Provide and explain three different reasons to support Singer's main argument that if an individual has an excess of wealth and can give to alleviate the suffering of another person, there is...

Provide and explain three different reasons to support Singer's main 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 (from Peter Singer’s paper “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”).

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gsenviro | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Peter Singer in his 1972 essay "Famine, Affluence and Morality" argued that to alleviate the misery of people (famine in West Bengal, India was his influence for writing this article), affluent people should give aid to the point of marginal utility, i.e. to the point they themselves or their families are brought to the same level as the affected ones. A rather softer version of the argument states that aid should be given to the extent that no significant moral loss takes place. 

In other words, 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. We can support this argument with the following:

1) An eye for an eye leaves the world blind. A common argument against Singer's argument is that poor nations should not spend on non-essential items (growth, development, war, etc.) when more pressing concerns like starvation exist. Since the poor nation spends on these items, we are not morally obligated to aid it. However, coercing a nation to stop its growth to prevent starvation will only lead to postponing the misery, since at some future date it will happen again due to the lack of development. Hence we should provide the aid to alleviate the suffering of the less-fortunate.

2) Another reason to support Singer's ideas is to mitigate the difference between the "haves" and "have-nots". Many developed countries are facing extremism and pressure from lesser-developed foreign powers. An example is the case of the emergence of Islamic extremism which is threatening the developed world and several countries of the developing world (including India). This emergence is in part due to miserable conditions in those countries (highlighted by low literacy and high mortality rates resulting from bad health and poverty). If at the right time aid had been provided to support the lives of the people in these countries, there is a possibility that the same people would have felt differently and been better suited to take a non-hostile perspective. Hence, aid to the poor is sometimes an investment in our future. The same can be thought of as a factor in reducing potential future outbreaks of diseases in developing countries.

3) On a more philosophical note, aid to the possible extent and its appropriate use will ensure the division between the poor and the affluent will be less and in the future those helped will be able to help others. So the aid can also be thought of as a reducing investment over time, yet providing benefits for a long time. 

4) Singer also provides a convincing argument that those who refuse to give aid in spite of their ability to must believe that governmental support is forthcoming and if not, it is the moral responsibility of the person to ensure that it does. So morality can also be used as a convincing argument in favor of Singer's argument.

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