Are we Morally Obligated to give to the Poor?
According to Peter Singer in the article, Rich and Poor, 400 millionpeople do not have enough minerals, proteins, calories, and vitaminstheir bodies and minds need to sustain a healthy state. Besides,Singer reports that a quarter of the world`s population is living inabsolute poverty and lack necessities such as food, clothing,shelter, healthcare, and education. On the other hand, someindividuals have more than they need for their families even in theirfuture lives. This paper detail Singer’s argument that human beingsare morally obligated to give to the poor and explore how he respondsto some of the possible objections. This paper maintains that humanbeings have an obligation to make the world a better place andhelping the poor is one of the ways of achieving this ultimate goal.
Singer in the article, The Bread Which You Withholds Belongs to theHungry”: Attitudes towards Poverty, cites the teachings of ThomasAquinas who said, "Whatever a man has in superabundance is owed,of natural right, to the poor for their sustenance"(1). Singer’s definition of superabundance is a situation where a personhas all the basic needs: food, clothing, education, shelter, andhealthcare for their families’ current and future lives. In thearticle, All Animals are Equal, Peter Singer argues that the basicmorality of equality is subject to reinterpretation and extension.For instance, some years ago, discrimination against the racialminorities, women, and gay was regarded as natural and inevitable. Assuch, the current attitudes towards the poor ought to change as theyare not defensible. The same opinion is held by Thomas Pogge in thearticle titled, Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right: Who owes whatto the very poor? In the article, Pogge echoes the arguments ofPlato, who in The Republic evokes the concepts of global justice.Global justice entails addressing the social, economic, and politicalchallenges facing people in other parts of the world.
Singer uses the moral dilemma facing Dora and Bob in Peter Unger’sbook, Living High and Letting Die, to present his arguments. In thecase of Dora, Singer opines that the rich leaving the poor to die onthe street is akin to Dora selling the boy to potentialorgan-peddlers. According to Singer, some may argue that the factthat unlike Dora’s situation, the rich do not directly cause thedeath of the poor if they fail to donate to the latter. However,Singer has the opinion that causing death does not necessarily ariseout of one`s action but also omissions. His conclusion is determinedby his analysis of Bob’s case as presented in Peter Unger’s book.Bob omitted his moral obligation as he prioritized the pleasure thatcomes with owning a Bugatti and thus, his omission resulted in theloss of the child’s life. Singer equates Bob’s failure to actand save the child’s life to the rich failing to help the poorresulting in the latter’s sufferings and deaths. On theuncertainty in the issue of giving to the poor, Singer posits thatthere is no way that Dora and Bob could have been certain of theoutcome of their actions. However, citing Unger`s book, Singerasserts that donors should be assured that a substantial amount oftheir aid will reach its target. Additionally, Pogge argues that thefact that negligent and corrupt leaders run some countries does notlift the obligation to help as the oppressive regimes operate in thefull knowledge of the world’s governments.
As to how much one should give to avoid a situation where the giverfalls into poverty, Singer posits that one`s economic status shoulddetermine their donations. However, Singer sees the need for thewealthy who are already giving a substantial amount of their richesto the poor to contribute more. In the article, Rich and Poor, Singergives a hypothetical situation where one has to make a choice betweensaving a drowning child and being late for a lecture. In this case,he argues that the "uncontroversial appearance of the principlethat we ought to prevent what is bad when we can do so withoutsacrificing anything of comparable significance is deceptive" (Singer, 646). As such when helping others, one must be ready to partwith something of value. In support of Singer’s arguments, DavidHershenov in the article, A Puzzle about the Demands of Morality,argues that morality is demanding. Hershenov hold the belief thathuman intuitions compel people to sacrifice a large proportion oftheir wealth as well as their happiness to save the lives of thoseunder the danger of death. Hershenov presents a case scenario wheremorality prompts Smith to drop his precious metals that were his onlysavings out of his boring job to save a drowning man.
On the hand, Garret Cullity in the article, Asking too Much, holds acontrary opinion on the issue of giving. Although he agrees with thearguments presented by Singer and Unger, Cullity argues that oneshould not be blamed for not giving if the cost of doing so is toomuch for the giver. He argues that although morality pushes people tohelp those in suffering, a limit exists when giving becomes asacrifice on the part of the giver. Singer refutes the argument thatgiving the poor instead of spending on consumer goods will crippledonors’ economies by arguing that the world’s poorest representonly a small portion hence aid to them will only have minorimplications. Besides, elevating the living standards of the poorwill turn these individuals into consumers.
In my view, I find Singer’s argument convincing and thus supporthis assertion that those who live in superabundance have anobligation to help the poor. I think that human beings are selfishand individualistic in nature. However, I believe that whoever wantsto go far needs others. As such, ameliorating the sufferings facingother people does not make one poorer. Instead, it positions otherpeople to utilize their skills, potential, and talents to producegoods and provide services that come to benefit everyone thoughindirectly. For instance, many developed economies rely heavily onthe third world countries for raw materials and markets for theirfinished goods. As such, if developed countries aid in the educationof the poor in developing countries, they are assured of high-qualityraw materials for their industries. Besides, I support Singer’sargument that if the poor are helped out of their poverty, they willbecome consumers of goods produced mainly by the rich. Additionally,I think that removing oneself from the picture allows one to clearlyand objectively see the situation as it is. For instance, Dora’sdesire to get a new television could have blinded her from seeing theplight of the boy. On the issue of how much one should give and theuncertainty that the money may not reach the beneficiaries, I thinkthat one should give provided the benefit of giving outweighs thelack of it. Even if not all help reaches its target as Peter Ungerhad idealized, the giver can be assured that a substantial amount ofit will achieve its intended purpose and this means that a goodnumber of lives will be saved.
Cullity,Garrett. "Asking too Much." TheMonist 86.3(2003): 402-418.
Hershenov,David B. "A Puzzle about the Demands of Morality." PhilosophicalStudies 107.3(2002): 275-289
Pogge,Thomas. “Freedomfrom Poverty as a Human Right: Who owes what to the very poor?”UNESCO,2007.Web. 2nd June 2016.
Singer, Peter. “The Bread Which You Withhold Belongs to the Hungry:Attitudes to poverty.”
Singer, Peter. “All Animals Are Equal.” Print.
Singer, Peter. “Rich and Poor.”. Print.