Nowadays, people still debate on crucial issues of moral philosophy, since people have different views on both ordinary things and fundamental matters. This branch of philosophy helps individuals to determine what is considered to be morally wrong or right. It plays an essential role in society and allows people to build relations. In this work, the ideas of a famous philosopher Peter Singer will be reviewed. A personal opinion on the issues will also be provided.
It is a controversial issue whether an individual should help others who face difficult situations and struggle to have enough food or are not provided with medical care and shelter. In his book, Peter Singer regards charity as an obligation (415). Thus, if a person has an opportunity to help others, and this assistance does not contradict their moral values, they ought to do it. For example, if one wants to go to the cinema and spend 10$ on it, they should remember that this sum could save someone from famine. Therefore, one ought to give their money away if they can afford it. From my point of view, such behavior is right from an ethical perspective. I believe that an individual with the amount of money which is enough not only to sustain themselves but also to support others who are in critical need of basic necessities should help them. I admit that it may be difficult to always bear in mind that other people might need your financial aid and sacrifice your interests for others’ sake. However, it seems to be a matter of habit, and our moral behavior can be changed with time.
A large number of people from third world countries do not have fundamentals and suffer from low quality of life. In most cases, this situation is the result of a gap and system deficiencies, rather than laziness, lacks, or the guilt of suffering people. On the one hand, the rich have enough resources to make the life of the poor better. More affluent individuals and nations are capable of preventing adverse occurrences and reducing suffering.
On the other hand, the rich may argue that they are not obliged to help others. The fact is that the wealthy fail to provide financial assistance for the needy or allocate fewer resources than they could. Singer offers an example and writes about Bengal’s situation, where people “die from malnutrition and lack of food” (413). It would not cost much for such affluent countries as Great Britain and Australia to lift Bengalis out of poverty. However, the amount of aid provided is low and insufficient to improve the situation. According to Singer, such behavior is morally inappropriate, and people have an obligation to stop others suffering. It does not mean that they sacrifice anything to make the lives of other people better, but “prevent something very bad from happening” (Singer 412). In my opinion, the current attitude towards providing aid to developing countries needs to be changed as we should think not only about our well-being but also remember about others.
Singer underpins this point of view with an illustrative example. If someone sees a child drowning in a shallow pond, they cannot pass by and leave them dying because this action amounts to a crime. This situation also has details: the person wears expensive clothes and going into the water means that they will be ruined. However, the right decision here is clear – the passer-by should save the child as the value of someone’s life cannot be compared to the clothes’ value even if they are expensive. It also does not matter whether there are other people around you who could help the child or not, as it is your moral duty to do it. If everyone thinks that the situation does not concern them, no one will save the child, and he or she will die.
One of the factors which influence people’s readiness to help is distance. It may be difficult to realize that there are people somewhere far away from us suffering from hunger and dying each day. For us, it might seem like something abstract and even unreal and, therefore, shall not concern us.
Moreover, it may be easier to determine what sort of assistance a person near us needs. Nowadays, the society is aware of the problems in developing countries and what should be done to solve them. Hence, the argument about the absence of information appears to be unwarranted. Singer asserts that nowadays, “there is no possible justification for discriminating on geographical grounds” (414). According to him, it makes no difference whether someone who needs assistance is near us or they are many miles away – we ought to help both. Moreover, helping a person miles from our home can be much more necessary than a person living next to us. In addition, today, a charity for great distances is the most possible and convenient than ever, since money can be donated to an electronic bank account. This point of view is close to me as I agree that people may need aid no matter how far they are and whether we know them personally or not.
People tend to justify themselves on the grounds that there are others who do not help. This approach is false as the lack of assistance from other people does not absolve the responsibility of a particular individual who does not help. Singer states that people should give as much money as they can and do not think that others will invest the same amount. He notes that otherwise, “there will not be enough to provide the needed food, shelter, and medical care” (Singer 414). Therefore, it is a common mistake to rely on other people, which may lead to a lack of assistance. Moreover, this approach is unfair, taking into account the financial inequality in the world and every country. For example, one person donates his or her money to charity, depriving himself of simple pleasures, such us going to the cinema, and another gives the same amount of money but buys himself a new but unnecessary car.
The solution to the problem is to donate as much as possible, provided that one can afford this sum without causing significant damage to their budget. As for me, this approach is reasonable because if everyone relies only on themselves in helping others, all people will be under equal conditions and allocate as much money as they can afford. Moreover, it seems unfair to count on others and think that somebody else will give more than you. I consider that it is not right to shift responsibility for your actions on other people.
According to Singer, there is no significant distinction between charity and duty. He regards helping other people as our moral duty and not as “an act of charity” (415). However, making donations to charity organizations is often viewed as a gesture of goodwill in our society. This approach may lead to the wrong attitude towards assistance as people may treat it as something extraordinary and not as their duty. In many countries, today, there are tax benefits for profit for those people who donate significant amounts of money to charity. This approach signifies charity as something unique but a normal obligation. Moreover, such a decision is unfair to those people who cannot donate large sums of money, but at the same time, they give a significant part of the budget to them.
Singer believes that “we ought to give money away, and it is wrong not to do so” (415). He also distinguishes buying clothes out of necessity and doing it because one just wants to look fancy. Instead of spending money on something one does not need, they could allocate it for fighting famine in poor nations. It should be noted, however, that Singer does not deny the existence of charity, and his arguments relate only to distinctions between charity and duty. As far as I am concerned, I agree with this point of view. When millions of people die from starvation and low healthcare quality, it is our duty to help them and save lives.
Nevertheless, in most cases, people do not behave in the way Singer considers right from an ethical perspective. It could be argued that our society has already formed a particular moral scheme, so it will be difficult to alter it. For instance, people do not normally criticize others for wasting money on things they do not need to survive instead of giving it to people who suffer from starvation. Singer states that “the prevention of the starvation of millions of people outside our society must be considered at least as pressing as the upholding of property norms within our society” (416). However, some commentators argue that Singer’s ideas are hard or even impossible to put into practice due to people’s psychology.
Singer responds that people should attempt to change the present moral behavior by influencing other’s opinions and spreading ideas. The author states that “If the stakes are an end to widespread starvation, it is worth the risk” (Singer 417). From my perspective, it is always better to act and try to change the current situation for the better, even if it seems impossible. In addition, there is a fashion for what people wear, watch, and use that spreads and changes quite quickly. This fact means that a “fashion” for charity and changing the psychology of people through the dissemination of ideas is also possible.
All in all, Singer’s ideas made a significant contribution to the development of ethics. His works have exerted a substantial influence on the current state in this field. The philosopher drew attention to one of the simplest solutions to moral problems of inequality, hunger, and poverty on a global scale, which has a natural embodiment. For this purpose, people only need to abandon concerns only about their well-being and pay attention to the problems of others. Moral philosophy allows people to assess their conduct and understand what should be done to make it right in terms of ethics. I believe that the issues which Singer raises in his works and interviews are worth discussing and sharing as they may change our society for the better.
Singer, Peter. “Famine, Affluence, and Morality.” Moral Philosophy: A Reader, edited by Pojman, Louis P., and Peter Tramel, Hackett Publishing, 2009, pp. 412–420.