Singer Critique: Famine, Affluence, and Morality
PHI208: Ethics and Moral Reasoning
Instructor: Christopher Kinney
October 21, 2013
In Peter Singer’s 1972 article Famine, Affluence, and Morality, he describes the dire situation that nine million refugees faced in East Bengal in 1971 and urges the wealthier, or affluent, nations to take immediate and long term moral actions to stop the spread of extreme global poverty. With this, he offers a philosophical approach to a new world where, instead of giving to charity, everyone living in these affluent nations ought to make it their duty to give anything of excess to those suffering across the globe and live at the marginal utility, which he would prefer. He also offers a less drastic option of moderate assistance wherein those who are able to assist ought to, as long as it does not create a similar moral dilemma. Critics argue that rewriting the moral scheme from charity to a concrete duty would be far too drastic and would unfairly condemn those who choose to “live the good life”; that too much effort would cause us to become less effective; and finally, that if everyone were in similar positions, then an equal amount would be given by all, but the result would actually be less than if some gave everything they had while others gave nothing. In comparing Singer’s strong version of giving until the marginal utility, his moderate version of assisting without causing a morally significant dilemma to oneself or family, and the counter-arguments of his critics, it is my opinion that Singer’s arguments are rather solid, but still extremely hard to grasp on a realistic level. If it is stated that it is our moral obligation to give away all of our excess to those in need, who will use that excess immediately, we would essentially be risking everyone’s long-term survival by taking all excess goods and money out of production. Additionally, it is not a matter of...
References: Schmidtz, D. (2000). Diminishing marginal utility and egalitarian redistribution. Journal of Value Inquiry, 34(2-3), 263-272. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/203931144?accountid=32521
Singer, P. (1972). Famine, affluence, and morality. Philosophy & Public Affairs,1(3), 229-243. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2265052
Troop, D. (2011). The Tithe That Binds: a Reasoned Campaign Against Global Poverty. Chronicle Of Higher Education, 57(24). A8-A9
Yule, J. V., Fournier, R. J., & Hindmarsh, P. L. (2013). Biodiversity, Extinction, and Humanity’s Future: The Ecological and Evolutionary Consequences of Human Population and Resource Use. Humanities, 2(2), 147-159.
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