Peter Singer

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In Famine Affluence and Morality, Peter Singer argues we need to change our moral conceptual scheme. What are the revisions he feels we need to make? How does he decide these revisions? Are there any consequences?

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Peter Singer, born in 1946, is an Australian moral philosopher.  His essayFamine, Affluence, and Morality was influenced by the famine in Bangladesh, which hit its apex in 1974.

In essence, he is saying that those who have the ability to save another human being should do so....

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Peter Singer, born in 1946, is an Australian moral philosopher.  His essay Famine, Affluence, and Morality was influenced by the famine in Bangladesh, which hit its apex in 1974.

In essence, he is saying that those who have the ability to save another human being should do so.  His analogy is that of saving a drowning child who is right in front of you.  So, I will continue by referencing that analogy.

One revision of the behavior that was allowing the Bangladesh situation to continue was that of the perception that the people would have to give up something that was rightfully theirs.  If we save that drowning child, then we will get wet and ruin our clothes. This appeared to be an acceptable consequence.  He was suggesting that you give out of your abundance, and not to the point that you or your loved ones starved.  Back to the analogy: Save the child, but do not drown in the process. 

Another revision that was proposed was that each individual who could do something within their means should do so.  If there are other people watching that child, is it acceptable that you all do nothing simply because no one else is jumping in to save her? The only consequence here is that it only takes one person to save the child, yet everyone got wet.  This too is acceptable, because all that matters is saving the child.  

Global outreach was another consideration in changing the way we think. What if that child was NOT right in front of us?  Is our obligation lessened? Do we not need to run to her aid, or alert someone closer to the child's plight?  The results are that we have sacrificed nothing.  We did not leave ourselves, or family, in peril.  However, we were able to save the drowning child.

One more reconsideration would be to assign the duty to the government. There is a lifeguard, that we have paid, who should save this drowning child. Due to mitigating circumstances, their actions are not enough.  We must still do more in order to rescue the unfortunate child.

Finally, we must get past the attitude that our actions will only "put a bandage" on the situation.  Another child will come along and need to be rescued.  It might even be the offspring of the child we just saved.  It appears to be an exercise in futility.  However, allowing the youngster to drown is not acceptable. We are parts of a global human race. As such, we are obligated to do as much as is individually possible—without endangering our own welfare—to see that humanity is sustained humanely.

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