Explain Singer's argument for why we have a duty to help the global poor.

1 Answer | Add Yours

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

For Singer, the ethical call to help alleviate the condition of poverty rests in the individual's ability to help another.  Essentially, Singer is making the argument that if an individual has an excess of wealth and can give to alleviate the suffering of another person, there is little utilitarian reason not to do so.  His example of a child drowning in the muddy pond helps to illuminate this point in his 1971 essay "Famine, Affluence, and Morality:"

...if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it. An application of this principle would be as follows: if I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing.

This becomes the basic reason why there is a duty to reach out and help those in poverty.  Singer's argument is directed at a capitalist system in which obscene wealth resides next to intensely brutal poverty.  

In his book, The Life You Can Save, the argument is more practical.  Singer makes the argument that a life in the world can be saved with an average cost of $650 to $1100.  This is not extraordinary cost.  Singer makes the argument that in a capitalist system with intense proliferation of wealth, such an amount can be well marshaled in saving a life.  In these contexts, Singer's argument is that individuals that can have a moral responsibility and ethical duty to represent their voice in stopping the crushing condition of poverty that exists in the world.

if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it. An application of this principle would be as follows: if I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,919 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question