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Peter Singer: Rich and Poor


Peter Singer is a popular utilitarian whose views on the obligations of humanity have both impressed and been subjected to harsh criticism. As a modern thinker, Singer appreciated the fact that our world is now divided by class, since some of us are rich which others live in poverty. His literature served as an explorative antidote to contemporary world problems, as Singer felt that the affluent have an obligation to help the world’s poor. This essay presents Peter Singer’s arguments on the rich and the poor, his rationale, and criticisms against his ideology.


Singer’s first argument is that in reality, there are wide disparities between the ways of life of various people on the planet, will the rich living in luxury as the poor struggle to even meet basic needs. Singer says that it is an unfortunate fact that for some people, meeting the basic needs of food water health, and shelter is an unachievable goal (2011). As a remedy to these problems, Singer presents 3 major premises that form his ideology. The first premise by Singer is that if the prevention of something “bad” is possible without sacrificing objects of significance, as rational beings, we ought to do it. The second premise is that extreme poverty is bad, especially because it creates unfortunate consequences for those that suffer. The third premise is that there is extreme poverty that we can prevent without sacrificing things of moral significance. Thus, Singer’s conclusion is that we (the rich) ought to prevent some cases of extreme poverty. Singer’s argument is based on utilitarian principles that urge that our actions should be ones that create good for the highest number of people.


From Singer’s argument, what becomes evident is that human beings have the obligation, at least morally, to contribute what they can to prevent cases of extreme poverty. Singer’s argument was effective since it was common sense, as seen through the clarity in the premises of his notion. Singer’s suggestion is that affluence is when you can afford more than basic necessities of life, at which point you can afford to prevent cases of extreme poverty. For example, wearing a faded T-shirt is better and less harmful than a case where a child dies from hunger. Therefore, donating to help those in extreme poverty, such as people from Third World countries can help alleviate their suffering and help them overcome dire conditions. However, as with all ideologies, Singer’s suggestion that the rich had the obligation to help the poor was faced with opposition.


One position against Singer’s argument is that donations will only create more negative impacts and greater suffering in the future. A notable argument is that a major problem that creates extreme poverty in the world is extreme poverty, which presents a significant impediment to the distribution of resources. In such a case, for instance, donations would not only be a temporary solution and in the future, even more people would be at risk of extreme poverty since the population would grow. A retort to this argument is that population growth is not an adequate reason for failing to give aid, since one can reconsider the type/form of aid to give. The moral decision would be finding the best form of aid to empower those in extreme poverty.


Another opposition to Singer’s argument is that even when it comes to aid, isn’t it more justified to care for people in closer proximity and not for those too far away? For example, one might argue that instead of donating to people in far off countries like Africa, it would be better to help the homeless man next door. On a level, this objection appeals to emotional and physical closeness, which any rational individual needs to consider. A utilitarian like Singer might argue that if we are obligated to donate, then we should access which options will create the greatest good for the highest number of people. For example, spending $500 in the United States might help one homeless man for a month but in Africa, the same amount might assist a family of 10 survive for more than 3 months. Singer’s ideology urges us to consider the moral significance of our actions by rationally accessing our obligations and the impacts of our actions.


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