Duty versus Charity: Why a Distinction is Essential Essay

Duty versus Charity: Why a Distinction is Essential Essay

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In the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s, the South Asian region of East Bengal (then East Pakistan, now the country of Bangladesh) was undergoing a severe famine, due to rampant poverty, a civil war and frequent cyclones. The lack of overseas help to this impoverished region was probably what triggered Peter Singer to write the article Famine, Affluence and Morality, wherein he claims that world hunger and famine can be prevented and possibly eradicated if everyone in the wealthy nations did their bit to help the sufferers monetarily. Singer further claims that duty and charity should not be as distinct as they are now, and hints at uniting the two. Upon careful analysis of Singer’s paper, one can find multiple loopholes in this proposal, and can conclude that Singer’s idea, while crafted out of good intentions, is neither feasible nor correct.
Before anything else though, it is essential to understand Singer’s argument. He starts his paper by talking about the situation in East Bengal and how there was a dearth of foreign aid to help alleviate the suffering of the victims of the famine there. He then broadens the scope of his article to talk about people suffering on a global level. Singer’s argument is founded on the fact that people starving, suffering and dying is something bad, and that prevention of any suffering is something we ought to do, provided we are not forgoing something of “comparable moral significance” (Singer 24). He also gives a weak version of this theory, which is that we must prevent suffering as long as we are not “sacrificing anything morally significant” (Singer 24). However, he later goes on to say that he personally favors the first, stronger principle.
Singer’s principle does not take into account ...

... middle of paper ...

... charity and duty, it would still be a moral duty to donate, and not following it would not land one in jail, but one would feel immoral. The happiness associated with charity would be lost, and with it, the motivation to donate.
The article does not claim that there would not be any charitable acts, but it does suggest making a lot of charitable acts into obligations. This idea of making donations into something people ought to do is the main flaw of Singer’s argument. It might sound noble on paper, and it is founded on great aspirations, but there are multiple concerns that Singer still needs to resolve. Yes, there is an understandable need for a huge increase in the amount of overseas aid, but making it a moral obligation for people might not be the best solution.

Works Cited

Peter Singer, Famine, Affluence, and Morality (Princeton University Press, 1972)

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