Human suffering happens every day allaround us. Even though we don’t notice, it still exists.
In “TheSinger Solution to World Poverty,” Peter Singer constructs many arguments in his proposal toend world poverty. Singer uses severe means to achieve his goal of convincingreaders to change their lifestyle and values. His emotional and forceful toneis not effective to convince his audience. As I examine this issue deeper Inotice that two other writers have different beliefs on this subject. W.H.Auden, and Gwendolyn Brooks describe suffering in unique ways.
Auden’s illustrationis a misleading truth that misrepresents reality just like Singer’s. Brooks,however, understands the meaning of suffering from her past experiences. In the article “TheSinger Solution to World Poverty,” utilitarianphilosopher Peter Singer adopts a remedy to the disparity of wealth among theworld population. Singer believes that to save lives lost as a result ofpoverty due to circumstances such as, malnutrition, dehydration, and illnesses,wealthy Americans should donate money to overseas relief organizations (Singer860). Singer explains his theory by stating whatever money you’re spending onluxuries, not necessities, should be given away (Singer862). Certainly, obliged bythe sincerity of Singer’s belief, I am still cautious to give away all my earningsafter reading this article.
The clear omissions in his argument make his petitionfor aid feel demanding. Singer’s proposition fails in his neglect ofpersonal responsibility and free will, by obligating his readers to adopt hisproposal. Peter Singer voices his opinion as if the situations causingthe suffering of those in poverty, or the pain itself is the liability of hisreaders. For instance, he attempts to prove that those in a position of dangeris the responsibility of anybody aware of the situation. Yet, there are peoplearound the world in harm and danger at all times. His idea is essentially thatwe all become saviors devoting every resource to ease the pain of mankind. Evenif we were, which troubles are we most compelled to solve? According to theUnited Nations, 2011 report, Honduras has the world’s highest murderrate in the world (CNN.com).
Because, I’m currently aware of this situation is itmy responsibility to help lessen those murders? Is dedicating myself toreducing Honduras murders more or less important than saving third worldchildren? What Singer’s argument lacks are the basics of free will, which are significantfor civilization to exist. Instead of holding individuals accountable for theirsituations and allowing citizens to choose how they will contribute to humanity,Singer places the problems of those individuals into the hands of thosecitizens and concerns them more. Inthe poem “Museedes Beaux Arts,” Audenillustrates the indifference of humanity to individual suffering with the useof two paintings. Like Singer, Auden fails to see the value in suffering. Hedoesn’tstop to imagine the people’s opportunities inherent in their challenges. His onlythought is to remove what he sees as the problem. Furthermore, Auden never evenacknowledges that there might be issues underlying human suffering which gobeyond saving a drowning child that need to be addressed before putting otherlives at risk. Instead of doing the more difficult task of concentrating on theinitial cause of the problem, Auden wants to figure out why humans are apathetictowards other people suffering.
Both authors solutions are black or white.Either you’re putting your life in danger, or you allow people to die becauseyou hold the value of your life greater than those in need. Nobody wants to seepeople suffering, but you cannot tell someone that it is their moralresponsibility to stop it. Another fact both writers fail to take intoconsideration is the truth. Both Singer and Auden fail to stop and ask, “Am I the rightperson to solve their problems?” or even, “How can I help them find a solution?” To me, thisshows incredible arrogance to think that you hold the resolutions to the painof people thousands of miles away.
If you don’t understand the full scope of theirtroubles in the same way they experience them, how can you even begin to thinkthat you have a solution? Perhaps, both writers “outside looking in” resolutionswill only produce more of the problem. “TheBoy Died in My Alley,” written byGwendolyn Brooks symbolizes the problemof personal responsibility. In the poem, the cause of the death of a black boyremains unmentioned. Indeed, no possible cause is thought about. Brooksencourages readers to consider the various ways in which young black men sufferingend up dead. The narrator accepts a sorrowing responsibility for the death ofthe boy, and in doing so demonstrates the dreadful consequences of failing toact against cruelty. Moreover, the narrator insists upon accountability, notself guilt.
Without individual responsibility no moral theory can even exist. Forexample, Peter Singer feels personal guilt over the predicaments ofimpoverished victims around the world. Instead of putting the blame where itbelongs, Singer attempts to circulate his mistaken guilt by getting readers toshare it with him. Though, Brooks understands that the situation is out of herhands.
For instance, there is no way she could confront all the killers to stopthem. If the perpetrators are not held responsible for their actions, how cananyone else be to blame? The main problem with Singer’s solution is hissuggestion that we “might,” be able to help people in poverty. However, he isobligating his readers to solving the problem. You cannot morally requiresomeone to a solution for a problem that they did not cause. In Peter Singer’s book “HowAre We to Live?” he believes there are too many peoplemotivated by narrow self interests and greed.
Peter Singer wants each ofus to live an “ethical life.” This is a life where you must imagine yourself in the situation of allthose affected by your actions. This, he thinks, will result in recognizing theimportance of doing something about the suffering of others, before we evenconsider promoting other possible values. In the book review by Robert Frazier,he analyzes how Singer’s writing is unclear inwhat an ethical life is. Frazier believes the kind of life Singer wants us tolive is one where we adopt a kind of negative utilitarianism.
At first glance, RobertFrazier thought the title of the book to be revealing. For example, he states thatinstead of Singer asking how we should live, it asks how we are to live. Thisis because Singer believes there is not an objectively good way to live.
