Singer*s *Famine, Affluence and Morality* and Moral Impartiality

Report
Singer’s “Famine, Affluence and
Morality” and Moral Impartiality
Themes in Ethics and Epistemology
Shane Ryan
[email protected]
02/10/13
The Issues
●
●
Overt issue: Are we morally obliged to do
much more to end death and suffering from
lack of food, shelter, and medical care?
Underlying issue: What is the status of our
moral obligation to unknown people in distant
lands?
–
Are we just as morally obliged to help such a
starving person as we are to help someone from
our own community or family?
Structure
1. Background Information
2. Singer's Argument
3. Moral Impartiality
4. Non-Moral Considerations
5. Conclusion
1. Background Information
Peter Singer
●
●
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A utilitarian philosopher
Research areas include: utilitarianism, global
justice, animal ethics, bioethics.
Singer gives 25% of his income to NGOs,
most is to help the poor.
1. Background Information
Statistics
- According to the UN, the world already
produces enough food to feed everyone and
could feed 12 billion people. (“PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF
ALL HUMAN RIGHTS, CIVIL,
POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS, INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO
DEVELOPMENT” - Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, 2008, Jean Ziegler.)
- On average, 36 million people die each year as
a direct or indirect result of poor nutrition,
which is more than 1 death each second. (Ziegler
report.)
-
1. Background Information
Statistics
- More than 3 million children died of under-nutrition in 2011,
according to research published by Lancet
(http://www.thelancet.com/series/maternal-and-child-nutrition)
- US$30 billion a year could end world hunger. In 2006 the world
spent US$1 200 billion on arms.
(http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2008/1000853/index.h
tml)
- Information on interpreting hunger statistics:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22935692
1. Background Information
Famine, Affluence and Morality
●
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Written in 1971, in response in part to a
humanitarian disaster in East Bengal (now
Bangladesh), but to people suffering and dying
from lack of food, shelter, and medical care
more generally.
The paper is a seminal work in the global
justice field.
2. Singer's Argument
●
●
Singer argues that we should be doing much more to stop
suffering and death due to lack of food, shelter, and medical
care.
To do so he draws alternatively on one of two principles
–
Strong Principle: If we can prevent something bad from
happening without having to sacrifice anything of
comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do
it.
–
Weak Principle: If we can prevent something very bad from
happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally
significant, we ought, morally, to do it.
2. Singer's Argument
Stronger Principle
●
●
What does “without sacrificing anything of
comparable moral importance” mean?
Singer means “without causing anything else
comparably bad to happen, or doing something that
is wrong in itself, or failing to promote some moral
good, comparable in significance to the bad that we
can prevent.”
2. Singer's Argument
Weaker Principle in Action
●
“If I am walking past a shallow pond and see a
child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull
the child out. This will mean getting my clothes
muddy, but this is insignificant, while the
death of the child would presumably be a very
bad thing.”
2. Singer's Argument
Argument with strong principle
P1: Suffering from hunger, lack of shelter and
medical care are bad;
P2: People are suffering from these things;
P3: Strong Principle: If we can prevent
something bad from happening without having
to sacrifice anything of comparable moral
importance then we should act to do so;
P4: We can prevent something bad (P1) from
2. Singer's Argument
Argument with weak principle
P1: Suffering from hunger, lack of shelter and medical care are
bad;
P2: People are suffering from these things;
P3*: Weak Principle: If we can prevent something morally bad
from happening without having to sacrifice anything of moral
significance then we should act to do so;
P4*: We can prevent something bad (P1) from happening (P2)
without having to sacrifice anything of moral significance;
C1: Therefore, we should act to do so.
2. Singer's Argument
●
●
On Singer's principles:
–
Proximity or distance doesn't make a moral
difference.
–
Whether others are also in a position to help
doesn't lessen one's moral obligation.
Key Point: We are just as morally obliged to
save a starving child in a far away country as
we would be to save the drowning child.
2. Singer's Argument
Other Points
●
Doing what one can in accordance with
Singer's principle(s) is morally required, it's not
supererogatory.
–
●
While people are dying or suffering from a lack
food, shelter, and medical care it would be morally
bad of us to spend money on, say, nice clothes, if
that money could be used to prevent or reduce
such death or suffering.
We should be working full-time to relieve the
2. Singer's Argument
Other Points
●
●
Following the strong principle would seem to
reduce those giving, and perhaps their
families, to the level of marginal utility.
Following the weak principle would lead to a
slowing down of and perhaps the
disappearance of the consumer society.
3. Moral Impartiality
●
●
Should we be doing as much as Singer is
suggesting?
