Singer’s Famine, Affluence, and Morality
Ethics and Moral Reasoning
Instructor Zummuna Davis
January 14, 2013
Singer’s Famine, Affluence, and Morality
In the Peter Singer’s article “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, he discusses the way that people should take moral in their help toward the support of the Bengal famine crisis. Singer states three obligations that would help the Bengal region through the means of a wealthy person, and those individuals living life on a day to day basis. In this paper I will expound on Singer’s goal for each obligation, explain the three counter-arguments with Singer’s response, define and identify marginal utility as it relates to Singer’s arguments, and compare the ideas of duty and charity. At the close of this paper I will state my own personal response to Singer’s ideas on famine, affluence, and morality.
Singer’s goal in his article is to inform people of the famine of a Bengal, starving country, how they can decrease the starvation of a society if contributions were given by all individuals or those with the greater financial statuses. Singer suggests that it should be moral to help those in need without causing the same effect upon them. Singer gives three counter-arguments that explain his ideas on the fact for his moral reasoning. Singer states, “he shall argue that the way people in relatively affluent countries react to a situation like that in Bengal cannot be justified; indeed, the whole way we look at moral issues—our moral conceptual scheme—needs to be altered, and with it, the way of life that has come to be taken for granted in our society” (Singer, 1972). Singer’s argument can be summed as: 1. Death and suffering caused by lack of nourishments, home dwellings, and/or healthcare issues are bad. 2. If someone can prevent something bad from happening without giving up something of equal moral importance, then they should. 3. One must contribute much as they possibly can to avoid the problems of death and suffering in disturbed populations.
Singer’s first counter-argument is “if it is our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it” (Singer, 1972). In this statement he questions our ideas and thoughts on equality toward helping those to prevent bad things from happening to them or ourselves. Singer suggest that we should only prevent bad things from happening and not good things, especially if we are not sacrificing anything important to us or having bad results from helping those in need. Singer also argues that if he is unable to consider the needs of the people in Bengal that his money is not going to do a great deal for the people nutritional, medical, and dwelling needs. Singer uses the example of a drowning child in a shallow pond. He weighs the thoughts whether if it was worse if his clothes got wet and dirty or the death of the child. In this example Singer is assured that the death of the child is the worst thing that could happen, and he should prevent it by saving the child’s life.
Singer’s second counter-argument is that distance should not make any preferences on the choices you make or the only person who could do anything. Whether it be a distance of 20 feet, 20 yards, or 20 miles makes no moral differences. Singer states, “That we should not discriminate against someone because of how far they are away” (Singer, 1972). One thinks that it is easier to help people in need that are closer in distance than those that are far away. Singer uses the example with the child drowning in a shallow pond again, at this time he is not the only person near the pond and sees the child. He question if we should point to other people and ask if they could rescue the child or look at our own self and save the drowning child. The moral of this is judge no one, and do the deed yourself. Singer also uses the example...
References: Narveson, J. (2004 March 22). The Journal of Ethics: Is world poverty a moral problem for the wealthy? Volume 8 No. 4 pp. 397 – 408. Published by Springer. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/25115804.pdf?acceptTC=true
Singer, P. (Spring 1972). Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 229-243 [revised edition]. Retrieved from http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1972----.htm
Specter, M. (1999 September 6). The New Yorker: The Dangerous Philosopher. Page 46. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1999/09/06/1999_09_06_046_TNY_LIBRY_000018991
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