Additionally,there are two problems associated with Singer’sviewpoint on living an ethical life. The first problem is the presentation ofSinger’s choices. The only contrast offered bySinger is between an ethical life, and a life where narrow self interests isthe dominant value. However, Frazier argues that Singer merely mentions anddoes not discuss in detail other competitors to an ethical life.
The second problemFrazier discusses is how Peter Singer’sargument relies too heavily on examples. Singer presents a number of caseswhere persons not living ethical lives don’t havefulfilling lives and persons living ethical lives (where there is somecommitment to helping others) find their lives fulfilling. This is not enoughto show that living an ethical life is each person’s approach for having afulfilling life. Frazier goes on to state that it is unclear how one shouldevaluate Singer’s book. Peter Singer’s book lacks detail on discussing the reasons why an “ethical life,” is the firm foundationfor a fulfilling life. In essence, Frazier believes Singers intended audiencewas not philosophers, but is aimed much more widely.
However, it appears thatSinger is much more interested in changing his reader’s attitudes than giving detailed philosophical defenses on where hestands. PeterSinger’s “Practical Ethics” bookis a text where he studies many ethical issues. Singer analyzes unequal wealthdistribution in light of his utilitarian approach. However, a review done byJohn Fischer offers opposing views on Singer’s proposition.Singer concludes that we’re morally responsible fornot doing more to lessen poverty. Though, his claim that each of us shoulddonate ten percent of our salary is not explained thoroughly. Fischer notesthat not donating a check for ten percent of one’s salary is acting wrongly. “It clearly is a consequence of utilitarianism that we often do lessthan we should,” (qtd.
in Fischer 267).John Fischer establishes a connection with Singer’s bookthat brings out this concern clearly. For example, he says, “one might, however, resist the claim that, in not dispatching toBangladesh a check for ten percent of one’s salary, one is acting wrongly,” (qtd in Fishcer 267). But if this is correct-that one is not actingwrongly in keeping one’s salary-then the challenge, presented admirably bySinger’s book, is to explain why (qtd. in Fischer 267).
Also, Singer’s book is unbelievably short-sighted. If he believes a utilitarianis one who judges whether their actions are right or wrong by theirconsequences, this text doesn’t statehow far into the future one should look to determine whether or not aparticular act is acceptable. For instance, what if because of donating all ofmy additional salary to save children in Bangladesh, I lose my life to cancer,because I am thus unable to afford proper medical treatment? Merely looking atconsequences doesn’t help us decide problemsof morality. Who is to decide that saving an innocent child from dying is moreor less important than sending your child to college? Suppose I forego donatingmoney to charitable organizations so that I instead can send my child toschool. Though, Singer would still consider my actions to be immoral. PeterSinger mentions some very good ideas and information, however, he could havehad a much stronger argument if he would have simply suggested that peopledonate extra money to help end poverty and left it at that. Instead, he turneda simple idea into a moral dispute and in doing so lost whatever reliabilityhis solution might have had. As arespected moral philosopher, Singer has made his name an advocate for a certaindoctrine on how we should live.
“UnsanctifyingHuman Life,” is a collection of Singer’s bestarticles from 1971 to the present. The book includes various critiques ofapproaches to philosophy. Examiner Christopher Coope disputed his stance onSinger’s policy. In place of Singer’s teaching, Coope coined a new word: romality. Romality demands that we must show what is called anequal consideration for the interests of all sentient beings (qtd.
in Coope596). Christopher Coope argues that Singer’s textscarcely answers his proposition. All we’re toldby Singer is how we are unlikely to be satisfied if we are concerned withnothing beyond our own happiness. Christopher states, “supposing this to be true, it does not begin to answer the questionabout the broad demands of romality,” (qtd.
in Coope 596). In the process, Coope explains an example of living a fulfillinglife by keeping a dog and being kind to it. For one person this might besufficient for a gratifying life and all the sentient beings in the worldwouldn’t be necessary. “To some, an effort to be romal might bring a measure of fulfillmentnot because it is a good cause (if it is), but simply because it is a cause,” (qtd. in Coope 596). We might not be obliged to help those who havedone us no good, but why must we have so much concern for them? Singer is asking his readers to diminish theirlife to build up others.
However, I believe the greatest service one can do forhumanity is to do what one does best. It is not necessary to try and save thewhole world in order to make a difference. Even Singer would have to agree thatthe finest representation of utilitarian logic is doing what you do best. Thereare several unfortunate situations throughout the world. You only need to go toyour nearest metropolitan city to find adults and children suffering.
While noone can disprove that these situations are emotionally difficult for oursociety as a whole, it is important to acknowledge the personal growth andtransformation it brings. This is not to say that charity is not important andpeople should be left to suffer. However, charity without empowerment can domore harm than good. This is an essential truth that Peter Singer’s solution fails to take into consideration. If you don’t see the world from their point of view, how can you even begin tothink that you can solve their problems? By taking the pain away from people,you also take away their opportunity to change their lives. Each person iscalled to serve humanity in their own unique way, therefore, you cannot morallyobligate someone to live a certain way or change their lives for others.
It isnot the responsibility of society to save someone from their own suffering.However, if you’re put into a difficultsituation by the madness of another person, then that is undeniablyunfortunate. Though, demanding that people should be made to change theirvalues because of the pain of somebody else does no good and only serves tocompound the suffering. The benefit of ending world suffering isn’t guaranteed and is at best, a very long shot.
Yet, Singer’s proposal has too many disadvantages to be outweighed by the good.