishing a dual governance run by NGOs and international organizations, the West engages in heteronomy, that is, rule by others. The right to “opine” and “act” is made weak.

Since I am barred from presenting refutations per the round structure outlined in the rules, I will end off here. 

Sources in comments. Sorry my case is a bit messier than usual.

Round 2
I. A Roadmap 

Consider CON’s opening paragraph (“Framework”): 

Which can be roughly summarized as: 

P1. A moral obligation is true if and only if it works in practice. 
P2. A moral obligation works in practice if and only if there would be a net benefit if a significant number of people follow it. 
P3. There would not be a net benefit if a significant number of people follow a moral obligation to donate excess wealth to effective social causes. 
C1. A moral obligation to donate excess wealth to effective social causes is false. 

CON’s P1 and P2 form the basis of his framework, yet there is surprisingly little substantiation for it, whether in evidence or reasoning. And while his case to prove P3 is well-written, it’s clear that if the framework fails, then its impacts are close to negligible.  

Therefore, I will dedicate most of my case to attacking CON’s framework. Following that, I will add a short section showing how the impacts of his constructive arguments have been minimized, and then show what his constructive arguments have not addressed. 

II. A Long Section Name for a Short But Important Point 

Before we start, I’d like to add an important point regarding the resolution. 

CON assumes that under the resolution, funding to luxury goods would be cut off, foreign aid would dramatically decrease, charities would receive a “windfall” of money, etc. 

However, the resolution itself only addresses a hypothetical moral obligation.  

As such, the resolution makes no implications, or even predictions, about what happens in the real world. 

Or, to put it more simply, ought to do does not equal will do.  

This is a debate of values, not of policy. Remember that. 

III.1 Logical Inconsistency of CON’s case 

CON’s case relies on a flawed assumption, namely that: 

“Let us presume that enough people internalize Pro’s moral theory and take subsequent action in line with the theory.” 
Why exactly should we take this assumption for granted?

The resolution, by its use of “individuals”, indicates that the moral obligation in question is specific only to that individual. In addition, the agreed-upon definition of moral obligation is “Something that one ought to do because it is morally right, but is not bound or required to do.” Notice that a moral obligation is referred to from a singular point of view (e.g, under the assumption that it is agent-specific). 

Although these individuals may be referred to in pluralized form, this doesn’t change the fact that their moral obligations (and actions) are independent of each other – unless CON is equating having similar moral duties to sharing a hivemind.

III.2 Logical Inconsistency(s) of CON’s case 

Furthermore, CON claims that “moral obligations only work in practice” - I.e, they are only valid if realistically applied. Yet CON contradicts himself by presuming an unrealistic situation in which a significant number of people actually follow this moral obligation. 

Consider the fact that the a significant portion of affluent people donate little to charity – and each of these individuals could donate significantly more wealth, bringing substantial benefits while also not measurably harming luxury industries or themselves.

CON imagines a hypothetical world in which these individuals were (somehow) convinced to donate more to charity – at a scale sufficient to collapse entire industries. Clearly, this is entirely unrealistic and fails to consider the essence of what a moral obligation is. 

Going back to the definition of “moral obligation” (see II.1), take note that this mentions nothing about it actually being carried out. A valid moral obligation would obviously do good if it was hypothetically carried out, but whether it actually is effected has nothing to do with its validity. 

In the worst-case scenario, of course, where every individual carried out their moral obligation to donate, problems would undoubtedly arise. Paradoxically yet logically, however, this doesn’t change the fact that each individual still has a moral obligation to donate – because no one else is. 

III.3 Logical Inconsistency(ss) of CON’s case 

Finally, CON presupposes that moral obligations remain consistent regardless of the situation. He surmises a situation in which luxury industries are on the brink of collapse, and charities have more money than they can handle, yet people continue to blithely, and blindly, follow a moral obligation that no longer exists.  

By definition, a moral obligation is something that one “ought to do”, not “should have done” - therefore, it also follows that moral obligations only exist in the present. You may, of course, have the same moral obligation yesterday, today, and tomorrow – but each of these are independent of the others. 

In the present, individuals have a moral obligation to donate because it would bring good. (This is highly oversimplified, but I formally proved this in R1 anyway.)

If the moral obligation to donate would no longer bring good, then the moral obligation no longer exists.

