Recently I learned that extremely poor people are reasonably happy and optimistic. I also read that developing countries spend less on health care themselves, as a result of foreign donations. So a dollar sent is not exactly a dollar added to existing resources. I'm teaching an article in my environmental ethics class that shows how abolishing hunting reduces the amount of wildlife in African countries, and allowing hunting increases it.
Now I learn (thanks to Dom) that kids in orphanages aren't destined for lives of misery and sorrow, but actually do better than average in adulthood. This is all very annoying, because it means that you basically can't reason about any moral issue without first digging through piles and piles of research. And that's not what philosophy is supposed to be like! Whatever happened to the comfortable armchairs we were promised in graduate school?
Anyhow, here's the post (from a "hot shot research assistant") about orphanages. The author concludes that parents have an obligation (if utilitarianism is true) to give up their "tots." This reminds me of the paradox of retirement in Saul Smilansky's book 10 Moral Paradoxes. Are you in the bottom 50% of a "helping" profession? (Does philosophy count?) Then it seems you're obliged to quit and let someone better take your job.
I'm going to run the orphanage business by my kids when they come home from school and see what they think. If I play my cards right, I should be able to get them to say that I am an exceptional parent, and I'm not just permitted to keep them but obligated. I'm going to take this slowly and choose my words carefully.
Note, if I'm not so exceptional, I just have to send them packing "if utilitarianism is true." A philosophy graduate student recently interviewed at Let Them Eat Meat (the blog is my new guilty pleasure) says utilitarianism is "the laughing stock of ethics." I really don't think that's true. Utilitarianism may not be "the moral truth, period," but it's a point in logical space that all ethicists return to over...and over...and over again. This sums up my attitude toward utiltitarianism: "How could it be true? But then, how could it not be true?" The back and forth stimulates lots of further reflection about the nature of morality.