Essay about Peter Singer's Argument in Famine, Affluence and Morality

Essay about Peter Singer's Argument in Famine, Affluence and Morality

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This paper explores Peter Singer’s argument, in Famine, Affluence, and Morality, that we have morally required obligations to those in need. The explanation of his argument and conclusion, if accepted, would dictate changes to our lifestyle as well as our conceptions of duty and charity, and would be particularly demanding of the affluent. In response to the central case presented by Singer, John Kekes offers his version, which he labels the and points out some objections. Revisions of the principle provide some response to the objections, but raise additional problems. Yet, in the end, the revisions provide support for Singer’s basic argument that, in some way, we ought to help those in need.
Singer presents his argument specifically in terms of famine relief and, although it has broader applicability, the discussion mostly falls under this specific topic. Thus, he conforms his argument around aspects relevant to famine and/or poverty when laying out his three core premises.
The first premise of his argument (P1) states Most people would agree with this premise, regardless of their specific reasoning. Connecting suffering and death to a lack of basic needs seems clear and its characterization as bad seems to be in alignment with our common sense. However, some might still object for reasons that would be challenging or impossible to refute. In spite of any such objections, the premise can be accepted and those who disagree should step away at this point.
The second premise (P2) states The challenge here does not lie in the prevention of something bad since this would seem rather uncontroversial given our acceptance of P1. But, the sacrifice clause requires clarification before proceeding. It means, from a moral point of view, c...


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...themselves. By adding further conditions or exceptions we could address specific objections and create more narrowly defined obligations. Further modifications of PP’ would not generally eliminate obligations, but it would allow choices to be made. In particular, for the affluent, doing nothing remains off limits so they would still be required to do what they can to alleviate suffering in places where they are in agreement that help is warranted. This derivation from the original argument plausibly supports the basic argument made by Singer that we ought to do everything in our power to help those in need so long as we need not sacrifice anything significant.



Works Cited


Kekes, John (2002). On the Supposed Obligation to Relieve Famine. Philosophy 77 (4):503-517.
Singer, Peter (1972). Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (3):229-243.

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