Fortunately, for both children in Africa and my arguments, this is not the case.

IV. The CPR Analogy

To further illustrate this, I will bring in another thought experiment to show how a dynamic view of moral obligations is consistent with everyday intuitions. 

You see someone have a heart attack in front of you. You are trained in CPR, and if no one gives that person CPR soon, they will die. Clearly, you have a prime facie moral obligation to help that person. 

However, someone who knows CPR better than you starts performing it on the person first. If you tried to join in, you would only bring harm. So instead, you call 911. 

Under CON's framework, and through the Law of Excluded Middle, one of the following two statements must be true:
  • You are failing to fulfill your moral obligation, and are therefore morally in the wrong.
  • This is logically inconsistent, however - as it supposes that you should do something that causes harm.
  • Your moral obligation leads to negative consequences, and is therefore false.
  • This seems even more logically inconsistent - as it implies that saving a person's life leads to negative consequences.
Yet, this fails to consider a third possible statement: 
  • The situation has changed, and therefore your moral obligation has changed.
  • This is simple, consistent with everyday intuitions, and logical.
Applying this to the idea of a moral obligation to donate, we can see the clear similarities - to quote myself from earlier:

"If the moral obligation to donate would no longer bring good, then the moral obligation no longer exists."
V. The Altruism Curve 

To better visualize the previous few arguments I have made, imagine what I call the “Altruism Curve.” Here’s a handy-dandy visual aid, made by yours truly: (link to graph)

The horizontal axis represents the amount of money donated, while the vertical axis represents the net impact of this donated money. The vertical axis goes both negative and positive. There's no real unit of measurement, but that's irrelevant to the fundamental idea.

The curve starts at zero – representing the status quo, in terms of both measurements. 

As the amount donated increases, so does the net benefit. However, past a certain point, new donations end up doing more harm than good, to the point where things become worse than the initial status quo. 

Under CON’s view of moral obligations, because the last point on the graph is negative, then the moral obligation to donate is false. 

However, under a more charitable (and accepted) view of moral obligations, the fact that the peak of the graph exists (and that we haven’t reached it yet) means that the moral obligation to donate is true (for now). 

VI. Addressing CON’s Remaining Arguments 

After refuting CON’s framework, I will now  address CON’s remaining arguments and show how their impacts are minimized by a flawed framework. 

“Spurring Poverty” 

CON’s case is well-researched, and I concede that if luxury industries collapsed, then serious negative impacts would be effected. 

However, this is not the case, as proven earlier. Presently, luxury industries are doing quite fine, while many charities could still do with more money – therefore, a moral obligation to donate remains. 


CON, once again, builds a solid case on shaky foundations – namely that under the resolution, there would be a huge increase in foreign aid. This is false. Indeed, as demonstrated above, the resolution does not actually imply any substantial real-world impacts. 

“Institutional Capacity” 

Even without my previous arguments, much of this fails as a standalone point. It is an inherent topical assumption, through the use of “effective social causes” in the resolution and its definition thereof, that the causes being donated to will “effectively and successfully resolve societal issues.” 

By definition, effective social causes bring benefit – if they don’t do so, then they are an ineffective social cause. The examples that my opponent highlighted, such as the Red Cross, are clearly of the latter category. The money that the Red Cross raised could easily have saved 100,000 lives if it was donated to a more effective charity. 

VII. What CON Has Not Addressed 

In the spirit of reciprocity, I will now examine what CON’s constructive arguments have not addressed.  

First, CON has not objected to a moral obligation to donate on any fundamental grounds – such as demandingness, that we are not obligated to help others in the first place, that moral obligations don’t exist, etc. 

Second, CON has not denied that at the moment, an individual can bring substantial good by donating to an effective social cause. 

Therefore, these points stand.

VIII. Summary

Out of chars + over to blamonkey + vote PRO + kthxbai!
I will start with the defense of my framework, then I will attack my Pro’s case.


Pro’s attack on my case stems from what they conceive to be a faulty framework. I aim to defend that framework here.

Pro exposits that this debate is about a “hypothetical moral obligation,” and not my concern for the material condition that manifests as a result of moral obligations being… well… obligatory. Ironically, this preoccupation with “hypothetical” moral reasoning diverges from Peter Singer, from whom Pro derives their case. In the closing paragraphs to Singer’s essay, he writes:

“What is the point of relating philosophy to public (and personal) affairs if we do not take our conclusions seriously? In this instance, taking our conclusion seriously means acting upon it” (1, p.242).

