Singer’s goal in the article is the elimination of famine in the world. His famine relief argument has three premises and a conclusion. His first argument is that suffering and lack of basic needs like food, shelter and medical care are very bad (Singer 1972). He believes these sufferings should be eliminated all together. These premise has two principles, the first states that if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without sacrificing anything significant, we ought to morally do it. The second states that if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without sacrificing anything of moral comparable importance, we ought to morally do it. He says because we are affluent, have the ability to relieve or even prevent starvation, we have an obligation to do so. He concludes that the affluent are morally required to ease famine.
Singer’s counter arguments are, first, he counters the argument that it is the government’s responsibility to provide for famine relief and also giving to privately organized famine-relief agencies will encourage the government to evade it tasks (Singer 1972). Secondly, he counters the argument that relieving famine just postpones starvation. This is based on the argument that there will be a population growth that will reach a point where we cannot provide for it even if we can do so now. Finally, he counters the argument that it is the responsibility of those who have, the rich, in the society to give charity to the starving people.
Singer’s concept of marginal utility is whereby we give so much to the relief-eradication project such that we reach a point where giving one more would begin to cause serious suffering to oneself and one’s dependants. In doing so, one will cause more suffering to themselves and his dependants than he would prevent in Bengal. Singer says this is unnecessary and calls for everyone’s involvement in doing what they ought to do. In so doing, we shall alleviate poverty completely. Singer says that it will not be probable that all people will contribute at the same time, then each person’s contribution will to the capacity they can afford since others too will be contributing. This will eliminate the marginal utility.
Singer argues that giving to relief organization is a moral obligation. This is contrary to what most of us think about giving aid to these organizations (Whelan, 1991). In his view most of us think as donating to this organizations is supererogatory or in other words such donations is praiseworthy, but there is nothing wrong in not doing it. According to Singer, giving to famine-relief organization should be a duty and a responsibility of all of us. To him, giving is not a charity but a duty that calls for all of us to do. In our world however, duty is that responsibility that is wrong not to do and is morally required for example, refraining from murder. On the other hand, charity is beyond the call of duty which is good to do but not wrong to not do it, for example giving to the relief program (Whelan, 1991).
In the response to singer’s article, I opt to be neutral. Before we fully embark on helping the hunger stricken communities, it is important to ask ourselves a few questions. First, we have to answer, for how long shall we contribute for their aid? It is no obligation for the affluent to donate for the starving. First, let’s consider the birth rates in developing countries. Their birth rate is so high that in several years, we shall have a very large population to donate for. This will drain our resources leaving us with nothing for our own (Singer, 1993). We shall find ourselves in the situation singer described as marginal utility, whereby, any one more contribution will make ourselves and our dependents suffer. This will have amplified the problem instead of solving.
On the other hand, it’s morally and humanly proper to help the poor. As Singer puts it however, we should ensure that our actions do not harm ourselves or our dependents. Citizens and governments from developed countries can sacrifice a little of their economies to help the poor. This will come at the expense of our leisure (Singer, 1993). Going by the example at the beginning of Singer’s article about the drowning toddler, it is a moral obligation to give up a little to save a life. Considering that, letting another person die of hunger while we are in a position to prevent it, it is equivalent to killing, morally speaking.
Singer, Peter. “Famine, Affluence and Morality". Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 3 (Spring 1972). Princeton University Press. Reprinted:
Sommers, C., and F. Sommers; eds., Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1997, pp. 782-791.
Singer, Peter. “Reconsidering the Famine Relief Argument.” Why Food Aid? Ed. Vernon W. Ruttan, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press,
1993, pp. 68-83.
Whelan, John M. Jr. “Famine and Charity.” The Southern Journal of Philosophy, vol. 29, no. 1 (1991), pp. 149-166.