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Peter Singer on Famine, Affluence, and Morality

Peter Singer’s argument is valid when viewed from a moral and humane angle. Human life is sacred and should be protected from any threat. Peter argues from the standpoint of famine which is likely to cause death if not addressed. The author states that death or suffering caused by starvation, lack of medical care, and lack of shelter is bad. By providing food, shelter, and care, unnecessary death could be prevented from happening. Thus the preventive measure is to share with those in need as a moral obligation. Failing to donate to persons facing starvation is a passive contribution to their death. The thought that one could have prevented death did not create a feeling of guilt. Guilt is feedback arising from the failure to not attend to a moral obligation. This makes Peter Singer’s argument valid since famine-instigated death can be morally mitigated by those endowed with more resources. Thus, the validity of the argument is founded on the need to donate as a moral duty to preserve lives.

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The Soundness of Peter Singer’s Argument

A successful argument must be valid and sound to inspire confidence and trust. Peter Singer’s argument can be tested for soundness using the author’s premises. There are two premises involved in determining if the position is sound. Donating a small percentage of a person’s wealth can help prevent death has already been qualified as bad in validating Singer’s argument. Although it has value in the donor’s eyes, Peter argues that the donation is not comparable to a person’s life. He posits that “death caused by famine is something bad that happens that we can prevent without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance”. This premise assigns the highest value to human life over material wealth and in this case money. Singer’s belief provides a platform to challenge those blessed with more to donate as a moral duty. He calls money a sacrifice whose value cannot be compared to the sanctity of human life. The amount gives hope and preserves the lives of vulnerable children and women and inspires moral satisfaction in the giver. This premise is true and thus makes Singer’s argument sound.

Peter Singer also uses an analogy of a drowning boy to solidify the soundness of his argument. A critical look into the shallow pond story confirms that people are morally obligated to assist those in need. The move to save the boy comes at a cost as one will have to soil their clothes. However, the value of the clothes is not comparable to the life of the drowning boy. The proximity of the tragedy could be argued as the motivating factor to act morally. However, a person remotely monitoring a mission thousand miles could still have the urge to save a drowning boy were their cameras to capture the boy sinking. This means it should be morally impulsive to prevent famine-related death threatening a child’s life far away. Ignoring a child dying out of hunger since they are far is akin to letting the boy in the shallow pond die, which is morally wrong. The premises and the analogy are strong enough to complete the soundness of Singer’s argument that people are morally bound to assist those who are starving regardless of distance.

Objections to Singer’s Argument

Garret Hardin vs. Singer of assisting the poor

Garret asserts that giving money to the poor will worsen their situation. This argument is shallow in refuting Singer’s argument on the need to donate. Firstly, Garret seems to pre-empt that those who are assisted will continue living in perennial poverty. However, the most vulnerable people in the world are children and women. Women have suffered from an institutionalized culture of gender discrimination while the children are natural dependents. With supportive policies that empower women, the group has the potential of rising beyond their inequities. Age is a hindering factor for children, and the situation will change once they get old enough to fend for themselves. Secondly, Garret pushes the narrative that the donations are purely for consumption. Far from the truth, most of the contributions help fund projects for sustainability. This solves Garret’s solution of teaching the poor how to fish rather than giving them ready fish. This objection thus falls in the face of Singer’s argument. The donations provide a chance for the young to grow and depend on themselves and support programs for sustainable development, thus alleviating poverty in the long run.

Proximity and Distance as a Factor in Donation

Some people believe they are morally obliged to help those they live with more than those far away. In the shallow pond analogy, it is easy to act out of a moral impulse to save the drowning boy in real time. The opposite of this assertion is that a drowning boy miles away is not likely to bother anyone. Morally insensitive as it appears, the statement represents the voices of many people skeptical about donating to charitable courses in aid of people in emerging nations. To objectively counter the narrative of distance being a factor in moral giving, it is necessary to refer to the drowning boy analogy. A case in point is a soldier in the control room coordinating the ground team through cameras carried by drones. The soldier spots a child drowning a few meters from the location of the ground soldiers. While he is miles away from the scene, he will be compelled to signal his colleagues to move in the boy’s direction to save his life. The scenario confirms that people only ignore their moral obligation, which remains no matter the distance, thus nullifying the objection.

Agreeing that people have obligations to those who are near and far does not affect Singer’s argument. The view is in tandem with Jefferson’s declaration that all persons are created equal and thus endowed with some fundamental rights, including the right to life. Helping those at home is of the same moral status as donating to people from developing countries. However, the question to be addressed is whether those at home need help. If the help guarantees the right to life to those being assisted, then the action is equal to the help extended to a person facing starvation. In most cases, it is the people from third-world nations that need help. Unlike governments in developed countries that can assist their citizens, governments in developing nations are often constrained by resources. The situation creates an opportunity for well-wishers in rich nations to perform their moral obligation. While donating, the donor should think that they are saving a life rather than solving a poverty problem created by bad governance. Therefore, preventing death at home and overseas does not contradict Peter Singer’s argument.

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