Philosophy in the World: Slumdog Millionaire and Peter Singer

The rise of poverty in the world is at a staggering all-time high. Especially in impoverished nations where the government cannot support the population alone, and thus aid from charities is needed. A film that I saw a while back was Slumdog Millionaire. It’s about a young boy who is living in a poverty-stricken slum in India, where he ends up becoming orphaned upon his mother’s death. The life of impoverished and orphaned children is shown by slum mafia gang abductions, that result in the children being forced to become street beggars. A scene that still stuck to me after all these years is when one of the child beggars get his eyes forcibly removed by one of the gang members, in order for him to look more pitiful, and in turn raise his chances of receiving more money from passersby through sympathy. Of course, this could have been prevented, had there been an effective system of reducing poverty and taking care of orphans that come from poor backgrounds. The only means of this ever happening in countries like India is through international aid from charities, which is what I’m going to be talking about, as well as the significance of said organizations.

Coming from an Indian background, I’ve heard stories similar to the ones portrayed in the film from my parents. It is an all to real of a reality back home, because of the widespread poverty and corruption that runs rampant. Therefore, Peter Singer’s philosophy of affluence and global poverty really hit home to me. My definition of his philosophy in this context would be treat other people the way you want to be treated. Although this is usually used in terms of not bullying or berating others, I like to think of it as helping others, in a sense that you want their lives to be as well-off as yours, and if you were in their shoes, you would want to be helped as well. If we individuals that are living so comfortably in our first-world countries, that have no need to worry about slums or forced child begging, then what is the reason for us not to help support those countries where this this is a reality, in hopes of lessening the impact to those that it affects? What I’m trying to convey is that international aid is vital in these situations for the impoverished to thrive. According to Singer, “if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it”. By supporting those charities in India that help the poorer communities in slums by sending their children to schools, and building orphanages for the orphans, we are essentially preventing the bad occurrences such as the gang activity to overtake those communities. Moreover, the nothing morally significant will be sacrificed from us rather than a few dollars, which to those impoverished individuals can dictate whether or not they live to see another day.  On the same note, this supports my definition of Singer’s philosophy I had stated earlier. If we somehow found ourselves in a third world country in a situation very similar to those living in the slums of India, of course we would want to be helped out of that situation. We would rely on any means necessary for us to go back to our old lives of wealth and comfort rather than living in the dangerous condition of poverty and disease that runs rampant in everyday slum life. Therefore, if we cannot bring ourselves to be placed in the shoes of someone from a slum, then why should we continue to let those individuals live the way that they are?

On the same tangent, we cannot discriminate against those living in India, just because they’re oceans apart from where we are living in Canada. This again fits in with my definition of philosophy, for it supports the idea of supporting our fellow human, regardless of where they are located. This humanitarian aspect is also explained through Singer’s arguments, as he states that “if we accept any principle of impartiality, universalizability, equality, or whatever, we cannot discriminate against someone merely because he is far away from us (or we are far away from him)”. Regardless of where the person is located, it is still our duty to help support them, just because they are humans as well, and we have no right to assume that just because they are suffering far away from us, their suffering isn’t valid, nor are their lives. In terms of Singer’s philosophy, we should donate to charities and organizations that help reduce the corruption and improve the livelihood of those living in slums. It is therefore imperative for the people living in richer nations to contribute towards reducing, and eventually eradicating the concept of slums and the human rights abuses that take place within those environments. Since Singer’s arguments essentially revolve around charity towards to poor and that it is a human right for everyone to live with a morally balanced and ethical life, we should take this into consideration and donate to charities involved with this type of work improving the lives of the impoverished. Organizations such as UNICEF, World Vision, and even NGOs strive to build infrastructure within these communities that help boost education, reduce disease, and maintain an effective policing system that prevents gang activity to take over and rule the people. In terms of the movie, the poor children that were subjected to the tortures by the gang members would be spared from a lifetime of begging if there was enough support from organizations and charities to help the lives of those orphans. In a greater sense, enough support from charities would eventually result in the slum environment to be eradicated, and those children that were shown as beggars in the movie, could’ve had a chance to live successful lives with a job and education.

Based on my definition of philosophy, I engage in food drives and donating to food banks, sponsored from my local temple. These food drives help the homeless in Vancouver through provide enough meals for them to not go hungry. The reason why I consider donating once a month is because of the assumption that if I ever were to go homeless, I would appreciate the fact that there are people looking out for me, through means of donations of food. It’s a give-and-take situation, one that can be attributed to the idea “today you, tomorrow me”. Although I haven’t really done and donations to charities internationally (mainly because I have not got the money to do so at the time), I like to give back to the community at a local level in the beginning, and as I get more experienced in supporting the poor through these types of donations, I’ll move on to a more global scale of monetary donations to charities.

