Utilitarianism In Peter Singer's The Most Good You Can Do

1571 Words7 Pages
Many who live in the United States are fortunate enough to have shelter, food, access to clean water, and other basic necessities. We may live in a secure life full of comfort and ease, but we cannot ignore the local and global issues that surround us. Poverty, starvation, climate change, and lack of health care are just a few of the problems that exist in the United States and in other places worldwide. In his novel, The Most Good You Can Do, ethicist Peter Singer addresses these issues and suggests that they can be mitigated by applying utilitarianism as a foundation to give back to others. He believes that during our lifetime, we should focus our time and money on fighting poverty and world hunger and thereby practice what he calls effective altruism. In the following, I will refute Singer’s utilitarian approach to doing the most good by highlighting its demands, overemphasis on consequences, and lack of autonomy. Ultimately, I will argue that Kantianism is a more suitable theory to apply to achieve this goal and that we should direct our attention and obligations to issues other than starvation.
To do the most good, Peter Singer encourages a utilitarian approach to benefit the greatest number of people. However, to effectively accomplish this goal, Singer states that one must practice a critical social value of “earning to give” (Singer 54), even though this can turn an individual into “a machine for the redistribution of wealth” (Singer 45). Charities need money to aid the hungry and poverty-stricken communities, but it places donors in a position where they are viewed as a tool, and one may inevitably reach a never-ending cycle of working and giving. Although this utilitarian-based method would potentially yield ample amounts of money to charity and benefit many people, it is taxing and limits the freedom of choice. Instead, one can adopt Kantian principles to practice a sense of autonomy and still be able to do the greatest good. First, Kantianism characterizes an altruistic donor as an end and not as a means. This differs from Singer’s proposal, as the utilitarian solution suggests the individual to be the link or means of inducing change. In his categorical imperative, Kant makes it clear that one
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