In "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" Peter Singer argues that affluent individuals, in fact, almost all of us are living deeply immoral lives by not contributing to the relief and prevention of famine. The causes of famine are various and include human wrongdoing, but this doesn't matter, according to Singer. What matters is that each of us can minimize the effects of the famines that are now occurring and can take steps to prevent those that might occur. As we go about our daily business, living our comfortable lives, millions of people, including hundreds of thousands of children throughout the world, are suffering and dying. Singer believes, however, that it is a moral obligation to relieve famine. He says, "At the individual level, people have, with very few exceptions, not responded to the situation in any significant way. Generally speaking, people have not given large sums to relief funds; they have not written to their parliamentary representatives demanding increased government assistance; they have not demonstrated the streets, held symbolic fasts, or done anything else directed toward providing the refugees with the means to satisfy their essential needs" (789). Singer thinks that we, as a society, have done little to help those in need and could actually contribute more.
Singer's argument is motivated by the single 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" (790). Singer is not saying merely that it would be a good or charitable thing to relieve famine, although, of course, he believes that it would be a good thing. He is going beyond that. He is saying that it is obligatory and morality requires it. It is wrong not to contribute to famine relief. Singer rejects the distinction between the obligatory and the supererogatory, and he is claiming that there is no line between justice and charity. He writes, "The traditional...
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