⌚ Famine, Affluence, And Morality By Peter Singer

Monday, August 09, 2021 12:45:27 PM

Famine, Affluence, And Morality By Peter Singer



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Famine, Affluence, and Morality - Peter Singer - Talks at Google

Humans have divided themselves into different subunits based on geography, language, religion, and other considerations. Arguably the most important division is that of nationality. The nation-state requires certain resources from its members and in return it provides numerous benefits including security. When faced with the decision of which group of suffering people to assist, an individual is most likely to give priority to those nearest to him. In addition to this, proximity is relevant since it contributes to the efficiency with which aid is delivered.

Human suffering is an undesirable condition that should be eliminated through all possible means. The paper highlighted the strengths in the argument made by Singer. His premise that alleviating suffering is the moral thing to do is supported by utilitarianism. Singer is also right in observing that the rich can afford to help the suffering without having to make huge sacrifices. In addition to this, the premise that a person should not enjoy his excess money is unfair since the individual is entitled to enjoy the rewards of his labor.

While it can be agreed by all people that human suffering is undesirable and efforts should be made to eliminate it, the suggestions made by Singer are not the answer. Solutions that consider the rights and entitlement of the benefactor would be more appropriate and moral. Paul, Minnesota, , pp. Need a custom Essay sample written from scratch by professional specifically for you? We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. If you continue, we will assume that you agree to our Cookies Policy. Table of Contents. Learn More. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Removal Request. If you are the copyright owner of this paper and no longer wish to have your work published on IvyPanda. Assisted Suicide Abortion's Pros and Cons. Cite This paper. Select a referencing style:. Copy to Clipboard Copied! Reference IvyPanda. Bibliography IvyPanda. Basically this objection is saying that if we, as a society work so incredibly hard to fight against the misery in the world we will get burned out and ultimately not be able to serve to the best of ur ability. The idea behind Singers assumption is to make giving our moral duty and not just something we do out of charity.

However, this is a very difficult thing for people to grasp. Singer knows this is a radical idea for most of his audience, so to prove that he is not as crazy as he seems, he brings in support. Both of these quotes come from influential doctrine and people of deep faith, who are well respected and known, this gives Singer credibility. The quotes above are basically what Singer is asking his audience to do. Following his statements of support, Singer addresses some other points against his argument. The first point is that if people are giving so much privately it takes the responsibility off of the government and the noncontributing members of society.

If a government sees that people are giving to relief funds it will feel less responsible to give aid to the struggling country or people. Singer then adds to this by saying there is no way to actually tell if giving voluntarily actually takes way from government aid. In addition, by not giving one is still failing to prevent suffering from happening. So it is better just to give. Besides giving people can be campaigning and raising awareness for the suffering that is happening.

In addition, Singer says the governments of affluent nations should be giving way more than they are. If of course all of the above is true, then people should be campaigning and giving voluntarily to show their governments that this is a serious issue that needs addressing. This point is saying that if money is given to relieve the famine in Bengal, it will only be temporary fix. The population will continue to grow at exponential rates and there will be more food shortages and people will starve. Singer opposes this point in the same way he does the first, by showing there is no way to know that our giving is going to lead to more starvation, so why not help out now. An application of this principle would be as follows: if I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out.

This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing. The uncontroversial appearance of the principle just stated is deceptive. If it were acted upon, even in its qualified form, our lives, our society, and our world would be fundamentally changed. For the principle takes, firstly, no account of proximity or distance. It makes no moral difference whether the person I can help is a neighbor's child ten yards from me or a Bengali whose name I shall never know, ten thousand miles away. Secondly, the principle makes no distinction between cases in which I am the only person who could possibly do anything and cases in which I am just one among millions in the same position.

I do not think I need to say much in defense of the refusal to take proximity and distance into account. The fact that a person is physically near to us, so that we have personal contact with him, may make it more likely that we shall assist him, but this does not show that we ought to help him rather than another who happens to be further away. If we accept any principle of impartiality, universalizability, equality, or whatever, we cannot discriminate against someone merely because he is far away from us or we are far away from him.

