Discussion Summary on Singer

In “The Singer Solution to World Poverty”, Singer introduces the example of Bob and his Bugatti, in which Bob parks his prized Bugatti on a railway track, and then is faced with the decision to either divert a runaway train to save a child; or save his car. In this scenario, Bob ends up letting the child die, and goes on to live a happy life with his Bugatti. Singer states following this depiction that “If you still think that it was very wrong of Bob not to throw the switch that would have diverted the train and saved the child’s life, then it is hard to see how you could deny that it is also very wrong not to send money to [charitable organizations]” (The Singer Solution to World Poverty).

Discussion Question 1: Do you think Singer’s “Bob and his Bugatti” example has reasonable moral applications to the real world?

When asked whether this conclusion was reasonable, my group was opposed to Singer’s hypothetical argument, of the opinion that the example was too black and white to apply to real world situations. We agreed that Singer’s points (that we should send money to people abroad in need) make sense even without these examples, and that the rather sizable jumps he makes from his examples to real world scenarios weaken his arguments in comparison to just discussing the real-world examples, which we almost unanimously were in support of. Considering these conclusions, I thought I would ask my group the following:

Discussion Question 2: Do you think these hypothetical examples have their place in Singer’s arguments, because they may convince some people to give to charities, and because you are still convinced by Singer’s conclusions even though you don’t accept the examples?

With this question, my group was in support of the inclusion of Singer’s hypothetical arguments, which give Singer wider appeal to a broader audience, and admitted that his case was strong enough to allow these examples to remain in his work. My group also was in favour of the way Singer followed the Bugatti example by including phone numbers to large charities, as the call to action forces the reader to consider the real-world applications of their agreement with Singer’s arguments. We agreed that Singer’s conclusions on how the affluent should donate until they are at the same level as the people they are trying to help is theoretically reasonable, however not practically realistic.

Upon the conclusion of our discussion, I found a point of argument in Singer’s articles that I hadn’t previously considered, which is that Singer himself admitted his examples were not realistically applicable to the masses when he made a moderate version of his principle point: “the more moderate version – that we should prevent bad occurrences unless, to do so, we had to sacrifice something morally significant” (The Singer Solution to World Poverty). So, it can therefore be argued that Singer knows his hypothetical examples are not reasonably and realistically applied to the masses.

Overall, I was very happy with my group’s discussion, and I gained a lot additional insight into how to read Singer. My conclusions were similar to my group’s, which were that Singer’s argument, that we should give much more money to charities than we currently do as a society, is justifiable even without his extreme examples. I am also in support of Singer’s inclusion of examples such as Bob and his Bugatti, as they are powerful and give his arguments that emotional impact one needs to engage the masses.