His arguments, if they were not rooted in real-life conditions, would be useless. A loose “moral obligation” is not going to save the drowning child. It will not save the man who needs CPR. In fact, Singer’s prime objection is that Western society treats charity as “supererogatory,” as something that is good to do, but not bad not to do (1 p.235). He is objecting to how people act on the ideology of “charity” as it manifests in affluent society.

Pro couches their argument in preventing “very bad things from happening.” If an action will not “prevent bad things,” if, instead, the status quo is affirmed then Pro no longer justifies their affirmation of the resolution. The syllogism’s logic collapses if we are unable to access the material impact of Pro’s moral obligation.

Alas, Pro hasn’t presented a framework of their own. I implore judges to use mine for the purpose of weighing. For Pro, this shouldn’t be a problem. They justify the 4th proposition of their case using utilitarianism, the principle that good should be maximized and harm should be minimized. If Pro considers this to be a persuasive moral theory to justify their fourth proposition, then surely, it can be used to weigh the debate too.

Finally, Pro’s attempt to paint my points as “apocalyptic” and “unrealistic” is soundly refuted by looking at my evidence. My impacts don’t manifest in apocalyptic conditions. They manifest now. Rentierism in Ethiopia did occur, per evidence from my previous case, and the effect continues to ravish countries. Disastrous impacts manifest even if not all luxury industries collapse. This is completely dropped.

Logical Inconsistencies

a. Assumption

Pro objects to my assumption that people will adopt Pro’s moral obligation. This isn’t an assumption; it is a weighing mechanism. I argued that only by seeing a moral obligation “in action,” with people internalizing and then acting upon them, can it be tested.

Moral values can hardly be debated in a vacuum.  If we preclude the “real world” from our analysis, we have no basis in determining morality. Morality is a sphere that belongs to human experience, and only the real world can be experienced. Harm in an abstract sense is not experiential, and hence not worth worrying about. “Harm” and “good” in a concrete sense do pertain to our immediate existence, and thus, a concrete analysis should be favored.

Second, if it is unrealistic that people will buy this responsibility to donate, then Pro garners no offense. People will not donate regardless of whether doing so is “good.”

b. Hivemind?

Pro’s next objection is that, per their definition of “moral obligation,” this debate does not concern the moral obligation of groups, but only that of individuals. Presumably, this moral obligation would be just as strong irrespective whether applied to a group or a person. If enough people act as individuals, it will have the effect of them acting as a group. Thus, I don’t see how this bears on the debate at hand.


Two of Pro’s definitions substantially weaken their argument, and I will go over each one separately.

a. Moral Obligation

Pro stresses the non-obligatory nature of his “moral obligation.” Per Pro, a moral obligation is something that is “good,” but something we are not “bound” to do. This definition has more in common with Singer’s definition of “supererogatory.” Singer’s critique of affluent society is that it views its obligation to help the poor as something that is “extra” (hence the term “super” in the term “supererogatory”) rather than “obligatory.” Paying taxes is obligatory. You must do it. Donating to St. Jude’s Children Hospital, in our current society, is considered “supererogatory.” It is nice to do it, but it is not bad not to do it.

Pro’s moral obligation is construed as a mere “good idea,” removing the “obligatory” nature from “moral obligation.” In doing so, they cannot guarantee that (using Pro’s examples) the man having a heart attack will be given CPR, and the drowning child will survive. The “moral” subject, per Pro’s postulation, could easily say “well, it is moral to save the drowning child, but I am not bound to do so.”

Pro is stuck in a double bind. If they admit that the moral obligation is a mere “suggestion,” they cannot derive any impact from their moral obligation. If they admit that the concrete analysis of moral obligations is a necessary to assess the value of the obligation, they must cede to my impacts.

b. Basic Needs

Pro’s definition of basic needs undercuts their own case quite significantly. Their definition of “basic needs” goes quite beyond mere subsistence. They include “Everything needed to maintain the continued wellbeing of an individual and their dependents. Wellbeing includes physical, mental, and emotional health, as well as the opportunity for self-fulfillment.”

