Last Tuesday was a good day. Peter Singer gave a lecture.

I'd been looking forward to it for some time, early on securing a place on the Facebook first-come-first-served waiting list just to be sure of a seat. Of Singer, I knew fairly little. His name was familiar (as it turns out I have one of his books in my room), but I had no idea of his philosophy, opinions, or even personality.

I went into the hall fairly blind and un-opinionated, ready to ask myself some questions (and ready to potentially challenge Peter if I felt I needed to). Purposefully, I'd avoided doing research beforehand too: I didn't want there to be any spoilers.

And, so, it was all pleasantly surprising.

Beginning the talk, entitled (as I should have mentioned) 'The Life You Can Save', he opened with a straightforward ethical question. Showing us all a relatively infamous video (below) of a 2-year-old girl in China who was run over by a van and subsequently ignored by many passers-by, he asked: 'Would you stop to help this girl?'

(Warning: upsetting scenes.)

Everyone's answer, evident in their silent nodding, was yes. Of course they would. Walking past, like a good few actually did, would simply be immoral.

Then it got interesting.

Singer, using this agreed necessary compassion as a starting point, posed a follow-on question: 'Ethically speaking, is there a difference between walking past this dying girl and not giving to an effective, life-saving charity when it's well within your means?'

Or, in other words, does (or should) an arbitrary quantity such as 'distance' have any influence on how compassionate we are towards others who are genuinely suffering in real-time?*

No, he argued. And I don't think anyone disagreed.

He conceded that there was indeed a certain psychological influence, though. After all, a child drowning in a lake in front of you provides a much bigger incentive to help than a child dying of malaria in a far-off country out of sight and out of mind. But, he stressed, there simply isn't a moral distinction. In both cases, a life is in danger. And In both cases, you can help... So, why do people 'walk past' real, global problems such as poverty, especially when they can make a difference?

It may be down to ignorance, disbelief, or simple complacency - but that does not make selfishness ethical. The right thing to do is always to give when one can. There's nothing else to it.

But, Singer adds, it's essential that we give to effective charities if and when we do - organisations with which you can be sure your money is put to good, cost-efficient and direct use. He recommends the charities recommended by www.givewell.org, a "nonprofit dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities" who "conduct in-depth research aiming to determine how much good a given program accomplishes (in terms of lives saved, lives improved, etc.) per dollar spent". Obviously, there are some charities near impossible to assess, such as Oxfam (with it's many 'branches' and specific departments), which are still endorsed by Singer - he simply encourages us to consider leaving the biggest mark possible with what we can/do give.

So, as soon as I am lucky enough to have an income, I will take Singer's 'pledge'. At 'less than 105 000 USD', this translates to giving 'at least 1% of your income' to effective charities. Why so low? Well, on the website for his 'The Life You Can Save' campaign the FAQ section states that:

"... if we are to change the culture of giving, we have to start somewhere. At present very few people give even one percent of their income to help the poor. Better, I think, to start low and have more people giving than to insist on a standard so high that almost everyone will reject it.

Besides, one percent is significantly better than nothing. If all the world’s affluent people gave one percent of their income to help the extremely poor, that would be more than twice the amount of official (government) aid that is now given to fight global poverty. And since much government aid does not go to those who are truly poor, if this money went to organizations with a proven record of effectiveness in helping people in extreme poverty, it could do far more good than official aid does now.

He makes a good point - but I will, of course, aim for higher if my income permits it. Ten percent, to me, seems like a reasonable initial goal. Once reached, how ever long that takes, I will increase it... His ethical argument was simply too convincing for me to not look forward to writing the cheques.

Carnun :P

___

*Of course, as it was brought up in the Q&A afterwards, striving to look after the environment for the sake of the well-being of future generations is another way to simultaneously not 'walk past' people suffering. It's just that, in this case, the arbitrary barrier in the way of our considering them is much more difficult for us to overcome: it's not just distance in the way, but time itself.

The ethics are still constant and the argument still stands despite this difference though. There is just as much of an obligation (and perhaps an even more compelling one) to help prevent this future climate-related suffering as there is to tackle disproportionate displeasure in the here and now.

==========

[Reposted from 'The Ramblings of a Young Atheist' ---> here <--- by the author.]

Views: 187

Tags: Charity, Donation, Ethics, Morality, Philosophy, Poverty

Comment by Simon Paynton on May 6, 2013 at 12:42pm

@Carnun -  ... in what way is it strange?  Is it also interesting, and intriguing? 

