Does it matter to a utilitarian like Singer whether those in need are goegraphically close or if there are others nearby that can help? Why?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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As an utilitarian, Singer would agree that welfare is the ultimate "good" when it comes to the human condition. Welfare is defined as the "common good" where people do acts of charity and kindness for one another to ensure that we all remain in wellness.

In "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" (1971) Singer speaks about the famine situation in Bengal, and explains that the course of action that we all should take, whether Bengal is next door to our house or faraway, is to take action.

The fact that a person is physically near to us, so that we have personal contact with him, may make it more likely that we shall assist him, but this does not show that we ought to help him rather than another who happens to be further away.

What he is saying is basically that it is a tendency to connect to those whom are closest to formulate the choice of helping. He is basically asking us to override that tendency and to think of everyone in the same way. Moreover, he also states,

If we accept any principle of impartiality, universalizability, equality, or whatever, we cannot discriminate against someone merely because he is far away from us (or we are far away from him).

It is clear that Singer seeks for high moral standards for human behavior. Impartiality is the ability to not take sides or not become biased by a factor such as distance, or culture. Universalizability is the understanding that, as a global society (which we are now, not necessarily during Springer's time), we are all part of one same human race. We are all connected. Equality is the understanding that we are all human, hence, we are all equal. Cultural , ethnic, religious, or physical distance is a factor that can be resolved. It is in the way that we view ourselves and others that the difference between being morally correct actually lies.

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