Admittedly, it is possible that we are in a better position to judge what needs to be done to help a person near to us than one far away, and perhaps also to provide the assistance we judge to be necessary. If this were the case, it would be a reason for helping those near to us first. This may once have been a justification for being more concerned with the poor in one's town than with famine victims in India. Unfortunately for those who like to keep their moral responsibilities limited, instant communication and swift transportation have changed the situation.

From the moral point of view, the development of the world into a "global village" has made an important, though still unrecognized, difference to our moral situation. Expert observers and supervisors, sent out by famine relief organizations or permanently stationed in famine-prone areas, can direct our aid to a refugee in Bengal almost as effectively as we could get it to someone in our own block. There would seem, therefore, to be no possible justification for discriminating on geographical grounds.

There may be a greater need to defend the second implication of my principle - that the fact that there are millions of other people in the same position, in respect to the Bengali refugees, as I am, does not make the situation significantly different from a situation in which I am the only person who can prevent something very bad from occurring. Again, of course, I admit that there is a psychological difference between the cases; one feels less guilty about doing nothing if one can point to others, similarly placed, who have also done nothing. Yet this can make no real difference to our moral obligations. Should I consider that I am less obliged to pull the drowning child out of the pond if on looking around I see other people, no further away than I am, who have also noticed the child but are doing nothing?

One has only to ask this question to see the absurdity of the view that numbers lessen obligation. It is a view that is an ideal excuse for inactivity; unfortunately most of the major evils - poverty, overpopulation, pollution - are problems in which everyone is almost equally involved. Each premise in this argument is true, and the argument looks sound. It may convince us, unless we notice that it is based on a hypothetical premise, although the conclusion is not stated hypothetically.

This, of course, is the actual situation. So there will not be enough to provide the needed food, shelter, and medical care. It might be thought that this argument has an absurd consequence. Since the situation appears to be that very few people are likely to give substantial amounts, it follows that I and everyone else in similar circumstances ought to give as much as possible, that is, at least up to the point at which by giving more one would begin to cause serious suffering for oneself and one's dependents - perhaps even beyond this point to the point of marginal utility, at which by giving more one would cause oneself and one's dependents as much suffering as one would prevent in Bengal.

If everyone does this, however, there will be more than can be used for the benefit of the refugees, and some of the sacrifice will have been unnecessary. Thus, if everyone does what he ought to do, the result will not be as good as it would be if everyone did a little less than he ought to do, or if only some do all that they ought to do. The paradox here arises only if we assume that the actions in question - sending money to the relief funds - are performed more or less simultaneously, and are also unexpected.

For if it is to be expected that everyone is going to contribute something, then clearly each is not obliged to give as much as he would have been obliged to had others not been giving too. And if everyone is not acting more or less simultaneously, then those giving later will know how much more is needed, and will have no obligation to give more than is necessary to reach this amount. To say this is not to deny the principle that people in the same circumstances have the same obligations, but to point out that the fact that others have given, or may be expected to give, is a relevant circumstance: those giving after it has become known that many others are giving and those giving before are not in the same circumstances.

So the seemingly absurd consequence of the principle I have put forward can occur only if people are in error about the actual circumstances - that is, if they think they are giving when others are not, but in fact they are giving when others are. The result of everyone doing what he really ought to do cannot be worse than the result of everyone doing less than he ought to do, although the result of everyone doing what he reasonably believes he ought to do could be.

If my argument so far has been sound, neither our distance from a preventable evil nor the number of other people who, in respect to that evil, are in the same situation as we are, lessens our obligation to mitigate or prevent that evil. I shall therefore take as established the principle I asserted earlier. As I have already said, I need to assert it only in its qualified form: if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it. The outcome of this argument is that our traditional moral categories are upset. The traditional distinction between duty and charity cannot be drawn, or at least, not in the place we normally draw it.

Giving money to the Bengal Relief Fund is regarded as an act of charity in our society. The bodies which collect money are known as "charities. The charitable man may be praised, but the man who is not charitable is not condemned. People do not feel in any way ashamed or guilty about spending money on new clothes or a new car instead of giving it to famine relief. Indeed, the alternative does not occur to them. This way of looking at the matter cannot be justified. When we buy new clothes not to keep ourselves warm but to look "well-dressed" we are not providing for any important need. We would not be sacrificing anything significant if we were to continue to wear our old clothes, and give the money to famine relief. By doing so, we would be preventing another person from starving.

