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Famine, Affluence, and Morality Essay

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Famine, Affluence, and Morality


Webster's English Dictionary defines "morality" as: the conformity to ideals of right human conduct. With this in mind, I wonder who determines right human conduct? Religion aside, there is no literary context that strictly states the rights and wrongs of human behavior. So who decides? Who determines what we ought morally to do and what we are obligated to do as a society? An Australian philosopher, Peter Singer attempts to draw the line between obligation and charity with the moral incentives to providing food for the starved in East Bengal. Although he presents many sound arguments, the reality of his utopian world is that it cannot exist. In the following expository, I will justify my reasoning behind this fact.
To discourse a charitable act is generally viewed as a philanthropic gesture, one that stems from a kind and worldly human being. However, if one has the resources to donate to a charitable cause, are they obligated to do so? Singer claims "if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it." (page 151) If true, everyone who has ever had the funds and opportunity to help a charitable cause but didn't, has neglected the welfare of the human race. Singer claims that generally speaking, "people
have not given large sums of money to relief funds; they have not written to their parliamentary representatives demanding increased government assistance, they have not demonstrated in the streets, held symbolic fasts, or done anything else directed toward providing the refugees with the means to satisfy their essential needs." With all respect to Mr. Singer, I beg to differ....


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...they were in no way obligated to do so, the likelihood of murder would not be as popular. With this in mind, any attempt to force moral obligation would end in failure. People care most about priorities. What must be done now and what directly follows that. If one were to decide upon which choice to follow, I should hope they would choose the first, being not to commit an act of murder. In conclusion, the utopian world that Singer produces is not achievable. Unless he wishes for all of human kind to conform and follow a universal set of codes and laws, the moral obligations of each person shall remain inevitably different. Therefore, his world cannot exist, as stated in my thesis. In no way will every human being abide to the same moral logic and hence, adhere to his "giving to charity" master plan. It proves to be an idealistic world, but unattainable at best.


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