The “opportunity for self-fulfillment” is a bottomless well. Cambridge defines “self-fulfillment” as “a feeling of satisfaction that you have achieved what you wanted” (2). Pro cedes that “opportunities for self-fulfillment” could be a trip to Hawaii “to destress from work,” or a visit to a restaurant. Any number of consumer products has the potential to produce “self-fulfillment” in the individuals under question. A visit to McDonald’s, a trip to the movie theater, a new pair of shoes, all these examples have the potential to make people feel fulfilled. Self-fulfillment is subjective.

In addition to permitting unlimited exceptions to the “moral obligation,” divesting it of any impact, Pro also contradicts their own syllogism.

Pro’s 3rd premise, that there is less moral significance in the purchasing of a luxury car than in saving someone’s life, appears suspect now that Pro annexed a whole set of qualifications onto the term “basic needs.” If one takes as granted that the value of saving a life exceeds the value of a luxury car, how could it also be the case that a trip to Wendy’s exceeds the moral value of saving a life? Pro’s lax commitment to their own moral obligation ruptures their own syllogism. In equating consumer products’ value (insofar as it leads to “self-fulfillment”) with the value of saving a life, Pro suggests that we have no more obligation to donate to charity than we do to purchasing a MacBook. Moreover, Pro never requires that the “opportunity for self-fulfillment” lead to someone being “fulfilled.” Even if Pro indicates that not every consumer product leads to “self-fulfillment,” it is also the case that everything has a “possibility” of bestowing self-fulfillment. Drugs are not a great way to reach enlightenment, but there is always a distinct possibility that it can help.

Shifting Burdens

Pro shifts their burden significantly in their latest argument by suggesting that, if conditions were to change, then the resolution would no longer apply. Pro chides me for assuming that obligations are immutable. I never suggested this was the case, though I might point Pro toward the resolution’s language. It never indicates that if conditions change that the moral obligation prescribed in the resolution diminishes. It states that people have a moral obligation to give to charity in unqualified, definitive terms. Don’t allow Pro to wriggle free by suggesting that the obligation might lose luster in the future.

Institutional Capacity

Pro contends that my argument goes against the presupposed resolution because it posits that people will donate to ineffective social programs, and hence, this point is nontopical. Pro misses something vital though. My point is not that programs are ineffective; it is that they are unrepresentative. The Red Cross might have at one point been very effective, but the lack of accountability means that even during their “effective” phase, they did not meet the needs and expectations of the population they aim to serve. They couldn’t have; the people of Haiti did not vote them into office. In fact, they took talented people away from the domestic industries of recipient countries, leading to institutional insolvency.

To see why this unrepresentativeness matters, consider the neoliberal agenda of the Bretton Woods instruments during the 1990s. To the main countries participating in the UN, World Bank, and IMF, the “effective” response to societal problems was to “liberalize” the economy, that is, take down trade barriers, let currencies float, eviscerate trade unions, etc. Countries in the Global South, which were hamstrung by their obligations to the IMF and their own domestic population, had to abide by this dominant episteme to retain equal trading rights with other countries, even when it hurt their own economy (such as when the World Bank dictated that Mozambique should liberalize their cashew trade only to suffer from significant losses in employment and wealth) (3 p.255-256). All assessments of effectiveness are bound up with these dominant belief systems in the West that, even if they prove “effective” reproduce colonial relations with other countries. Hence, donations, especially if they reach a critical mass, will inhibit the development and expression of a genuinely representative plan. 

Sources in comments. Running out of space. Lol

Round 3
I. Philosophy, Practice, Policy, and Preexistence 

a. Obligations 

As a reminder, per agreed-upon definitions, a moral obligation is “Something that one ought to do because it is morally right, but is not bound or required to do.” 
CON shifts burdens significantly by asserting that this debate should be weighed by “the material condition that manifests as a result of moral obligations being… well… obligatory.” Yet by doing so, he strips away the “moral” context of the phrase, and instead applies it solely as a descriptor to a concrete action. 

Going back to Singer’s argument for a moment – he asserts that philosophical ideals ought to be put into practice. Yet in the same essay, he also rebukes the assumption that said philosophical ideals can be cleanly evaluated by assuming that everyone will take action. CON can’t deny one statement and accept the other. 
Indeed, Singer specifically notes that “nor does it [the problem of excessive giving] affect the question of how much an individual should give in a society in which very few are giving substantial amounts" (ibid).

b. Impacts 

CON mentions “impacts” - but impacts, by their very nature, apply to claims of policy, not claims of value. The resolution isn’t a statement that can be empirically tested, or implemented as a piece of legislation. It is, at its core, a statement of right and wrong that applies to us as individuals. 

