In this paper I will look at the argument made by Peter Singer in his paper, “Famine, Affluence and Morality” which advocates that those people living in more affluent countries have a moral obligation to provide assistance to the poor in other parts of the world. I will first outline the basic premise of Singer’s argument supporting this moral obligation and whether it is a sound argument. Secondly, I will look at an alternative view provided by Garrett Hardin in his paper, “Living on a Lifeboat”, which suggests that maintaining one’s own self-interest is more important and, in fact, necessary to prevent our own downfall. Finally, I will show why, in principle at least, I support one of the ideas put forth by Hardin and why it allows for some charity while at the same time acknowledging the limitations of aid.
Singer believes that coming from the benefit of an affluent society we are morally obligated to provide aid and assistance to those in the world who do not share our level of comfort, but are actually suffering from lack of the necessities of life. Singer states, “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.” (Singer, 2013, p. 684) What Singer is trying to say is that providing aid to those who require it should be an automatic response and that if we are able to provide such aid, we are obligated to do so. What is not so easy to know, however, is how much we should be willing to give and when to give. Problems arise based on many factors which I will attempt to explain why this is a problem.
First, often we make statements such as, if everyone was willing to give the same small amount, say $5.00, there would be more than enough money to provide for relief for those suffering in dire conditions. (Singer, 2013, p. 685) In theory, this sounds like a wonderful idea, and although it might be true that if everyone was to give $5.00 to help those in need, the reality is that this is not realistic as the probability of everyone giving $5.00 is most unlikely. Another problem posed from this example of equal donations from everyone, it does not take into account the ability of individuals to pay more or less than the $5.00. This example does not seem to recognize that one individual may be able to pay $500, while another may only be able to pay $1.00 and have the same economic impact on the individual personal situation, that those who have more potentially are able to give more.
A second scenario which raises another issue, might be that instead of asking that everyone give a donation, is that everyone who is willing to donate should donate as much as they possibly can in order to make up for those who do not donate at all. (Singer, 2013, p. 685) This can also have unexpected results which I do not think the intent of Singer’s argument intend to create. This could allow for more money to be collected than is actually...