Discussion Summary for ‘living moral lives’ by Singer

I led my discussion around the ideas of Singer. Specifically, I wanted to get a sense of how strongly people aligned themselves with Singers ideology.

Q1: Do you think we are living morally wrong lives if we don’t follow Singers way of life?

How this questions relates to Singers main argument: it tries to directly dismiss his ideas and provokes us to think weather they are actually needed or not to live moral lives. By thinking about what would happen if we didn’t follow his ideas at all, it gives a gross sense of the worth of his ideas. Specifically, I wanted to see if people thought the drastic changes in our lives that Singer wants us to implement are actually needed. Basically, I asked this question to see if people really jived with Singers suggested way of living or if they thought one could live a moral life even without Singers suggestions.

My opinion: I think the changes Singer presents are quite drastic and his need for everyone to alter their lives so drastically are impractical. I do think that we would have a much better world if everyone followed his ways but I think Singer did not address how to actually bring about this change. His thinking is correct, and he presents us with a ‘more’ moral way to live life. However, because of human psychology and our evolutionary nature to thrive in small groups, it’s hard for humans to think globally in my opinion. This is my reasoning for why people would save the child when faced with the situation right in front of them but they often dismiss opportunities to donate to charities that are doing just as important work half way around the world.

Group opinion: My group responded by saying we (people in the first world) are in a state of ignorance because we rarely think about how we can help those in third world countries. We discussed how even a little bit of help on our part could go a long way. This is possible since our average wages in first world countries are relatively high and even donating a few percent of our wage is almost equivalent to the average wage in some countries. We thought that because of this fact, we do not need to alter our lives so significantly to help those less fortunate. In fact, donating even 1 percent of our income can go a long way. However, Singer wants everyone to donate ‘as much as possible,’ he says “a household making $100,000 could cut a yearly check for $70,000. Again, the formula is simple: whatever money you’re spending on luxuries, not necessities, should be given away.” (The Singer Solution to World Poverty, 1999) We all agreed that this is simply asking for way too much. This is especially true if everyone in the first world followed this practice. With this thinking, we came to a realization that no one person is singly responsible for everything. As long as we each do our part, we can continue to live our lives as we do (for the most part, forgoing about 1-2% of our income) while also helping so many people in need. Overall, we concluded that one can in fact live a life where they are helping those in need by not making such significant changes as required my Singers suggestions.

We also thought that it was important not only to start helping others but also to not live a life of ignorance. We thought of ignorance as a moral infraction. If we can become more aware of issues others are facing and more aware of the privileges we have, we naturally start thinking about creating a more equal world. For example, one of my group members brought up the point about how lucky we are to have access to education here, especially such top quality education. If we can realize that so much of the world simply doesn’t have access to education because of differing reasons, we not only start appreciating our circumstances but we strive to make the best impact on the world that we can by taking advantage of this education. Additionally, when we come across charities that aim to provide education to those in need, we become more open to donating if we know the value of such things.

In summary: It is important to be mindful of the circumstances of ourselves in relation to the those others are living in so that we are motivated to bring equality to this world. This requires a change in mindset but not a drastic shift in the way we live our lives that Singer proposed.


Q2: What version of Singers principle can be implemented in real life? The strong or moderate interpretation of his message?

Moderate interpretation was defined as ““If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.”

Strong interpretation was defined as “If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby causing something worse to occur, we ought, morally, to do it.”

How this question is relevant to Singers argument: The questions tests to see if his conclusion should be interpreted as strongly as he presents or with slightly less strength. I wanted to ask this questions because I felt that even though Singer made excellent points and brought up excellent facts about the world, his conclusion was too strong given his arguments. In particular, I thought he asked for too drastic of changes from us in order to live moral lives.

Singers opinion: We know that singer himself “[sees] no good reason for holding the moderate version of the principle rather than the strong version” (Famine, Affluence, and Morality, 1972). Singer is confident in his stance and firmly believes that we should be abiding by the stronger principle all the time. I had told my group to keep this in mind as we continue the discussion.

My opinion: I do not agree with Singer. I’m more aligned with the moderate interpretation for the same reasons discussed below as part of my groups opinion.

Group opinion: I asked my group which interpretation they found to be more moral and if either was actually possible to implement in our lives. Everyone agreed that the strong interpretation was not possible to implement effectively in all of our lives. However, we all agreed the moderate interpretation was something that we can actually strive for and can achieve in our lives. The key difference between the two interpretations is that the strong interpretation asks us to prevent bad things from happening in every single case we encounter (as long as it doesn’t lead to something worse of course). We agreed that this simply asks too much from us. My group members suggested that our own happiness is also something we have to consider when making moral decisions because morality is about everyone (including us) and not just others. We all agreed that the moderate interpretation was a happy medium.

In summary: We all agreed that Singer makes excellent points and that we should actually alter our lives slightly to be more considerate of the rest of the world. However, we all agree that his conclusion was too strong given his arguments.