CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF PETER SINGER’S “FAMINE, AFFLUENCE AND MORALITY”
In his article “Famine, Affluence and Morality” Peter Singer gives a seemingly devastating critique of our ordinary ways of thinking about famine relief, charity, and morality in general. In spite of that very few people have accepted, or at any rate acted on, the conclusions he reaches. In light of these facts one might say of Singer’s arguments, as Hume said of Berkeley’s arguments for immaterialism, that “… they admit of no answer and produce no conviction.” While I do think that Singer’s considerations show that people should do considerably more than most people actually do, they do not establish his conclusions in their full strength or generality. So his arguments admit of a partial answer, and once properly qualified may produce some conviction. In “Famine. Affluence, and Morality,” Peter Singer stresses the possible revisionary implications of accepting utilitarianism as a guide to conduct. He does not actually espouse utilitarianism in this essay, rather a cousin of utilitarianism. He observes, in the world today, there are many people suffering a lot, leading miserable lives, on the margin, prone to calamity whenever natural disasters or wars or other cataclysmic events strike. Many millions of people live on an income equivalent to one dollar a day or less. What, if anything, does morality say one should do about this? Singer proposes two principles—a stronger one he favors, a weaker one he offers as a fallback. The Strong Singer Principle: “If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.” The Weak Singer Principle: “If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.” Consider the Strong Singer Principle. He explains that “by without sacrificing anything of comparable...
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