Peter Singer’s “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”: Three Libertarian Refutations

J. C. Lester 1
  • 1 , Independent scholar London, England


Peter Singer’s famous and influential article is criticised in three main ways that can be considered libertarian, although many non-libertarians could also accept them: 1) the relevant moral principle is more plausibly about upholding an implicit contract rather than globalising a moral intuition that had local evolutionary origins; 2) its principle of the immorality of not stopping bad things is paradoxical, as it overlooks the converse aspect that would be the positive morality of not starting bad things and also thereby conceptually eliminates innocence; and 3) free markets – especially international free trade – have been cogently explained to be the real solution to the global “major evils” of “poverty” and “pollution”, while “overpopulation” does not exist in free-market frameworks; hence charity is a relatively minor alleviant to the problem of insufficiently free markets. There are also various subsidiary arguments throughout.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • 1. Hayek, F. A. The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

  • 2. Lester, J. C. Escape from Leviathan: Libertarianism Without Justificationism, Buckingham: The University of Buckingham Press, [2000] 2012.

  • 3. Lester, J. C. Arguments for Liberty: a Libertarian Miscellany, Buckingham: The University of Buckingham Press, [2011] 2016.

  • 4. Lester, J. C. Explaining Libertarianism: Some Philosophical Arguments, Buckingham: The University of Buckingham Press, 2014.

  • 5. Levendis, J., R. B. Eckhardt, and W. Block. Evolutionary Psychology, Economic Freedom, Trade and Benevolence, Review of Economic Perspectives 19 (2), 2019, pp. 73-94.

  • 6. Lomborg, B. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, [1998] 2001 [English edition].

  • 7. MacAskill, W. Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference, New York, N. Y.: Penguin Random House, 2015.

  • 8. Miller, D, W. Critical Rationalism: A Restatement and Defence, Chicago and La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1994.

  • 9. Pinker, S. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, New York, N.Y.: Viking, 2018.

  • 10. Popper, K. R. Conjectures and Refutations, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, [1963] 1978.

  • 11. Rosling, H., O. Rosling, and A. Rosling Rönnlund. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2018.

  • 12. Simon, J. The Ultimate Resource II: People, Materials, and Environment, Princeton: Princeton University Press, [1981] 1996 (revised).

  • 13. Singer, P. Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (3), 1972, pp. 229-243.

  • 14. Singer, P. The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015.

  • 15. Whitmore, D. The Overpopulation Myth, The Ludwig von Mises Centre,, 2020.


Journal + Issues