Before there was Bernie, there was Peter.


Peter Singer, an Australian-born ethical philosopher, writes in his essay, “The Singer Solution to World Poverty,” that ‘wealthy’ (living beyond basic needs) people should donate to world organizations that feed the hungry so as to eradicate world hunger:

In the world as it is now, I can see no escape from the conclusion that each one of us with wealth surplus to his or her essential needs should be giving most of it to help people suffering from poverty so dire as to be life-threatening. That’s right: I’m saying that you shouldn’t buy that new car; take that cruise, redecorate the house, or get that pricey new suit. After all, a thousand-dollar suit could save five children’s lives.

He even provides in his essay a toll free number to call Oxfam with a donation.

Singer asks elsewhere (or maybe it wasn’t Singer), if every person in the developed world donated the cost of his or her third pair of shoes (Do we need three pairs?) to the world bank, which would effectively end world hunger, are we morally obligated to so donate? If morality is defined as right behavior as in doing right by another, then yes, to be considered moral, each person is morally obligated to donate.

But what if ending world hunger results in overpopulation and the disappearance of planetary resources to feed everyone like water, clean air and soil, for example? Is it then moral to donate?



2 Replies to “Before there was Bernie, there was Peter.”

  1. that final question gets me. I have pretty much tried to eliminate luxuries from my life in order to maximise donations. But then sometimes I wonder about the long-term sustainability of philanthropic projects – is what we really need political change? systematic change in the way we treat our ecosystems?

    1. I think balance and respect, knowing that you are an integral part of a whole is important in any context. We cannot ignore any part of being, our own or others’, without suffering consequences. That seems like logic to me. And yet, myself included, we live as if we are separate and alone, divorced from other lives, divorced from our environment. That seems wholly against reason, but that’s me. As far as anticipating what the ultimate consequences of our compassionate actions turn out to be, I have a hard time rationalizing that any act on behalf of the good of another should not be done because of some unknown misfortune that may arise from it.
      And I too definitely do not do as much as I can to help others far less fortunate than I.

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