Two bases for disagreement:
–
(i) Denying moral impartiality
–
(ii) Denying moral considerations trump all others
3. Moral Impartiality
(i) Denying moral impartiality
●
If morality doesn't always require impartiality,
then:
●
–
it's not clear that we should be giving up to the
point of marginal utility;
–
our current giving practices may be morally
justified.
3. Moral Impartiality
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Impartiality needn't imply moral impartiality
–
●
Serial killer example (Jollimore, 2011).
“A is impartial in respect R with regard to group G
if and only if A's actions in respect R are not
influenced at all by which member(s) of G benefit
or are harmed by these actions” (Gert 1995).
3. Moral Impartiality
●
Where is the impartiality in moral impartiality located?
●
Options
–
The application of moral rules;
–
In benevolence that may be used as a direct guide to
practical decisions;
–
The content of first-order moral rules. (Hooker 2010).
3. Moral Impartiality
●
Impartiality of benevolence seems to be
assumed as a requirement of morality by
Singer
–
Hence his comment that to him it seems that
morality requires reducing ourselves to the level of
marginal utility.
3. Moral Impartiality
●
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But is such an impartiality a plausible
requirement of morality?
If it's true then one can't morally favour one's
self, one's family, or one's community/country.
–
And yet loyalty to one's family and community are
commonly seen as virtues. (Jollimore, 2011).
3. Moral Impartiality
If moral impartiality is not required
●
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If morality doesn't require the sort of impartiality that Singer
seems to assume, then the implications of Singer's principles
are not as they first appear.
Accepting the strong principle would not necessarily lead to
accepting that one should live at the level of marginal utility.
–
What is of “comparable moral importance” differs
depending on whether moral impartiality is a moral
requirement or not.
3. Moral Impartiality
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The weak principle may also not have the implication Singer
takes it to have.
Weak Principle: If we can prevent something very bad from
happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally
significant, we ought, morally, to do it.
Supposed implication: Following the weak principle would lead
to a slowing down of and perhaps the disappearance of the
consumer society.
3. Moral Impartiality
●
If morality does not require the impartiality
described, i.e. if it's morally permissible to be
partial to one's self, family, country, etc., then
giving to the extent Singer suggests might
involve a morally significant sacrifice.
–
The answer will depend on what level of partiality
is morally permissible.
3. Moral Impartiality
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Defenders of Singer's position may draw on
the drowning child analogy and say:
A position according to which it is permissible
not to save the drowning child in the shallow
pool is not a moral position. If the drowning
child and starving child cases are relevantly
analogous morally, then the same holds for the
starving child case.
3. Moral Impartiality
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But are the cases relevantly analogous
morally?
More obviously analogous:
–
Many starving/malnourished children, many
drowning children.
–
Presumably if one dedicated one's whole life to
the task, foregoing, say, romance, reading novels,
developing friendships, one would still not have
completed the task.
3. Moral Impartiality
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If one holds that it's morally permissible to be
partial to one's self, then presumably having to
forego the niceties of life throughout one's
whole life does represent a significant moral
sacrifice.
We may still say that giving in the way Singer
describes is good, but insist that it's
supererogatory.
3. Moral Impartiality
Response
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Surely there could be circumstances which would be
sufficiently bad such that we would be morally required to
make significant sacrifices (to a level that Singer's argument
seems to implies).
–
For example, in a just war against an evil enemy;
–
opposing genocidal tyranny.
Why think that a situation in which millions die every year from
lack of food, shelter and medical care is any different?
4. Non-Moral Considerations
(ii) Denying moral considerations trump all others
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(i) One may accept the requirement for moral
impartiality;
(ii) and generally accept the moral argument
Singer provides;
(iii) while rejecting the conclusion that we
should be doing much more than we're
currently doing.
4. Non-Moral Considerations
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In other words, one may agree that morally we
should be doing much more but deny that what
morality demands trumps all other
considerations.
–
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Therefore, just because morally we should do p,
doesn't necessarily mean that we should do p.
For more see Susan Wolf (1982).
5. Conclusion
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Singer argues that we are morally obliged to
do much more to end death and suffering from
lack of food, shelter, and medical care.
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His argument draws on:
–
The plausibility of his two principles;
–
His arguments as to the irrelevance of distance
and the inactivity of others;
–
The drowning child analogy.
5. Conclusion
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Argument against his claim that we should be
doing much more:
–
The denial of the requirement of moral impartiality
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and arguing for the moral permissibility of partiality
to self, family, country, etc.;
–
highlighting the demanding nature of what Singer's
principles require
–
and denying the analogy of the drowning child
case.

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