Q1. Referring to Singer’s analogy of a drowning child from “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, is it realistic to think we can literally save a life so easily? Maybe the child is an orphan, and saving them would mean we need to help them find a home/support afterwards, or maybe we have a child of our own that cant be left unattended while we wade. How would the analogy work then?
I asked this question in attempt dissect the effectiveness of Singer’s argument.When Singer lays it out, it seems to obvious, “Yes of course! We’d save the child!”, but in reality, there are so many factors and consequences that colour our choices. I was not trying to make the argument that we shouldn’t save the drowning child, but instead, I wanted my group to consider instances in which the analogy would not be as effective as Singer puts it.
My group took this deeper than I thought they would! Beginning with the point, “what do we do with the child after we save them?”, the discussion actually veered towards why foreign aid is not the answer to everything. A thought-provoking point was brought up, as we discussed the implications of simply donating money. If we did that with everyone, we make the assumption that people are able to support themselves later… regardless of how much (or little) we’ve done. If we leave the child by the bank, then they need to figure out how to survive on their own. But assuming everyone is immediately willing to save the child, knowing they will become your responsibility, that is quite monumental. I can’t imagine an unanimous agreement with Singer if the argument was framed that way.
We also discussed donating in terms of helping the homeless. It was easily agreed upon that donating money directly is not the best idea, because we don’t know where the money goes, even if it may help. My group agreed that giving food, or other items, is better than cash.
In retrospect, I know remember Singer also mentioned donating other things is equally acceptable. But because he emphasized money specifically so much, it slipped my mind.
Q2. Is Nussbaum or Singer’s argument more convincing? Why? (There were some of follow-up questions that I thought of on the spot as well. I forgot to write them all down, but I will mention one in the summary below.)
Because I found Singer’s argument, on the surface level, to be easily digested and understood, I wanted to know if others felt this way. Based on what we discussed in class as well, Singer has a very solid argument (with exceptions to certain analogies), and I was wondering if my group felt the same! In regards to Nussbaum, as we didn’t discuss her as much in class, I wanted to know whether my group thought her reasoning was sound or not.
Someone brought up that even though Singer’s argument was really good, they were more swayed by Nussbaum because it seemed more like an overall call to action. This was interesting because I thought Singer’s articles were very pointed calls for action. However, the group member flushed out her idea more, stating that Nussbaum’s ideas relate more to the economy and structural issues, which made it more real for her. Overall, we agreed Nussbaum’s views were on a “macro” societal scale, whereas Singer’s were more of the “micro” individual scale.
To explain this a bit more, Nussbaum’s approach focused a lot on what a society should look like in order to have a good quality of life. There is not a lot an individual can do to change systematic issues, for example, a community where only boys can learn to read and write. This takes an united group to implement catalyze change on a large scale. This is what was meant by “macro”. On the other hand, Singer’s approach urges each of us to personally donate something we can afford to. Singer does not really talk about what the government should do, except something along the lines of “government campaigning is good too” in “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”. (I wanted to talk about this, but we ran out of time.) Singer’s urging is much more personal, and does not have a clear end goal in mind, aside from the eradication of poverty, or whenever everybody is equal in wealth and services.
I later asked, “Do you think Nussbaum and Singer’s ideas are exact opposites? Or could they complement each other?”
The answer was an unsure yes. But because Singer approaches the situation from a bottom -up personal scale, and Nussbaum comes from a top-down societal approach, we thought there was probably a way for everyone to contribute, in order to create a society where people are capable to do certain things.