It follows from what I have said earlier that we ought to give money away, rather than spend it on clothes which we do not need to keep us warm. To do so is not charitable, or generous. Nor is it the kind of act which philosophers and theologians have called "supererogatory" - an act which it would be good to do, but not wrong not to do. On the contrary, we ought to give the money away, and it is wrong not to do so. I am not maintaining that there are no acts which are charitable, or that there are no acts which it would be good to do but not wrong not to do. It may be possible to redraw the distinction between duty and charity in some other place.

All I am arguing here is that the present way of drawing the distinction, which makes it an act of charity for a man living at the level of affluence which most people in the "developed nations" enjoy to give money to save someone else from starvation, cannot be supported. It is beyond the scope of my argument to consider whether the distinction should be redrawn or abolished altogether. There would be many other possible ways of drawing the distinction - for instance, one might decide that it is good to make other people as happy as possible, but not wrong not to do so. Despite the limited nature of the revision in our moral conceptual scheme which I am proposing, the revision would, given the extent of both affluence and famine in the world today, have radical implications.

These implications may lead to further objections, distinct from those I have already considered. I shall discuss two of these. One objection to the position I have taken might be simply that it is too drastic a revision of our moral scheme. People do not ordinarily judge in the way I have suggested they should. Most people reserve their moral condemnation for those who violate some moral norm, such as the norm against taking another person's property.

They do not condemn those who indulge in luxury instead of giving to famine relief. But given that I did not set out to present a morally neutral description of the way people make moral judgments, the way people do in fact judge has nothing to do with the validity of my conclusion. My conclusion follows from the principle which I advanced earlier, and unless that principle is rejected, or the arguments are shown to be unsound, I think the conclusion must stand, however strange it appears. It might, nevertheless, be interesting to consider why our society, and most other societies, do judge differently from the way I have suggested they should. In a wellknown article, J. Urmson suggests that the imperatives of duty, which tell us what we must do, as distinct from what it would be good to do but not wrong not to do, function so as to prohibit behavior that is intolerable if men are to live together in society.

Moral attitudes are shaped by the needs of society, and no doubt society needs people who will observe the rules that make social existence tolerable. From the point of view of a particular society, it is essential to prevent violations of norms against killing, stealing, and so on. It is quite inessential, however, to help people outside one's own society. If this is an explanation of our common distinction between duty and supererogation, however, it is not a justification of it. The moral point of view requires us to look beyond the interests of our own society. Previously, as I have already mentioned, this may hardly have been feasible, but it is quite feasible now.

From the moral point of view, the prevention of the starvation of millions of people outside our society must be considered at least as pressing as the upholding of property norms within our society. It has been argued by some writers, among them Sidgwick and Urmson, that we need to have a basic moral code which is not too far beyond the capacities of the ordinary man, for otherwise there will be a general breakdown of compliance with the moral code.

Crudely stated, this argument suggests that if we tell people that they ought to refrain from murder and give everything they do not really need to famine relief, they will do neither, whereas if we tell them that they ought to refrain from murder and that it is good to give to famine relief but not wrong not to do so, they will at least refrain from murder. The issue here is: Where should we draw the line between conduct that is required and conduct that is good although not required, so as to get the best possible result?

This would seem to be an empirical question, although a very difficult one. One objection to the Sidgwick-Urmson line of argument is that it takes insufficient account of the effect that moral standards can have on the decisions we make. Given a society in which a wealthy man who gives 5 percent of his income to famine relief is regarded as most generous, it is not surprising that a proposal that we all ought to give away half our incomes will be thought to be absurdly unrealistic. In a society which held that no man should have more than enough while others have less than they need, such a proposal might seem narrow-minded. What it is possible for a man to do and what he is likely to do are both, I think, very greatly influenced by what people around him are doing and expecting him to do.

In any case, the possibility that by spreading the idea that we ought to be doing very much more than we are to relieve famine we shall bring about a general breakdown of moral behavior seems remote.

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