We can evaluate rightness and wrongness by considering the consequences of our actions (whether good or bad) - but again, this isn’t an impact. It’s a weighing mechanism. And on that note... 

c. Weighing Mechanisms 

CON contends that I have not offered any competing framework, beyond a loose utilitarian framework of maximizing good and minimizing harm. This is somewhat disingenuous, because it ignores the fact that I have objected to his weighing mechanism, not the weights itself. 

To reiterate, I object to the idea than a moral obligation’s veracity can be weighed by the real-world consequences if everyone who could follow it does follow it – as I contended in R2, this fails to consider the essence of a moral obligation truly is, and attempts to derive realistic impacts from an unrealistic scenario. 

d. Status Quo 

Finally, CON asserts that “My impacts don’t manifest in apocalyptic conditions. They manifest now.” However, consider that even if CON’s case is correct (that is, a moral obligation to donate does not exist), then these “impacts” remain – as they have already happened (and donating to the effective social causes that I mentioned will not exacerbate them). Therefore, I fail to see how these “impacts” have any bearing on the truthfulness of the resolution. 

As the resolution refers to an action in the present, it can only be weighed using differences from the status quo – and therefore, criticizing the current status quo has no meaning. So no, I have not “dropped” that. 

II. Topical Assumptions
a. Framework Assumptions 

CON states that evaluating the consequences of universal adoption of a moral obligation is a weighing mechanism, not an assumption. However, it’s clear that by claiming it as a valid weighing mechanism, there is, to some extent, an assumption that it’s a valid premise in the first place. 

Again, I never said that moral obligations cannot be evaluated by their real-world impacts. To quote myself from R2: “A valid moral obligation would obviously do good if it was hypothetically carried out, but whether it actually is effected has nothing to do with its validity.” 

Quick thought experiment: If I want to know whether I have a moral obligation to help my friend cheat on his test because he hasn't studied, would I:

1. Consider the consequences of this action, if I hypothetically carry it out.

2. Actually do it, and see what happens (nothing bad, right)?

3. Assume that everyone in the school helps my friend cheat on his test.

b. Realisticity 

Furthermore, CON appears to take my statement that in the real world, few people actually do (or will) donate, as self-defeating.  

To repeat, however, this is not a policy debate – this is a debate of values. The values of right and wrong are not diminished by real-world action, or lack thereof. In fact, I freely admit that despite strongly believing in my side of the resolution, I donate only around $50 a month to charitable causes (mostly because I’m broke).
c. Group Obligations 

Finally, CON pushes back against my statement that moral obligations apply to individuals, not as groups, by contending that at large scale, the consequences are identical. This is somewhat self-contradicting, however, as he has already accepted my statement that few people actually will donate, regardless of moral obligations, theoretical or otherwise. 

III. Topical Definitions 

a. Def of Moral Obligations 

CON objects to my definition of “moral obligation”, claiming that its moderate formulation (as something that one ought to do, rather than something one is bound to do), is logically inconsistent. However, if he wanted to object to the definition, he had ample opportunity to do so before the debate started. 

He also compares this moral obligation to a “supererogatory” action – however, he ignores a key difference, that for a supererogatory action, it is not bad to not do it. On the other hand, it is morally wrong to not fulfill a moral obligation. 

The moral obligation in question here is better compared to an “imperfect duty” (Kant). They are duties that we should fulfill, but considering the limits of human nature, we can’t be forced to do.  

CON’s so-called double bind is no bind at all, when it comes to values. Something can be the right thing to do, yet we still don’t do it – but does that change anything? 

b. Def of Basic Needs 

CON also cries foul on my definition of basic needs. If he believes the definition is overly broad, this should have been a pre-debate issue. 

Under a utilitarian framework of maximizing good and minimizing harm, failing to meet your own basic desire for self-fulfillment would lead to less long-term benefit – working yourself into an early grave can hardly benefit anyone. 

A stricter definition of “basic needs” (e.g. only that which is needed to survive) could be easily abused by CON, as this would force you to do actions far past the point of marginal utility.  