The Philosophy of Owning a Dog

The philosophical activity that I have chosen for this assignment is being a dog owner. This is a very consistent part of my life which I have never analyzed in a philosophical way, but with some deeper thought, it is something that contributes to my definition of philosophy. I am the owner of a beautiful golden retriever who I love more than most things in this world. Despite this being a pleasurable “activity,” it comes with a lot of responsibility and at times is not very enjoyable. It requires a lot of patience, time, and energy. I have to walk my dog twice daily, I have to feed her special food because of her allergies, and I have to spend time giving her adequate affection. Along with this, my dog does not always behave and does not reciprocate the effort I put into taking care of her, as most well functioning human relationships do. Regardless of this, I love her and take pride in caring for her and treating her well. 

Being a dog owner is philosophical to me in the sense that it requires one to be selfless and care for a different species. It has taught me a lot about myself and what it means to truly devote yourself to another being, which to me is quite a philosophical lesson. In my opinion, the act of caring for a dog resonates with the Kantian perspective of ethics, because I believe the maxim behind taking care of a dog should be a good one. The Categorical Imperative of universalizability approves this action as being morally ethical, because not all animals can be treated poorly. Along with this, whether someone is acting according to duty or not in taking care of a dog, their action is still considered morally right according to Kant. Therefore one may take of care of their dog because they love it and are intrinsically motivated to, or they could be taking care of it because, for example, their grandmother is ill and needs someone to care for her dog that you do not really want to. 

Many people view animals lives as not being as significant as human lives. It is scientifically proven that animals have smaller brains and do not have the same understanding of the world, but this should not give humans the right to exploit or neglect them. This resonates with the opinion of Peter Singer who believes that animals should not be disregarded because of their smaller brains (Singer, 49). Singer believes that it should not “depend on what they are like or what abilities they possess,” and that every animal should be seen as equal (49). In the same sense just as different “races” should be considered equal in every way, so should animals (49). I very much agree with Singers opinion, because I have a deep love of animals and believe that my dog is of equal status, although a lot of people in the world do not share the same views. 

My definition of philosophy is evident in my example of being a dog owner. I identify my view of philosophy with Kant’s idea of having good will behind my maxim for caring for a dog, as well as Singers perspective on animal ethics. By owning a dog I have further understood what it means to live philosophically according to my opinions, and I have embraced selflessness and caring in my daily life. Being a dog owner is only an example of this definition of philosophy in my life, as it is also prevalent in my family life, my relationships with friends, and my passion for volunteering.

Works Cited

Shafer-Landau, Russ. “The Kantian Perspective: Fairness and Justice.” The Fundamentals of Ethics. Oxford University Press, 2012. pp. 154-167.

Singer, Peter. “Equality For Animals?” Practical Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 2011. pp. 49.

Discussion Summary on Singer

  1. What are your thoughts on the second premise in Singer’s argument? If you could alter the premise so that it is more feasible how would you do so?
  • The second premise of Singer’s argument by principle, in particular the stronger version is quite controversial. It states that if it is within our ability to stop something bad from happening without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance, we ought to do it. In practice, Singer says we ought to give until we reach the level of marginal utility, the level which by giving more, a person would cause such much suffering to themselves or their dependents as the person would relieve thought their aid.
  • From our discussion, our group thought that the “essence” of Singer’s proposition is right, we have an obligation to help those in need if we have the means to do so. However the action Singer’s conclusion requires is really difficult to accomplish. Humans are engineered to be inherently selfish and it would be impossible to ask people to give to the point of marginal utility. We considered the idea of giving and helping others to the point of where we are only able to maintain Nussbaum’s ten central capabilities. But even so, we agreed that it would be difficult to persuade privileged people to give up their “excess” wealth and resources. 

2. Do Singer’s analogies work?

  • In Singer’s argument by analogy, Singer uses various situations to demonstrate that since it is morally wrong to so something in scenario A and scenario A and B are morally relevant, it is morally wrong to do that “same thing” in scenario B. In the child drowning in shallow pond analogy, since it would be morally wrong to not save the drowning child, it is also morally wrong not to donate money to an overseas aid organization if we have the means to. The point Singer is trying to illustrate is that distance or proximity is not a moral determinant and is therefore irrelevant in influencing our decision. We have just as much moral obligation to save the drowning child as to donate the money to save a poor child.
  • Our group thought that in reality distance does in fact play a role in moral decisions. If you see a child drown in a shallow pond, you are involved in the situation personally and you are in a situation where you can save a life. Whereas when you donate to an aid organization, you don’t witness the impact of your actions and there is a different level of personal obligation. In addition, both of these situations seem to advice us that the morally right thing to do is to contribute a temporary and surface solution without addressing the root problem. This connects to Kant’s view where if the intentions of our actions were morally good, the action would be morally right, regardless of the consequences. But how do we ensure that the money we donate actually helps those in need and that it isn’t squandered on flawed aid schemes or pocketed by corrupt individuals? If the money doesn’t actually help improve the lives of those in need, wouldn’t that be the same as not donating any money? 

Discussion Summary PHIL 102 L07 (Fri. 11:00 pm) – Singer and Nussbaum

Mark Epshtein

PHIL 102 003

Singer’s Paradox: To what extent can we give or save?


Question #1: Singer stresses the need for everyone to donate funds, time, expertise, etc. and help people from starvation and death (Bengal), to what point should you give away your time and money to struggling people in other countries, that you have never known or will never know? Is it once both of you are at the same level? How much are you, individually, willing to sacrifice?


