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« Philosophy Bites and Waterstones Twitter Competition now open | Main | Joshua Knobe on Experimental Philosophy »

August 15, 2010


Jim Vaughan

"Animal Liberation" made a huge impact on me as a teenager, Peter Singer is the conscience of our civilization. However, I found myself wanting to argue against him!

Why we do not give more is an interesting multifaceted question. Most people do give something e.g to the Pakistan crisis. However, his analogy of saving one drowning child with saving a child in Africa is misleading. The first is an "event site", where a decision must be made, the second an ongoing problem. It is the infinite demand of the other, and I immediately feel overwhelmed. It is like waking up to a million children drowning every day.In the UK, we pay 25% or 40% in tax, towards the NHS, benefits and Aid. What is enough giving to justify any spending on luxuries?

How wealthy do we want others to become? Lift them just above the breadline, or give them an equivalent lifestyle to our own? As Schumaker observed in "Small is Beautiful" - there aren't enough resources for the world to live like us. We need others to be poor!


Singer seemed to side-step the ongoing controversy concerning whether having entire countries reliant on aid is sustainable. Some would argue that encouraging long-term economic growth would be a better option.

I also question whether a truly moral life is just a question of giving your excess money to charity. Shouldn't there be a heroic aspect to it?


I follow and largely agree with what Singer is suggesting here about saving the lives of starving and sick children. What I do not understand is Singer's ethical position about the sanctity of human life. He has stated elsewhere (see Section III The Sanctity of Human Life) that (1) the criterion of a "person" is "a being who is capable of anticipating the future, of having wants and desires for the future," (2) because a fetus or even a newborn does not meet this criterion, "killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living," and therefore (3) "killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person." I take issue with this logic for various reasons, including, but not limited to, Singer's premise #1. It is interesting and curious to note that Singer place the word person in quotation marks, perhaps to denote that he is using the word in an ambiguous way. How does Singer or anybody know what the experience of a fetus or a newborn is? Moreover, my ethics does not subscribe to a demand that a human being experience awareness over time. I strongly recommend that Singer rethink his position. I will reconsider mind, too.


Singer here fails to successfully tackle the issue of unsustainable population growth.
His reasoning that giving to charities that educate girls will help tackle the issue simply does not hold up to scrutiny. Population is continuing to grow in Western democracies. The graph for worldwide population growth has been a straight line for decades. Any argument that rate of population growth is slowing is analogous to claiming a glass under a constant flow of water will never fill as the rate of growth slows in proportion to the amount of water already in the glass.

Paul Manning

Peter Singer's analogy suggests that we can save a child from dying from starvation for the price of cleaning a pair of muddy shoes. If that's correct, it's a powerful analogy but I don't think that he is comparing apples with apples.

To save a child from starvation presumably takes a sustained effort over many years, by governments, charities and other groups. We would all share our food, if approached by a starving child. Would we all feel morally obliged to feed that child until adulthood? Probably not.

By all means give to help world hunger but not because you feel obliged by the logic of this analogy.

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