IV. “Shifting Burdens” 

CON claims that I am “shifting burdens” because I am “suggesting that, if conditions were to change, then the resolution would no longer apply.” Yes, I argued for this – no, this is not shifting burdens.  

Aside from the fact that CON's assumption would lead to logically inconsistent situations, as I showed, the resolution specifically mentions “effective social causes.” If the impact of your donations, due to over-donating, no longer leads to improvement of societal issues (or perhaps even worsens existing ones), then an effective social cause no longer exists, and you have no obligation. By definition, the resolution applies only to cases where you can create an overall benefit through donating. 

V. Institutional Capacity

CON concedes that under the definition, only effective programs are included. He counters that these programs are “unrepresentative.” 

CON has not given any framework to show why lack of representation is more important than saving lives. He gives various examples of how unrepresentativeness causes problems, but he has never proved that these examples were ever effective social causes in the first place. 

Furthermore, many (if not most) effective social causes do not contribute to rentierism. Indeed, reduction of existential risks (e.g. AI, pandemics) - are social causes with some of the highest possible long-term returns, and I can hardly see how this would harm poor countries. 

CON will likely claim that I am pulling a “No true Scotsman” fallacy on him. Don’t let him get away with this. By definition, the resolution assumes an effective social cause. Refuting this is pointless – he can attack them one by one, but at least a single one will always exist. 

VI. Key issues 

To conclude, I will address this debate’s key issues to show why an affirmative ballot is called for. 

First, CON has not argued against my point that if we can help others, without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance, then we should do so. This is a crucial point – for if you, as the judge, buy this, and you also buy that donating excess wealth to effective social causes can help others, then you should clearly vote for me. 

Second, CON has not contended that donating excess wealth is unreasonable – quite the opposite, he has argued, apparently, that the resolution doesn’t go far enough with its moderate formulation of “moral obligations” and “basic needs.” 

CON’s sole contention is based on the idea that if everyone follows the moral obligation, then bad things will happen. This, however, is a faulty framework stemming from policy debate – the kind you might see for a resolution of “The government should force people to donate excess wealth to effective social causes.” Of course, that’s not the resolution. 

As a debate of values, and a debate over an individual-specific moral obligation, it is solely about whether you ought to do this or not. Its rightness or wrongness may be judged by its impacts, as a weighing mechanism, but to judge an individual-specific moral obligation by an unrealistic group scenario is simply disingenuous. 

This concludes my defense and summary. Judges, don’t let CON pick up dropped points in the last round, where I don’t have a chance to respond to them – that would be simply unfair. Nor should CON be able to defend points that he didn’t defend in the 2nd round, as I would also be unable to fairly respond to them. 

Please vote PRO! 


I argued that we should view this debate through the lens of material consequences. Pro’s arguments, throughout the debate, fail to knock this framework down.

First, they don’t present a contending framework, so default to mine. Their arguments inductively point toward a framework, and it would seem to me, especially given how much they care about “preventing bad things from happening,” that it points toward a framework about how much “bad” we prevent. Peter Singer would agree, as his entire point is that modern affluent society treats donations as supererogatory when they should be “obligatory,” that is, necessary. Singer starts out from the assumption that people do not subscribe to his conception of charity. In other words, he perceives that a change in charitable behavior is necessary. Pro’s definition and starting point are different, and that is why their argument eats itself. Far from contesting the definition provided by Pro, I argue that Pro’s case is self-immolating, and that if it weren’t, if Pro accepted a stricter definition, we would still see the material consequences I provided in R1 (i.e., destruction of luxury industries, more authoritarianism, etc.). The same goes for the definition of “basic needs.” Incidentally, the former definition gets tweaked at the last minute by Pro when he brings up “imperfect duties” and suggests that it is “bad” not to donate. This is the definition that Pro put in the rules:

“Something that one ought to do because it is morally right, but is not bound or required to do.”

No mention of the word “bad” here at all. Pro just says that we aren’t “required” to fulfill the moral obligation. I only bring this up because it is a last minute-definition change/clarification. Don’t count it judges.

