Singer’s Famine, Affluence, and Morality
In the Peter Singer’s article “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” he discusses the way that people should take moral in their help towards the support of the Bengal famine crisis. Singer states three obligations that would help the Bengal region through the means of a wealthy person, and those individuals living life on a day-to-day basis. In this paper I will describe Singer’s goal for each obligation, explain the three counter arguments with Singer’s response, define and identify marginal utility as it relates to Singer’s arguments, and compare the ideas of duty and charity. At the close of this paper, I will state my own personal response to Singer’s ideas on famine, affluence, and morality.
Singer’s goals in his article are to inform people of the famine of a Bengal, starving country, how they can decrease the starvation of a society if all individuals or those with the greater financial statuses gave contributions. Singer suggests that it should be moral to help those in need without causing the same effect upon them. Singer gives three counter-arguments that explain his ideas on the fact for his moral reasoning. Singer states, “he shall argue the way people in relatively affluent countries react to a situation like that in Bengal cannot be justified; indeed, the whole way we look at moral issues, our moral conceptual scheme needs to be altered, and with it, the way of life that has come to be taken for granted in our society” (Singer, 1972). Singer’s argument can be summed as: 1.Death and suffering caused by lack of nourishments, home dwellings, and/or healthcare issues are bad.
2.If someone can prevent something bad from happening without giving up something of equal importance, then they should. 3.One must contribute much as they possibly can to avoid the problems of death and suffering in disturbed populations. Singer’s first counter-argument is “if it is power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it” (Singer, 1972). In this statement, he questions our ideas and thoughts on equality towards helping those to prevent bad things from happening to them or ourselves.
Singer suggest that we should only prevent bad things from happening and not good things, especially if we are not sacrificing anything important to us or having bad results from helping those in need. Singer also argues that if he is unable to consider the needs of the people in Bengal that his money is not going to do a great deal for the people nutritional, medical, and dwelling needs. Singer uses the example of a drowning child in a shallow pond. He weighs the thoughts whether if it was worse if his clothes got wet and dirty or the death of the child. In the example Singer assured that, the death of the child is the worst thing that could happen, and he should prevent it by saving the child’s life.
Singer’s second counter-argument is that distance should not make any preferences on the choices you make or the only person who could do anything. Whether it be a distance of 20 feet, 20 yards, or 20 miles makes no moral differences. Singer states, “That we should not discriminate against someone because of how far they are away” (Singer, 1972). One thinks that it is easier to help people in need that are closer in distance than those that are far away. Singer uses the example with the child drowning in a shallow pond again, at this time he is not the only person near the pond and sees the child. He question if we should point to other people and ask if they could rescue the child or look at our own self and save the drowning child. The moral of this judge no one, and do the deed yourself. Singer also uses the example if everyone gave X amount of money to save the famine of the Bengal society.
Singer replies that the problem with this is that some people think that enough funds have been giving to the needs of hunger, shelter, and medical care to the famine crisis, in this aspect not all people would give, and the country would still remain as it is. “This persons with very low incomes may merit our sympathy is accepted, however, sympathy leads to charity, rather than to the involuntary exploitation of the better off (Narveson, 2004).” Singer also says that people with maintainable amount of wealth should give more than the X amount asked for, being that the predicament that some are not able to give or they can give less than the amount asked for. “Another, more serious reason for not giving to famine relief funds is that until there is effective population control, relieving famine merely postpones starvation” (Singer, 1972).
The final and third counter-argument is that Singer question exactly how much we should be giving away. In this counter-argument, Singer talks of giving until one reaches marginal utility; or in the case where suffering would have greatly increased or decreased in his self, if he gave more than one can afford to give. One should avoid bad things from happening or sacrificing too much to help those in need. Giving until you reach your marginal utility is only required.
“Singer believes we are obligated to give money away until our sacrifice is of comparable moral importance to the agony of people starving to death (Specter, 1999).” This is our duty to do so. An example Singer uses is that one should not go out and buy expensive clothes just to keep up with society when you already have a vast amount of clothes in your closet. He states that the famine relief is in a more critical condition instead of the purchase of clothes, that one does not need. Sacrificing the purchase of clothes would not be a bad thing, however, the sacrifice of hunger in a starving nation or town would be devastating. One should sacrifice their wants rather their needs, marginal utility.
One should do whatever works best for them. “This may explain the origin and continued existence of the present division between acts of duty and acts of charity (Singer, 1972).” Charity is a voluntary act that one commits without a sense of obligation. Duties on the other hand rise up from specific obligations and are things in which are told to us what we must do. “However, the category of mutual aid and duty to rescue, important though it is, does not touch the subject before us (Narveson, 2004).”
Within the ideas that Singer gave assist with the Bengal Famine Relief Fund, I personally agree with donating to a charity, and it should not be a duty. Today, with the economic crisis of the world, it is hard for most middle class families to survive from check to check; if that at all. I suggest that one should give to a charity because it allows them to give what they can afford. No matter the distance one should help those in need, if anything at all, like the surplus of food in the pantry unlike by family members, clothes that are too big or too small, and sometimes money matters. To accommodate a duty on someone with little or no wealth to a famine society would place our town and cities in the same dilemma.
As a logical reasoning, I would like to use two individuals standing in front of a supermarket holding a sign asking for food and/or money. The first individual is nicely dressed in fashionable name brand clothes and shoes, jewelry, and a cell phone. The second individual is dressed in raggedy unclean clothes, no shoes, no jewelry, no cell phone, and of course has a bad odor from being untidy. It is more apt that people would help the second individual, because of their looks and smell; you can see that this person has gone without food for days and a bath for weeks. This person looks homeless and near starvation. However, the first individual looks like they just got paid and wants attention or to see who would exactly help them, they want to feed off others than spend their own money. This is a reason why I think it is better to give to a charity.
Charities have specific people that they help; they are known to help those in need and not just beggars. Even though, it is hard at times to tell who exactly needs the help from others, being that the first individual could have just received the clothes from a charity and/or wealthy individual to seek for jobs to sustain his needs of hunger, medical, and dwelling needs. Both individuals also could have been in the same position, and one just had the benefits to obtain clothes and other needs from a charity. It is not our moral beliefs to judge one for what they have or ask for in the time of need.
Charity is spread abroad, whereas in duty is obtain from within.