Peter Singer's publication presents a very compelling argument on a worldwide issue that affects a large part of the globe. This essay will examine Singer's argument which implies that if we have the resources to relief people from bad, we are morally obliged to do so. His arguments and conclusion are morally solid, but they are not applicable to the real world. In order to discuss Singer's idea we will evaluate each of Singer's premises, then I will look at the weaknesses of his arguments and finally I conclude that even though Singer's arguments are strong and morally correct they are unrealistic.
The first thing that it is to mention is that Singer's core argument comes from a utilitarian background. Nevertheless it is important to mention that Singer does not argue in favor of a utilitarian society, because he acknowledges that we are not all equal. He recognizes that not everyone will help someone in need because not all human beings have the same moral ethics or standards. Also he asserts the fact that if my brother is starving and a children in the south of Africa is also starving, I will help my brother given that I have a stronger obligation towards him.
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Singer starts his argument by imposing the reader to acknowledge his first premise, "Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care are bad"(696). This premise is undisputable given that nobody could argue otherwise. The effects that are caused by starvation, sickness and death are natural evils which could be eliminated if not prevented. Furthermore he argues that "If is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally to do it." In order to make his point clear he uses an analogy of a child drowning in a puddle. Once again this analogy is a very powerful mechanism given that it is very simple and easy to understand. Basically almost everyone will accept that we are morally forced to save the child, given that the cost to us is very little (just ruining some cloth). This is probably Singers most important and controversial premise, here he is saying that we are morally obliged to prevent something very bad from happening unless if we do so we will sacrifice something of "comparable moral importance". This leads us to the concept of marginal utility mentioned by Singer. According to him we should reduce ourselves to the level in which by giving anything more I will produce more suffer to me or my dependants than that which I am trying to relief. Singer states that this premise leads to the concept of marginal utility because the quantity of help needed in poor countries outweighs the amount of help that it is likely to be provided. If every Westerner was to give a small quantity of money to the relief and prevention of suffer and death the wealthy donors will find no need to give to the level of marginal utility. However, since most of the people will not be willing and able to give donations to those who needed, those who do must take this into consideration in order to establish how much they must donate.
According to Singer most of the donations to famine are moral obligations and could not be categorized as "supererogation (An act that which it would be good to do, but not wrong not to do)". Singer basically proposes that as more people donate to this cause, the mentality will shift changing the perspective of donations from being an act of supererogation to an obligation. Let's not forget the fact that morality as Singer is presenting it is overly demanding and in many ways it creates a conflict with people interests. Also according to Singer we should send all our additional income to those who needed, but this could create an economic problem. What will happen to those people that live from those luxury goods that we no longer need? If most of the wealthy people were to adopt this idea of giving to the point of marginal utility we can get to a point in which by donating too much money we are creating famine and suffering. Also when singer talks about marginal utility he left aside the fact that this marginal utility could point could be different depending from each person point of view and what he or she consider a need.
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Going back to the second premises in his argument Singer shows two different versions of this premise. The first one (mentioned above) could be called the stronger one and ask us to give to the point of "comparable moral importance". The second or moderate version on the other hand advises to give without sacrificing anything "Morally significant". This moderate version advises to give not to the point of marginal utility, but somewhere above that level. Basically Singer is asking the reader to donate more than what he is currently doing, and is leaving it to the readers interpretation.
Singer argues that even though the distance may have certain effects on one's actions, this should not dictate what we ought morally to do. He says that the distance should not have any direct impact on morality. If you have the power or capacity to help someone and save them from imminent death, we ought morally to help them, and if we decide not to we are implicated in his/her death. In order to accept with Singer arguments it's a must to accept this premise as valid, given that if you do not the rest of his argument falls apart. In today's world and with all the technology and resources that we have available distance is no longer a problem, as technology advanced it enabled us to help people all over the globe easily. Also these technological advances help us be aware of the problems of famine all over the globe and contact organizations seeking help. Even though this shows that we have the ability to help it doesn't mean we "ought" to. The problem here is that humans are less motivated to help someone that is far from us than if he is. Also let's not forget the problems that arise when people try to give aid and given to corruption or inefficiency of the institutions the aid that was sent never gets to the people in need.
Singer's conclusion states that the traditional distinction between duty and charity cannot be drawn". In fact, much of what we perceive as charitable action- giving to good causes- is nothing more than what we are required to do as moral agents. This conclusion follows an inductive way of reasoning in which all the premises stated above leads the reader to accept the ending that Singer offers them. It is focused to change the perception that people have towards charity. In today's world charity is considered a generous act and this last statement contradicts what the population thinks. Let's not forget that people think that everything that they have has been earned from them and that just giving money to less develop countries will not necessarily solve the problems that they have. Furthermore if people follow what Singer proposes, they will be forced or morally obliged to work and peruse any activity in the benefit of the people who are in need of help.
One of the main weaknesses that are found in Singer's text is that it fails to integrate in his argument how the real global economy works. I believe that if we all followed Singer's idea instead of saving the child from drowning in the pong, we will all be jumping in the water and drowning to a certain level. If governments where to help this people not just by giving them money, but by protecting and incentivizing people to construct a future for themselves. I do believe that money will not play a key role for their successful development; instead the opportunities they get will become a much more important factor while eradicating famine.
It is to say that Singer proposes a subject which is not only important, but morally very hard to debate. His arguments and conclusion are morally solid, but they are not applicable to the real world. Therefore they become nothing but a good idea without a practical application. His conclusion is too drastic to be able to become applicable, people are selfish individuals, and even though they are willing to help other, their primary interest will always have a higher priority.