Discussion Summary on Singer

Question 1: Do you think that if everyone lived the way that Singer suggests in his article, poverty would no longer exist?

  • In his article, “Famine, Affluence and Morality”, Singer suggests that if everyone bought only the necessities to support themselves and their families, and donated all of their remaining money to charity (rather than spending it on unnecessary items, like nice clothing or a new TV), we would be able to end large-scale issues such as famine and poverty.

Our answers:

  • In theory, yes this would work – but human nature gets in the way.
    • Singer is being very idealistic and in reality society will never function this way → Overall, the majority of people aren’t willing to live in the way he is suggesting. 
    • Many people are motivated to get high-paying jobs  BECAUSE of the money.
      • If everyone adopted this way of living, it would result in less people willing to do skilled labour (ie. less people becoming doctors/ lawyers) because they would no longer be motivated by money.
      • So, this may actually be worse for society.
  • People would take low-paying jobs, just enough to support themselves; however, society NEEDS people taking on high-paying skilled labour (ie. doctors/ lawyers) in order to function smoothly. 
  • Often, the incentive for wanting a high-paying job comes from wanting nice things for ourselves/ our families.
    • By donating all extra money to charity, the incentive is no longer there.

Question 2: Why does Singer looks solely at monetary donations, and not at donations of time (ie. volunteering)? What would Singer say about people who volunteer their time/ energy to charitable organizations (local and/or global)? Are they still morally obligated to donate money to such organizations?

  • In his article, Singer only talks about donating money to charity. He does not mention anything about volunteering or donating time. This may lead us to believe that, according to Singer, giving money is more valuable than giving time.

Our Answers:

  • We assume that Singer thinks money is more important than volunteering.


  • The replaceability argument
    • If you want to help the poor, do not become a social worker.
    • If you are a social worker, you are replaceable by someone who wants to do the same thing.
    • Instead, have a career that makes a lot of money – and instead of spending it, donate it all to charity.
      • This way, you are not replaceable.
    • We have abundance of people who want to help. What we are lacking is people who have a lot of money to donate (to properly to equip all those who want to help).
    • According to utilitarianism, and in terms of replaceability, it is much better to make a lot of money and donate it to those in need, than it is to become a social worker and ‘help’ those in need.