Wednesday, April 17, 2013
14-3 Peter Singer on Preventing World Poverty
People do not live in isolation, therefore their happiness is mutually dependent. Do you think it would be better (in terms of crime, disease, quality of life) to live in a city where the rich flourish and the poor beg and die on the streets or in one where everyone has food to eat, medical care, education, freedom and a roof over their head? In that sense, it would be better for our capitalist friend to attend to the needs of the less fortunate before his own comfort as the best way of securing both.
Every man for himself is no way to build a society.
Putting your luxuries before others' needs is making a suspect moral choice - as Singer says, you are making essentially the same choice as Bob. Can you accept that?
The trouble with Singer is, he's right, and painfully so. The incredible level of commitment and sacrifice it would take to abide by that philosophy would put it beyond most, including, sadly, myself - I have no more right to the world's resources than impoverished Africans and yet good fortune allows me to squander my (admittedly pitiful) wealth on trees and books when, from where I am sitting, I could send it halfway round the world to build wells and hospitals - but if I am truly honest with myself then I acknowledge that I am essentially am letting that train roll on.
Singer uses Warren Buffet and Bill Gates as his examples, pointing out that the immense contributions that they are both making to the world wouldn't have been possible if they hadn't invested their money in becoming as rich as they are. Becoming wealthy and then using it to better the world at the end of your life is exactly what Singer's utilitarianism would call for! The point remains, however, that buying a 100 million dollar house for yourself along the way (or any unneeded luxury item) is still indefensible from this perspective.
So why should we be moral?