Peter Singer: "Famine, Affluence,
Singer’s Main Aim
Singer tries to show that we, in affluent countries like the U.S., have a moral obligation to give
far more than we actually do in international aid for famine relief, disaster relief, etc. He thinks that we need to drastically alter our
life in order to help others.
II. The argument for international aid:
1. “Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad” (231).
General principle (moderate version): “[I]f it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.” (231).
I can prevent people dying from starvation by giving more money to
famine relief than I do. [Implicit premise].
By giving more money to famine relief than I do, I would not be
sacrificing anything morally significant. [Implicit premise].
5. Therefore, I should give more to famine relief than I do.
III. The General Principle (Moderate Version)
Drowning child example (231). Singer simply calls it an "application" of the principle, but it has been widely construed to provide support for the principle.
The unimportance of proximity/distance (232).
The unimportance of their being multiple agents who could but do not help (232-233).
IV. Duty and Charity
Our current way of thinking:
beyond the call of duty
it's wrong not to do it
it's good to do it, but not
wrong to refrain from doing it
what's morally required
refraining from murder
giving to famine relief (until
one is sacrificing something morally significant)
According to Singer, we need to revise drastically our way of thinking. Giving to famine relief should be thought of as a
duty, as wrong not to do, as morally required, and so forth.
V. Stronger version vs. more moderate version of the general principle
Moderate version: “[I]f it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.” (231)
Strong version, which Singer favors: If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening,
without thereby causing something worse to occur, we ought, morally, to
do it. (based on 241)