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.

[Later, he says “without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant,” which weakens the requirement placed on us.]

For example, getting wet in order to save a drowning child.

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.

 

Return to Course
Home Page
  
Return to Theodore Gracyk's Home Page 

Last updated August 26, 2009