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Famine, Affluence and Morality by Peter Singer - Essay Example

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Peter Singer begins his seminal essay “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” in 1971 writing about East Bengal, now Bangladesh, whose people had just suffered a terrible natural disaster. …
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Famine, Affluence and Morality by Peter Singer
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Download file to see previous pages Peter Singer begins his seminal essay “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” in 1971 writing about East Bengal, now Bangladesh, whose people had just suffered a terrible natural disaster. The situation he describes is one that could be told forty years later in the same words and same context, which is to state that little has changed in bridging the gap between the world’s poorest people and the richest societies economically, or even with regard to the most basic aspects of standard of living such as adequate food, shelter, and health care. In building his argument that people who are with the means to assist are morally obligated to help the suffering, Singer builds his rhetoric on the equivalency of proximity when it references human emergency. In his view, it is the same if a child is drowning in a pond in front of our eyes, or if the child is dying of hunger or lack of health care on the other side of the world – the individual is morally obliged to help, even rush to assistance, even if it means personal risk or loss of property. Other authors such as John Arthur and Michael Slope use examples that extend the premises of Singer’s arguments to absurd ends, arguing that his position is invalid because it places unbearable and self-destructive burdens on an individual’s sense of moral obligation that can never be met practically. The critical tension between these two positions is important because forty years after the essay published by Singer, little has changed in bridging the gap between rich and poor globally, and billions live on a dollar a day unable to afford the aspects of life that most people in the West take for granted. Personally, I agree with Singer’s position and believe that an individual should sacrifice every aspect of selfishness and attachment to serve the needs of the poor, the weak, and the suffering wherever they are found. However, similar to Singer’s critics, I believe that this view posits an image of sainthood or perfection of altruism as the highest human goal, and as such, would not be able to be manifest practically unless the goals of society are set on producing saints as individuals, rather than productive members of a capitalist system through which some by very design will profit over and control others. In the context of early globalization as described by Singer in 1971, the “Third World” poor consisted of billions living in the most terrible conditions of early industrialization around the world. Starvation, hunger, disease multiplied in conditions of overpopulation lacking basic sanitation facilities, clean drinking water, and even the most basic aspects of health care and education. The last forty years have seen developing nations such as China, India, Brazil, and others make enormous strides in building the collective economic prosperity and standard of living for people compared to during Singer’s time. They did this generally through a combination of capitalism and State-socialist development, NGO and charity groups working with communities directly to provide development services in some of the worst regions. Yet, when 3 billion human beings live on $1 per day and lack the vital resources of healthcare, education, clean water, sanitation, and nutritious food, there is still a global emergency when it comes to poverty. Despite activism, Millennium goals, and innumerable “we are the world” type of campaigns, the problem persists, and Singer’s words are as poignant for modern readers as for his contemporaries in the early 1970’s in America. Critics like John Arthur state that there is no moral obligation to total, egalitarian wealth distribution, yet this is the inevitable extension of Singer’s argument. If there is a moral obligation to respond to the human crisis of global poverty as a true emergency, Arthur states, then the Western countries must stop at nothing, even the total depletion of their treasuries, to seek the development of overpopulated countries such as ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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