Outline of PETER SINGER: “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”
Singer’s main argument:
1. Lack of food & shelter & medicine is bad.
2. 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.
3. It is in our power to prevent this bad thing.
4. We can prevent it without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance.
Conclusion: Therefore, we ought to prevent lack of food & shelter.
5. The only way to prevent lack of food & shelter without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance is to give maximally (or at least very much more than we currently do).
CONCLUSION: Therefore, we ought to give maximally (or at least very much more than we currently do).
Objection: Singer’s analysis conflicts with our prevailing standards of charity. (Charity is supererogatory, i.e., beyond duty & beyond what is obligatory.)
Reply: People need to rethink their views about "charity."
Objection: Singer’s analysis requires us to do a great deal for others.
Reply: Yes, that’s what morality requires. In fact, it's a very traditional view; it was advocated by Thomas Aquinas!
Objection: Direct relief just a short-term solution. It simply delays additional problems.
Reply: In that case, we need to give direct relief now and, in addition, promote population control.
Objection: Singer’s ideas will hurt the economy.Reply: But how much MORE can we do until that happens? This does not support the status quo (a mere 1% going to famine relief). Instead, it opens the door to our discussion of how far to increase relief. We should give to the level that does not reduce spending in a consumption-based society (like ours) below the point that would start to decrease what we have available to give. So expecting people to give 1% is far too little, but expecting 25% from everyone would be too much.
Last updated August 26, 2009