"In “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, Singer argues that we are morally obligated to donate much more of our time and resources in helping those suffering from various causes such as famine around the globe. In fact, he is arguing that we need to change our moral scheme and instead of considering such humanitarian acts as supererogatory, we need to think of them as moral obligations we have towards our fellow beings. He gives the following two premises to support his conclusion: Firstly, death and suffering from lack of access to food, shelter, medical care, and such basic human needs is bad. Secondly, if we are able to prevent such suffering from happening without sacrificing something of comparable moral importance then we are morally obligated to do so.
He provides thought experiments (i.e. child drowning in the pond) to capture our natural moral intuition to get his point across. In addition to his theoretically neutral approach, as it was discussed in lecture, what makes his argument really strong is its emphasis on “moral luck”. It is an objective fact that we cannot predetermine the circumstances of our existence. By that, I mean that we can neither explain nor control where and to what kind of a family we are born to. In other words, you cannot explain why you were born into a family that supported you and gave you the opportunities to thrive and another person was born to a poor family struggling for their survival day after day. Such differences between me and you, and those struggling with such unfortunate circumstances, are nothing but byproducts of random chance events. As a result, we cannot possibly blame others for their suffering in circumstances such as famine and natural disasters. Consequently, it is our moral obligation to prevent such sufferings to the best of our ability until we reach the point of marginal utility; the point where our assistance causes more suffering than the amount of suffering we are intending to prevent.
As discussed in class, Arthur’s objection to Singer’s key principle points out the importance of moral entitlements (our rights and deserts) in determining our moral obligations. Arthur believes that our right to personal property, our own body, and resources, supersedes the right of others against us and our resources. Thus, we bear no obligation to assisting others in cases of famine and other calamities.
At this point there is a standoff between these two mutually exclusive moral perspectives. What makes our discussion about them challenging is explaining why we should favor one over another. Why should we think that our personal rights supersede the right others have against us to prevent their suffering/or save their lives? Similarly, what reasons do we have to think that someone’s right to life/ or prevention of suffering is superior to our right to our resources/fruits of our labor?"