Peter Singer's Drowning Child #10
Long before Google gave us the slogan “don’t be evil,” philosophers have been thinking about what “good” or “evil” behaviour really means. We think that we recognise evil when we see it -- but do we really?
Let’s say you buy a colourful, cheap shirt from an Indian shop in some Western metropolis. Nothing bad about that. Not as bad, surely, as the really terrible things people do, like forced child labour or slavery. Except that this shirt, likely coming from India or Bangladesh, has probably been produced with child labour. The buyer is, after all, the one for whose benefit these industries were created, and therefore a part of the criminal circuit that keeps those children working. When the shirt, fashionably cut and attractively coloured, beckons from the retailer’s rack or the Amazon catalogue, it doesn’t come bundled with the pictures of the kids whose lives were destroyed making it. But perhaps it should.
Am I evil when I buy such a shirt? Probably not. Am I good? Probably neither.