The problem with yuppie ethics


I Gabriel

publication date



Utilitas 30 (1), 32-53


This paper focuses on the demandingness of morality in an age where spending on luxury goods and extreme poverty continue to exist side by side. If morality grants the wealthy permissions, then what do they allow? If there are limits on what morality may demand of us, then how much does it permit?

For a view Henry Shue has termed ‘yuppie ethics’, the answer to both questions is a great deal. It holds that rich people are morally permitted to spend large amounts of money on themselves, even when this means leaving those living in extreme poverty unaided.

Against this view, I demonstrate that personal permissions are limited in certain ways: their strength must be continuous with the reasons put forward to explain their presence inside morality to begin with.

Typically, these reasons include non-alienation and the preservation of personal integrity. However, when personal costs do not result in alienation or violate integrity, they are things that morality can routinely demand of us. Yuppie ethics therefore runs afoul of what I call the ‘continuity constraint’.

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