Type: Literary Analysis
Pages: 4 | Words: 950
Reading Time: 4 Minutes

In his article Famine, Affluent and Morality, Peter Singer shows what measures the developed world is doing to alleviate famine, yet the solutions are within their reach (Pogge, 2008). He uses an example of the famine that occurred in Bengal in 1971, when people were afflicted of hunger but no one did anything to mitigate it.

The first argument in Singer’s article is that affliction and death sparked by lack of food, shelter or medical care is neither ethical matter nor moral in the modern society. Singer believes that most people would agree with him, as a big population in the world hates suffering (Singer 1972). Singer further asserts that efforts to avert disasters from happening should not lead to erosion of aspects and resources which are essential for maintenance of morality of society (Singer, 1972).

The third argument is founded on the belief that evidence for sincere commitment to alleviate poverty is in sacrifice that causes pain to an individual in a bid to help those less fortunate. Singer supports this claim by an illustration of a drowning child. Although the child might have erred and drowned, the moral interest and commitment to help the child should not be withheld because of the failures and mistakes done by him. The moral responsibility to save life will thus override the faults of an individual in need of aid.

Countering Singer’s Position. The first counter-argument takes an account of proximity or distance. That is, you can only give a helping hand if you are close to the situation that needs intervention. Singer asserts that we cannot avoid helping others simply because they are far away from our reach or we were unaware of their sufferings. According to Singer, the process of globalization has ably nullified this counter-argument. In addition, he claims that aid organizations are now numerous and efficient. Besides, the media has really made it possible for everyone to be aware of people and places where aid is needed. A good example is the role the media, played in reporting Bengal poverty situation. Ignorance can therefore not be used as an excuse for failing to help people in need of our help.

The second counter-argument is based on the current view of morality. There are those who have maintained that they do not have moral obligation to help the needy at the cost of their comfort (Brooks, 2011). Singer differs with this argument and reasserts that our morality and ethics should not be contained by the need for personal physical and psychological comfort. Preferring a luxurious life while others are suffering is not only immoral, but also unethical, according to Singer (Pogge, 2008).

The third counter-argument in relation to altruism is based on the assumption that the amount of help, which is given to someone, does not matter as the fact of help remains the most vital. Singer argues that every person has a duty to donate money to poverty-stricken fellows. He asserts that an affluent man offering 5% of his wealth to famine relief as charity should not to be considered as charitable. This is just part of his/her moral duty (Singer, 1972). Moral judgment requires such a person to give even more since he is endowed with much, compared to others of his caliber.

Marginal Utility. There are two types of marginal utility. These are positive and negative marginal utilities. Positive marginal utility is when the consumption of an additional unit causes an increase in total utility, while the negative marginal utility occurs when the consumption of an extra unit diminishes the total utility (Gwartney, 2009).

Singer applies the concept of marginal utility in explaining how an additional giving would causes more suffering to oneself. However, he claims that if everyone could offer to give more money to those suffering, there would be more than enough for refugees. They would, thus, enjoy camp life where they benefit from relief food, while others will be straining to sustain them. Therefore, in order to avoid this negative marginal utility, individuals should just give the least they can, just to satisfy the basic needs for the refugees.

Duty and Charity according to Singer. The controversial issues in Singer’s article are duty and charity. There are some acts which the world has always regarded as charity, which Singer asserts should be classified as moral duty. For example, it was the moral obligation of the rich countries and individuals to alleviate famine in Bengal. When affluent countries offer money, food and other items to support people in Bengal, they are just performing their duty and not being charitable. Pogge (2008) explains that it is the duty of rich nations to avert poverty in poor countries, since they are partly responsible for it. In the case of the drowning child, it is only morally charitable to overlook one’s comfort in order to help the drowning child and save the life. This is, thus, a case of charity and not the duty as in the first instance.

Personal Opinion against Singers Claims. It is not our moral obligation to offer help to the extent that Singer presents it. Altruism is purely based on personal beliefs and philosophical values, which are never universal (Cullity, 2006). It is therefore not a mandatory moral responsibility to help people who are stricken by poverty and famine. Therefore, failure to offer aid to effort to help those who are suffering is not equivalent to betrayal or selfishness as Singer asserts (Singer, 1972). People should not be coerced to work strenuously so as to relieve poverty. This might lead to other medical complication, causing more financial burden (Pogge, 2008). Aid should therefore be given virtually to compliment the effort of those who are in need, but should not be obligatory.

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