Relation to philosopher #1:

            Pgs/Readings: Famine, Affluence and Morality by Peter Singer, paragraphs 1-10

Quotes: “My next point is this: if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it. By “without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance” I mean without causing anything else comparably bad to happen, or doing something that is wrong in itself, or failing to promote some moral good, comparable in significance to the bad thing that we can prevent. This principle seems almost as uncontroversial as the last one. It requires us only to prevent what is bad, and to promote what is good, and it requires this of us only when we can do it without sacrificing anything that is, from the moral point of view, comparably important.”



Answer/Summary #1:


In answering this question, it is important to acknowledge that many people are in danger of starvation and various other problems across the world. Many people in developed civilizations refrain from donating to the poor simply because they do not see these effects first hand. However, I believe that any moral person would donate to the struggling populations if they saw their circumstance in person, rather than just hearing about it on the news. That being said, it is conclusive, as discussed in our discussion group, that most people would give until they had just a little more than the originally poor person. In sum, give until you have just a slight edge over the other person(s) as you have indeed earned your wealth and deserve that slight edge. Singer advocates to live minimally and give as much as you can and I believe that this is what our answer supports, to live a minimalistic style with just the basic needs and give the rest away to people who need it. It is in all humans to give, but only to a certain level of comfort, then it becomes too extreme; in other words, there is a limit to giving and donation.





Question #2: Taking a turn from the child drowning in a pond example: If you saw a person struggling to stay afloat in the ocean would you go in and swim after him/her knowing that you would get wet? What if you had no lifeguard experience as sometimes drowning people can drag you to death along with them? What if you couldn’t swim?


Relation to philosopher #2:

            Pgs/Readings: Famine, Affluence and Morality by Peter Singer, paragraph 6

Quotes: “An application of this principle would be as follows: if I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing.”




Answer/Summary #2:


As a connection from Singer’s original dilemma of the small child in a pond, this question plays on the factors of morality, utilitarianism and personal beliefs. When asking this question, I received a lot of contradiction between my discussion group as some people would still go in and save the drowning person and some wouldn’t, which is what I expected. I noticed that most answered yes to helping the person from drowning if they could swim, despite risking their own life, as many drowning incidents have more than one victim. However, many were hesitant to help the drowning person if they could not swim, playing on factors of utilitarianism. Again, this question can be answered with a yes, but to a certain extent. The world does need our help, yes, but there is only so much the wealthy or privileged can give until it is dangerous for them. Singer oversimplifies this dilemma with the child in the pond, making it seem obvious to help the child, but when it is put into another context, like this question, the answers become much more varied.

Summarizing Singer – The Discussion


Discussion Summary Questions: 

  1. 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:—-.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): & Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence and Morality” (1972), available here:—-.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.

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.


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.

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.

Discussion Summary for March 16, 2018

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.

March 16th Discussion of Singer& Nussbaum

Question 1: How valid is Singer’s metaphor of the drowning child and an observers obligation to aid it?

Singer argues that if we have the capacity to save a life, whether in front of us or not, we should do so. Ignoring our capacity to save a life without sacrificing anything of morally significance is a premise most people will not have any qualms agreeing to. I find there to be 2 falsities in this analogy.  It seems to me that Singer proposes monetary donations as the primary method of carrying out his philosophy.

When reading singer, I tend to picture foreign aid being the result of such donations. To continue with the metaphor of a drowning child, are we really pulling them out of the water, or simply throwing them food? Can problems of national starvation really be solved with donations? In our discussion group, we discussed the fact that simply donating money isn’t addressing the root problem of most conflicts, rather its a deferral of obligation to someone else. We also recognized that some conflicts do require sacrifices of moral significance to be solved. Much of the modern day peacekeeping undertaken today occurs in war zones, where people must risk their lives to make progress. We all agreed that Singer doesn’t really present arguments for any situation that does require substantial sacrifices of moral significance. If we were to add a shark into the pool with the drowning child, and argue that by going in, we might not be entirely saving the child, how would singers philosophy deal with this problem?

Question 2:In the situation of conflicting claims to rights, how do we determine who gets what?

We also had time to talk about Nussbaum’s theory of Capabilities. I very much like her philosophy that everyone should at least have the choice of action, but it seems there’s a high risk of bias. I proposed the example of gun control in the United States. If one individual claims a right to carry arms for their own safety, and another claims they should be illegal for the sake of their own safety, whom should we support?

Our discussion group again agreed (we were a small group) that it was a difficult case to make, and easier to look at under Canada’s framework. Only a select few people carry weapons in Canada, and there is general consensus that everyone is better off because of it. We did not come up with an answer for solving conflicting capabilities. If the question is applied to somewhere more dangerous than the US, for example regions of East Africa, the case for protecting oneself with weapons becomes even stronger. Though we all agreed that our society functions perfectly without guns for protection, we live in a very safe and stable society and our bias is clear. This is just one example of conflicting interests. The closest we could get was to look at the hypothetical disagreement under the guise of Utilitarianism, where all parties would feel safer/happier with 0 guns… unfortunately we all know the world isn’t that straightforward!