Philosopher wins -- and donates -- Eureka ethics prize

August 19, 2008

University of Adelaide philosopher Professor Garrett Cullity has won the 2008 Eureka Prize for Ethics Research - and, in keeping with the message behind the book that earned him the award, he says he will donate the $10,000 prize money to aid agencies.

Announced at an awards ceremony in Sydney, the prize is part of the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, the "Oscars of Australian science".

Sponsored by the Australian Catholic University, the Eureka Prize for Ethics Research recognizes excellence and originality in ethics that is directly applicable to our lives.

Professor Cullity's book, "The Moral Demands of Affluence", examines what has been called "the great moral challenge of our time" - whether and to what extent well-to-do individuals are obliged to help the vast numbers of poor people around the world. The book arrives at a novel conclusion that is both demanding and moderate.

In his book, Professor Cullity argues that a life well lived should be the goal of every human, rich and poor. He says that it is not morally wrong to live a life of rich personal fulfillment. Nevertheless, helping others is also part of being human, and those who have affluent lives should acknowledge this and find a way to help others within their own financial means.

In other words: "It's okay to have a life - and to help someone else to have one too".

"We shouldn't be apologetic about leading good lives of our own. Since the point of helping other people is to enable them to have a fulfilling life, it can't be wrong for you to have a fulfilling life of your own," Professor Cullity says.

"Having said that, the conclusion I argue for is a more demanding one than most of us manage to live up to. It looks at the difference between what really makes a life better and the sorts of luxuries we might spend money and time on.

"Can we seriously put our hands on our hearts and say: 'My life has been made better for having spent this money on myself?' There's a point at which it becomes pretty difficult to defend spending resources on yourself, rather than making a monetary sacrifice - such as to an aid agency - that won't leave you any worse off in the long term but will help other people very significantly," he says.

Professor Cullity, who donates approximately 5% of his income to aid agencies, says: "The serious question we've got to ask ourselves is: 'How much worse off would I really be if I put my hand in my pocket and helped other people?' For most of us, the answer is: 'Not significantly, if at all'.

Professor Cullity says it is an honor to win the Eureka prize, but he's not going to keep the cash. "I am going to give the money away. It would be the height of hypocrisy to write a book on this topic and then to pocket a healthy check and spend all of that on myself.

"The award is designed to help draw attention to issues of significant ethical importance, and I'm pleased that it will give people an opportunity to discuss and debate this particular issue more broadly."
"The Moral Demands of Affluence" is published by Oxford University Press.

University of Adelaide

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