Comment by Carnun Marcus-Page on May 6, 2013 at 12:57pm

Simon: All of those things. I'd love for you to expand (and I hope you're joking)...

Comment by Simon Paynton on May 6, 2013 at 3:13pm

"'Ethically speaking, is there a difference between walking past this dying girl and not giving to an effective, life-saving charity when it's well within your means?'

No, he argued. And I don't think anyone disagreed.

... there simply isn't a moral distinction. In both cases, a life is in danger. And In both cases, you can help... "



FUCK HIM!!!  How dare he compare the two.  He shouldn't have to use this little girl's senseless death as an example to illustrate his fancy, [idiotic] arguments.  It is disrespectful, people.  I just crossed Pete Singer off my list of people to listen to, if he was ever on there.  

This is no way to make a moral argument.  He shouldn't be referencing toddlers mangled by lorries in order to prove his point.  He should be able to say, these are the reasons why we ought to help people with malaria.  Not: push her why don't you.  

He's using an emotional argument when I thought he was all about "the concept of an impartial standpoint" - busted.  

I contend that nothing extraordinarily bad has ever happened to Pete Singer.  Three of his grandparents died in the gas chambers - yes, that's very sad, but it didn't happen to Mr Singer himself.  So really, all of this is just pushing words around.  None of it really matters to him personally.  Obviously.  

The guy is just frightening. 

Comment by Carnun Marcus-Page on May 6, 2013 at 3:28pm

Simon: I'm sorry, but whether you disagree with the guy's arguments* or not, the conclusion he's drawing involves helping people. He's not peddling some miracle cure, asking us to buy his book etc - he just want us to improve the lives of others. That you'd so venomously object to this astounds me.

*It's all about 'impartial standpoint' (though I must admit I am ignorant of a lot of the philosophy of his past), equating the lives of people suffering and a persons obligation to help regardless of distance or time or any other arbitrary/psychological barrier.

Comment by Simon Paynton on May 6, 2013 at 3:41pm

"He's not peddling some miracle cure, asking us to buy his book etc - he just want us to improve the lives of others. That you'd so venomously object to this astounds me.

That is disingenuous.  I wasn't complaining about wanting to help people - this is a good thing.  I object to the fucked-up way he's making his [thin] arguments. 

Comment by Simon Paynton on May 6, 2013 at 3:44pm

So if he makes his arguments in this manner, he's not a very good moral philosopher. 

Comment by Carnun Marcus-Page on May 6, 2013 at 3:44pm

Simon: Then I apologise. It's hard not to think that, from the tone.

Let's argue about his arguments then: I think they're sound.
In each case, there is 'a life you can save'. End of.

Comment by Simon Paynton on May 6, 2013 at 3:51pm

His arguments themselves are something different and worth discussing on their own merit, without trying to justify them by recourse to murdered little girls. 

There are similarities between the two cases, however, not enough to draw any conclusions, and anyway, it's thoroughly disrespectful. 

So, dead toddlers aside, most people would agree that we should try and help people with malaria who will die unless they are given treatment which they currently cannot afford. 

Comment by Simon Paynton on May 6, 2013 at 3:54pm

Of course, the case isn't closed [for me].  The wider question - is it ethical to prefer one person over another - is interesting and needs a satisfactory answer. 

Comment by Simon Paynton on May 6, 2013 at 4:06pm

For starters, how about these assumptions?: 

  • we each have a duty to take care of ourselves - to be "easy to support"
  • we each have a duty to take care of those we have agreed to take care of - those who depend on us
  • compassion is good

So if I can, I'll send some money abroad.  In the meantime, somebody also needs to take care of me and my dependents. 

Comment

You need to be a member of Think Atheist to add comments!

Join Think Atheist

Forum

The Shinto Flower among the Weeds of Religion

Started by Cato Rigas in Advice. Last reply by Cato Rigas 8 hours ago. 2 Replies

Awe struck

Started by Davis Goodman in Small Talk. Last reply by Unseen 10 hours ago. 15 Replies

"I'm Christian and I vote."

Started by Ed in Small Talk. Last reply by James Cox 10 hours ago. 40 Replies

Blog Posts

Life Condensed

Posted by Cato Rigas on October 19, 2014 at 8:30pm 1 Comment

Cool Vehicle Inspection!

Posted by Ed on October 18, 2014 at 9:03am 2 Comments

Services we love!

We are in love with our Amazon

Book Store!

Gadget Nerd? Check out Giz Gad!

Advertise with ThinkAtheist.com

In need a of a professional web site? Check out the good folks at Clear Space Media

© 2014   Created by umar.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service