Famine, Affluence, and Morality

Five decades later, and yet Peter Singer’s thought-provoking 1972 paper, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” remains as pertinent as the day it was penned. An urgent appeal to humankind’s conscience, the paper navigates the treacherous waters of abundance and philanthropy. Leaving no stone unturned, it makes a compelling case for reassessing our priorities and redistributing our riches to those struggling to stay afloat.

A Wake-up Call for Our Wealth-Fueled World

Though conceived in the era of flared jeans and disco, Singer’s paper serves up an evergreen lesson on probing our priorities and extending empathy. With a world increasingly dominated by materialism and excess, the paper drives home the moral imperative to share our wealth with the less fortunate. As the gap between haves and have-nots widens, and crises of hunger, poverty, and water scarcity continue to plague the planet, Singer reasons that giving generously isn’t just nice-to-do – it’s our moral duty.

Peter Singer’s Ageless Principles

Singer’s paper preaches two main principles:

  1. The Shallow Pond Paradigm: Using the deceptively simple “shallow pond” thought experiment, Singer enforces our moral obligation to help those in need. Who wouldn’t wade into murky waters to save a drowning child, even if it did mean muddying their new threads?
  2. Moral Duty: Singer then broadens the shallow pond realm to encompass the whole wide world, arguing that everyone, no matter how distant, deserves our aid. With countless souls suffering from a dearth of resources, Singer contends that we all have a vested interest in righting these wrongs.

Such principles force us to scrutinize our spending and adopt a more cognizant and compassionate approach to allocating our assets.

Enter: Effective Altruism

Singer’s musings inspired the philosophical school of Effective Altruism, which implores individuals to think critically and strategically about how best to allocate their aid. Proponents of the philosophy assert that giving intelligently is not simply noble, it’s necessary. By optimizing our altruistic endeavors, Effective Altruism demonstrates that we can truly maximize the good that we do.

Fueled by this fusion of empathy and efficiency, champions of Effective Altruism challenge us to reconsider the consequences of our consumptive habits. That extra shot of caffeine or flashy mobile gadget could be cash better spent saving lives.

Diving into the Paper: Honing our Moral Compass

Immersing ourselves in Peter Singer’s rich work reorients our ethical compass and highlights the heart-wrenching disparities many face. By broadening our understanding of our moral obligations, we can lead more empathetic and purposeful lives. In short, Singer’s pioneering paper redefines our role as global citizens and underscores our enduring interconnectedness.

In closing, Peter Singer’s 1972 paper is not only a blast from the past but a call to action for the fortunate few. It urges us to take stock of our status and critically examine our earthly possessions. The paper acts as a powerful prompt to extend a helping hand—financial and otherwise—to those who need it most, and to actively seek avenues to level the playing field, creating a world that’s closer to equal, compassionate, and kind for all.

How Much Should We Give to Save Lives?

One of the main questions that Singer raises in his paper is how much we should donate to charity in order to prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care. He argues that we should give as much as we can without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance. This means that we should give up our luxuries and nonessential goods, such as new clothes, entertainment, travel and so on, and use that money to save lives instead. Singer claims that this is not too demanding, since we can still live comfortably and happily with less. However, some people may find this view too radical or unrealistic. They may wonder how much difference their donations can make, or whether they have other moral obligations besides helping strangers. They may also doubt whether the charities they donate to are effective and trustworthy. These are valid concerns, but they do not justify giving nothing or very little. As Singer points out, there are ways to find reliable information about the impact and cost-effectiveness of different charities, such as using websites like Giving What We Can or The Life You Can SaveThere are also various pledges and campaigns that encourage people to give at least a small percentage of their income, such as 1% or 10%, to effective causes. These are more feasible and flexible options for those who are not ready or able to give as much as Singer suggests. The bottom line is that we should give something, and preferably more than what we usually do, because every dollar we donate can make a significant difference in someone’s life. As Singer writes: “If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.

More on Peter Singer

Peter Singer Is Still Interested in Controversial Ideas | The New Yorker

How did Peter Singer become vegetarian?

Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher, became a vegetarian in his mid-twenties, after a fellow Oxford graduate student told him, over a spaghetti lunch, about the brutality of factory farms. A few years later, in 1973, Singer proposed an essay called “ Animal Liberation ” to The New York Review of Books.

Who is the Australian philosopher of animal liberation?

The philosopher of animal liberation and effective altruism considers cancellation, capitalism, and the pandemic. Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher, became a vegetarian in his mid-twenties, after a fellow Oxford graduate student told him, over a spaghetti lunch, about the brutality of factory farms.

Who published Animal Liberation?

A few years later, in 1973, Singer proposed an essay called “ Animal Liberation ” to The New York Review of Books. Robert Silvers, the magazine’s longtime editor, not only published it; he became a vegetarian, too.

Study Guide: Peter Singer’s ‘Famine, Affluence, and Morality’ | Utilitarianism.net

Singer’s argument: Singer argues that we have a moral obligation to donate to effective charities that can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, or medical care. He bases his argument on a rescue principle that says we ought to prevent something very bad from happening, without sacrificing anything morally significant.

Possible objections: Some possible objections to Singer’s argument are: (1) we are uncertain whether our donations will actually help; (2) we are not responsible for distant suffering, and others should help first; (3) we have special obligations to those who are geographically close to us; (4) we only need to do our fair share of helping; (5) there are special norms for emergency cases that do not apply to ongoing problems.

Singer’s responses: Singer responds to these objections by using a drowning child thought experiment, where we imagine we can save a child from drowning in a pond at the cost of ruining our clothes. He claims that most of us would agree that saving the child is morally required, and that the same reasoning applies to donating to effective charities. He also argues that the differences in salience, repeatability, or emergency do not affect the moral importance of saving lives, but only the degree of blame or praise we might assign to ourselves or others.

The moral philosopher Peter Singer on animals welfare and euthanasia – Vox

Interview with Peter Singer: The document is a transcript of an interview with Peter Singer, a famous philosopher and ethicist who advocates for animal liberation and controversial views on life and death issues.

Animal liberation movement: Singer reflects on the progress and challenges of the animal liberation movement since his influential book Animal Liberation was published in 1975. He compares the different strategies and outcomes in different countries and regions.

Euthanasia and disability: Singer defends his position that parents should have the option of ending the life of their severely disabled infant in some cases. He responds to the criticism and protests from disability rights activists and argues that there is no evidence of serious speech harm or pressure on disabled people to end their lives.

Journal of Controversial Ideas: Singer explains his involvement with the Journal of Controversial Ideas, an academic outlet that allows scholars to present incendiary arguments pseudonymously. He says he values freedom of thought and expression and thinks people have become overly sensitive about speech harm.

Philosopher Peter Singer Defends Animals, ‘Merit’ —And Courting Controversy (forbes.com)

Animal Liberation Now: The book is an updated version of Singer’s 1975 classic that challenged speciesism and promoted veganism. It discusses the progress and challenges of animal rights in the past decades.

Controversial Ideas: Singer is known for his provocative views on euthanasia, disability, and effective altruism. He also co-founded a journal that publishes controversial articles anonymously.

Philosophy Matters: Singer believes that philosophy can change lives by teaching people how to reason, think, and reflect on their choices. He says philosophy can transform what people do with their money, careers, and diet.