Around the world, in many third world countries, human suffering is caused by many causes like ethnic cleansing, starvation, war, poor living conditions, natural disasters, and more. According to Peter Singer (1972) in his article “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” people and governments have not properly done enough to help others in emergency situations, like the situation in East Bengal during the 1970’s where nine million refugees were starving due to lack of food, medical care, and shelter (Pg. 229).
This is one example used in Singer’s article to illustrate his argument about the need for moral responsibility to help others in the world. We will examine Singer’s article “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” to help us understand his view on the moral responsibilities which includes his goal and argument, his counter-arguments and responses, his meaning of concepts like marginal utility and how it relates to his argument, compare how duty and charity change in his view of the world, and lastly, I will give my own personal response on his argument.
The goal Singer is trying to achieve is to make others aware of the need for activism and moral response in such emergencies like the one in Bengal, India. According to Singer (1972) “…I shall argue that the way people in relatively affluent countries react to a situation like that in Bengal cannot be justified; indeed, the whole way we look at moral issues- our moral conceptual scheme- needs to be altered” (Pg. 230). This can only mean that people and governments in prosperous nations like the U. S. and Great Britain can help others in less developed countries in by offering any type of assistance and there is no excuse for not helping out.
In justifying his argument, Singer offers three counter-arguments and then justifies his position by offering a valid response to these arguments. The first counter argument Singer uses is the fact that people who live far away are more difficult to assist than those who are close by, thus creating a difficult decision for others to send assistance (Singer, 1972). In response, Singer stated “From the moral point of view, the development of the world into a "global village" has made an important, though still unrecognized, difference to our moral situation.
Expert observers and supervisors, sent out by famine relief organizations or permanently stationed in famine-prone areas, can direct our aid to a refugee in Bengal almost as effectively as we could get it to someone in our own block ” (Singer, 1972, pg. 232). The next counter argument Singer proposes is about equality in responsibility. Singer suggests there is also a problem with majority obligation and equality in distribution. Singer’s counter claim is that since there are more people involved that can send relief that there should be no problem in sending a small share of assistance (Singer, 1972).
Singer responds by saying “It is a view that is an ideal excuse for inactivity; unfortunately most of the major evils-poverty, overpopulation, pollution-are problems in which everyone is almost equally involved” (Singer, 1972, pg. 233). This can create a more equal distribution of relief to help assist those in dire need of assistance. Even though Singer states we must strive to give more, we certainly don’t want to endanger our own economic situation that may hurt ourselves and our own family which Singer defines as “marginal utility” (Singer, 1972, pg. 34).
With giving a little more relief we must make sure it doesn’t take away from our own selves. The last counter argument involves charity and moral duty. Singer’s counter argument is that most people view that it is acceptable for some to give to charity and it is acceptable for some not to give and not be accountable for it (Singer, 1972). In Singer’s world, moral duty and charity are both the same concept. Furthermore, he admits that everyone should give help and that one should give instead of spending on things that are not necessarily based on need. Singer, 1972).
Singer states “From the moral point of view, 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” (Singer, 1972, pg. 237). This is detrimental in Singer’s view as an appropriate action of all people in affluent societies. Next, I will give my personal view and why I support Singer’s argument. In my personal opinion I support Singer’s argument of moral responsibility. I think affluent societies like the U. S. ave the obligation to help not only individually but the government should be involved in helping people in other countries who need outside help and it should be our moral duty to help. Moral duty has been a philosophical question for some philosophers.
Ethics can help explain whether a certain action is right or wrong (De Jager, 2002). Evaluating Singer’s article one can see that there is a call to action and a need to help people in dire circumstances that do not have the ability to help themselves. I believe in the Golden Rule-“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If I or my family were starving in a refugee camp, I would hope somebody would be kind enough to lend me some food or medical supplies until I could find a better station in life to repay them.
Today there are many organizations that are set up in areas like Bengal, India that help unfortunate people in the area. I think if everyone would give something to help these organizations it would improve conditions like mentioned afore. I would also include virtue ethics which deals with moral righteousness of a person; it is a virtue to be generous to others (Mosser, 2010). The best moral attitude to take is to send relief as Singers has proposed. In conclusion, we examined Peter Singer’s article and found his goal was to persuade people to help disaster victims like the one in Bengal, Indian that happened in the 1970’s.
We included the counter arguments Singer used to support his own argument and found that marginal utility was the extent in which a person or family could contribute to help others without endangering their own circumstances (Singer, 1972). Next we examined Singer’s view of charity and moral obligation and discerned that he thought there were no differences in comparison of the two. Lastly, I gave my own personal response to Singer’s argument and concluded that I supported his views.