Monday, September 5, 2011
Let's Have a Toast for the Assholes
In Famine, Affluence and Morality, Peter Singer argues that persons in affluent countries have a moral obligation to donate at least some of their income to organization designed to combat global famine. While most of us take donating to Oxfam to be a charitable act, Singer argues that for most of us, such donations are morally obligatory.
In arguing for this conclusion, Singer asks us to consider a scenario like the following:
Janice is on the way to the club in her new Manolo Blahnik stilettos (yea, surprise, surprise, I know what Manolo Blahniks are). She sees a small child drowning in a shallow pond. In order to save the child, she’ll have to wade into the pond, ruining her new shoes.
Clearly, we should think Janice an asshole if she chooses her shoes over the child’s life.
Singer thinks that this situation is no different, morally, from the situation of the person who spends however much on Manolo Blahniks instead of donating most of that money to Oxfam and buying less expensive shoes.
In fact, Singer’s position is more extreme. He thinks that it would be wrong to the buy less expensive shoes as well. Starving children need food, no one needs stilettos (or Starbucks coffee, or whatever).
Now, let’s consider the following three propositions which I think most of my readers will consider true of themselves.
1. I know that I can help feed a starving child in, say, Somalia, by donating what, from my perspective, is an insignificant amount of money to Oxfam or some other organization designed to combat famine.
2. I don’t donate money to Oxfam or an Oxfam-like organization, but instead spend much of my income on things I don’t need.
3. I’m not an asshole.
But, light of Singer’s argument, it’s not clear that all three propositions can be true.
So, this is the challenge (which is not unfamiliar to anyone who has studied moral philosophy): Either figure out how all three propositions can be true or reject one.
How do you respond?
Posted by Brandon Hogan at 10:27 AM