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Singer's Practical Ethics: Poverty

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Singer's Practical Ethics: Poverty St. Augustine once stated, "The superfluities of the rich are the necessities of the poor. When you possess in excess, you possess what belongs to the poor" (Church 3). This quotation expresses that the less fortunate in our world deserve to own a part of all the excess luxuries that are owned by the more wealthy people. Therefore, anything beyond the necessities of life can be considered something that the poor should retain. This idea is very similar to that of Peter Singer, who contends that the injustice of people who live in abundance while others starve is morally inexcusable. He argues that anyone who is able to aid the poor ought to donate in order to help the crisis of world poverty and similar endeavors. Singer explains that if one is already living comfortably, the act of acquiring luxuries to increase pleasure does not entail the same moral importance as saving someone's life. Since he is a utilitarian, he judges whether acts are right or wrong based on the consequences the action brings. Therefore, if the consequence of the wealthy people's failure to donate money is that another poor person dies, then that is just as bad as killing them, since they are consciously letting them die. In his work, Practical Ethics, Singer offers his thoughts about one's obligations to world poverty and suggests what must be done to fix this dilemma. He questions whether it is ethical for people to live a life of luxury while they allow others to barely survive, or even die. ...read more.


The idea of one's duty is fundamental to Kant's beliefs, as it is universally what people should do. Lastly, similar to Mill and Bentham, Singer tries to decrease the pain of the poor and increase their pleasures. Unfortunately, the outcome is that the affluent must always be negatively affected in order for the problem to be fixed. Singer feels that if it is in one's power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing something of comparable moral significance, one ought to do it. Since absolute poverty is bad and due to the fact that there is some absolute poverty that can be prevented without sacrificing something of comparable moral significance, some absolute poverty ought to be prevented. Singer offers the example that if he is on his way to give a lecture and comes across a child who is drowning; he should take the time to save the child if it is in his power to do so. There are consequences of stopping to save the child, for instance he will be late to his lecture and his clothes may get dirty; but they are not of comparable moral significance to saving the life of a child. Singer says, "We have an obligation to help those in absolute poverty that is no less strong than our obligation to rescue a drowning child from a pond. Not to help would be wrong, whether or not it is intrinsically equivalent to killing" (230). Similarly, parents are, for the most part, in charge of their own families: they are expected to feed their own children before others. ...read more.


Four-fifths of the world's population has never made a phone call. The average family in the United States spends almost one-third of its income on luxuries (Church 4). So much of our income is spent on things that are not necessary to our lives and health. However, if the money was donated to an organization, it could mean the difference between survivals. In his work, Practical Ethics, Singer explores whether it is moral to live without contributing money to help people who are dying from hunger, malnourishment, and disease. He recognizes that there are many people who can afford to donate to organizations, but the problem is that they do not do so. He states, "If allowing someone to die is not intrinsically different from killing someone, it would seem that we are all murderers" (222). Singer responded to the multiple claims of the difference between killing and letting someone die, and in conclusion, the consequences are the same: people die whether one intentionally kills someone or passively lets them die. Singer's stance is that the problem is how the wealth is distributed in the world. There is no reason why some people should lead such luxurious lives, while worrying about nonessential lavishness, as opposed to one's survival like those in absolute poverty do. As people who live in a country of absolute affluence, we are all in the situation where we can choose between sacrificing our luxuries to save a child versus living in excess and allowing the poor to die. What if everything that we take for granted was removed from our lives? We would then live day to day as a means to survive, and only then would we truly understand the lives of those in absolute poverty. ...read more.

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