Discussion Summary Questions:
- Peter Singer believes that all of your income should go towards helping others unless it’s of moral significance, he gives examples of what people should be doing but doesn’t exactly define what moral significance means. Do you think he should specify what moral significance means or is he right for leaving it open to interpretation? Do you agree with his statement and what is your definition of moral significance and does it include things like university education, sports teams, dance classes, private tutoring and music lessons? Why or why not?
Source: Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence and Morality” (1972), available here: http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1972—-.htm
Connections to Text: For the first question I wanted to discuss the implication in “Famine, Affluence and Morality” because Singer speaks about “if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it” yet he mentions how items such as new clothing don’t need to be bought because old clothing can be worn again and the money for new clothes should be given away to famine relief but at the same time at the end of his article he says he has left the meaning of moral significance open to the individual readers to their own “sincere judgement.” Since he has left it this way it can change the way people perceive the point of his arguments and its strength. Furthermore, it leaves room for people to accept or disregard other aspects of life that can be considered futile by some and morally significant by others.
In-Class Discussion: After bringing up this question, my group had varied answers, such as, leaving it open to interpretation could be dangerous in the sense that people could be subject to make excuses for not helping but the upside was that people could find their own reason to the argument and agree to what extent they felt was reasonable instead of finding Singer’s exact point of view unreasonable and not following his argument at all so we came to the conclusion that Singer choosing to leave it open for interpretations had its pros and cons but in the end he was right for doing this because there will always be people who make excuses anyways. When asked if they agree with his statement and their definition of moral significance, the answers involved appreciating Singers aspirations but they weren’t realistic as it’s important to treat yourself to a quality life as well as helping others but they said moral significance involves things of survival like shelter, food, water and education and a right to leisure but not in an overly indulging sense but in a helps you grow into a better person sense. Which is why we agreed that university education, sports teams, dance classes, private tutoring and music lessons are of moral significance but we should keep giving to charity as well until everyone else can also have the option to enjoy them too. Someone brought up it may not be necessary for everyone to have a mansion but we should accept other’s need to have an expensive coffee everyday if that’s what provides them energy and the means to get through the day without being irritated or tired.
2. Singer states that for all of someone’s income to go into helping others unless it’s of moral significance would mean “An American household with an income of $50,000 spends around $30,000 annually on necessities … Therefore, for a household bringing in $50,000 a year, donations to help the world’s poor should be as close as possible to $20,000. The $30,000 required for necessities holds for higher incomes as well. So a household making $100,000 could cut a yearly check for $70,000”. Do you think this would ever be possible given the assumption it becomes more publicized by society attaching a negative stigma to a person for basically being a “Bob choosing his Bugatti over a child’s life” if they don’t participate in donating most of their income? If so, how do you think it would become a reality?
Source Singer, “The Singer Solution to World Poverty” (New York Times Magazine, 1999): http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/19990905.htm & Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence and Morality” (1972), available here: http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1972—-.htm
Connections to Text: For this question, I used the quote “An American household with an income of $50,000 spends around $30,000 annually on necessities … Therefore, for a household bringing in $50,000 a year, donations to help the world’s poor should be as close as possible to $20,000. The $30,000 required for necessities holds for higher incomes as well. So a household making $100,000 could cut a yearly check for $70,000” (The Singer Solution to World Poverty) to illustrate Singer’s perspective on what his argument would ideally to him look like in the real world while keeping the horrors of the Bob and his Bugatti situation (The Singer Solution to World Poverty) in mind as well as Singer’s reminder that “we ought to give the money away [unless it’s of moral significance] and it is wrong not to do so” (Famine, Affluence and Morality) to have my group take a stance if this could be plausible given the assumption society decided look down on those who didn’t participate in this and if they agreed, how this would happen.
In-Class Discussion: Once again my group we had varied responses to this question. The responses consisted of that anything is possible so maybe not in the near future but one day this could be possible because something similar happened in communist Russia where most of peoples incomes were taken away so to have everyone participate we would need the law to create policies forcing people to do this and then over the years not doing this would be considered bad like breaking any other law and currently in 2018, this would be extremely unlikely to happen, only people as rich as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates would want to participate without the law the enforcing society to do so.