Peter Singer's Argument in Famine, Affluence and Morality

1500 Words6 Pages
This paper explores Peter Singer’s argument, in Famine, Affluence, and Morality, that we have morally required obligations to those in need. The explanation of his argument and conclusion, if accepted, would dictate changes to our lifestyle as well as our conceptions of duty and charity, and would be particularly demanding of the affluent. In response to the central case presented by Singer, John Kekes offers his version, which he labels the and points out some objections. Revisions of the principle provide some response to the objections, but raise additional problems. Yet, in the end, the revisions provide support for Singer’s basic argument that, in some way, we ought to help those in need.
Singer presents his argument specifically in
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I ought to prevent the bad because the mere presence of others does not lessen my duty. The inactions of others have no bearing on what I must do. And, every person in this case has an equal obligation to save the child’s life.
The next premise relates to our individual obligation to give and is derived from the following: Given the equal obligation noted above, everyone should give his or her fair share. If everyone donates appropriately to famine relief in Africa, I would have no reason to give more than my fair share. But, in reality, this is not the case, so I must give more than my fair share to meet my obligation and I ought to give as much a possible up to the point of negative personal consequences to save as many lives as I can. This provides a foundation for premise three (P3) -
Accepting the three premises seems to require us to reconsider the meaning of charity and duty. The obligation to give as much as we can becomes a matter of duty not charity. This upends the notion where charitable giving to those in need is praiseworthy, but failure is not to be condemned. By the force of Singer’s argument, failure to give is wrong because we must do everything in our power to direct every extra resource to those suffering from death and starvation. This changes our conception of giving from optional to obligatory. For example, it would wrong to buy a new shirt or enjoy a fine meal instead of giving to famine relief. Singer’s conclusion is simply This
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