Singer’s and Pro’s argument both presume that if people (individuals) carry out the moral obligation, bad things will be prevented. In doing so, Pro gets himself stuck in a double bind. Either we weigh the conditions before and after people carry out a moral obligation to see if “bad things” are prevented, permitting me access to my impacts in R1, or we don’t, and Pro’s syllogism collapses because he can’t “prevent bad things from happening” since nobody will save the drowning child anyway. I never concede that my impacts won’t manifest or are unrealistic. I simply assert that Pro cannot have it both ways. They cannot suggest that “bad things” will be prevented, and then create a milquetoast “suggestion” rather than a moral obligation that is without concrete remedy.

I feel that I win on framing alone, but I will continue my summary.

“Basic Needs”

Pro construes my critique of this definition as a mere scruple that should have been settled before the debate. Far from wanting to contest the definition, since Pro posited it, I aim to prove that it sinks their case.

Pro’s syllogism, specifically proposition 3, maintains that luxuries are of minimal moral significance when compared to the good it can do by saving lives. Yet, Pro’s definition suggests that “self-fulfillment” is a basic need. Self-fulfillment, according to Pro, can be found in consumer goods and services, including, but not limited to drugs, trips to Hawaii, MacBook Pros, fancy dinners, and anything that makes someone feel “subjectively” fulfilled. In other words, Pro’s postulation permits unlimited exceptions to his moral obligation, suggesting that purchasing a MacBook is morally akin to saving a life. I’ve said all this before. If people are fulfilling their “basic needs” rather than saving lives, then Pro loses their justification for affirming. Pro doesn’t save lives even if people “hypothetically” carry out the obligation, and “saving lives” is literally the first thing they wrote about in their case.

My Case

Pro concedes most of my case’s vital impacts. They concede that if luxury industries collapse, there will be pandemonium. My framework stands solid, so it is a weighable impact in this debate. My contention 2 is where most of their responses come into play.

Irrespective of how “good” or “effective” a social program is in Pro’s world, the potential for abuse as a result (through rentierism, forcing compliance to an unjust government, etc.) is important. Ethiopia did effectively distribute goods to people, which is why the EPRDF was so powerful. Crucially, what was lost was national sovereignty: the ability, per Hannah Arendt, to make one’s rights have meaning. If social services are not directed by the people they serve, then the people’s rights to “representation” are meaningless, even if the services provide goods effectively. This harm fits into my framework. A loss of sovereignty is a concrete loss. It means vesting supreme power in a regime that might grant bread, but not democracy, not human rights, and not “rights.” My subpoint 2 is another case in point. The lack of national institutional capacity is undermining self-expression of a national plan, since said services are wrapped up in dominant epistemes perpetuated by the West. Even if these programs are “effective,” they are not representative. They may not be what the people want, and if they aren’t, they have no recourse. I’ve said this in my last round, but it was not picked up by Pro.


Pro’s assumption that the moral obligation will change is not what the resolution suggests, even given that “effectiveness” of social programs is included in the resolution. My argument is not that over-donating to effective social programs is making them ineffective, it is that externalities arising from giving to effective social programs make the domestic situation of the donor countries significantly worse. Doctors Without Borders is generally regarded as an effective social program. If we all donated our money to Doctors Without Borders instead of spending money on luxury industries, the organization will function great, it will provide services effectively, but the domestic situation at home will worsen. The worsened situation at home is not due to a lack of “effectiveness” of Doctors Without Borders. Nor is rentierism caused by a lack of “effectiveness.” The reason that the EPRDF gained such a considerable advantage in their election was that their aid was effective.

Voting Issues

a. Framing

Pro offers no substantive response other than it is an “unrealistic” assumption that everyone will abide by this moral obligation, and that it is improper to judge a moral obligation by assuming that people will subscribe to that obligation. First, problems manifest if even half of the population acts upon this obligation, but second, if nobody donates, if nobody fulfils the moral obligation, then Pro’s argument sinks since their syllogism is predicated on “preventing bad things from happening.”

b. Pro’s Self-Destructive Case

Pro’s definitions prevent the hypothetical individual (who act collectively in a group since this resolution is addressed to individuals) from following through on saving lives. There are unlimited exceptions to Pro’s moral obligation. All Pro really does is affirm the status quo, where donating is “supererogatory.”

c. My Case

I don’t really know what else to say here. Pro concedes that the destruction of luxury industries would produce net harm, but then their only response is to double down on the fact that their moral obligation is weak so nobody will donate anyway. I will admit that it is a unique attempt to dodge my impact, but then, as stated above, Pro also prevents their own impact from manifesting.

Vote Con.