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Singer’s Practical Ethics Essay

3453 words - 14 pages

Singer’s Practical Ethics

St. Augustine once stated, “The superfluities of the rich are the
necessities of the poor. When you possess in excess, you possess what
belongs to the poor” (Church 3). This quotation expresses that the
less fortunate in our world deserve to own a part of all the excess
luxuries that are owned by the more wealthy people. Therefore,
anything beyond the necessities of life can be considered something
that the poor should retain. This idea is very similar to that of
Peter Singer, who contends that the injustice of people who live in
abundance while others starve is morally inexcusable. He argues that
anyone who is able to aid the poor ought to donate in order to help
the crisis of world poverty and similar endeavors. Singer explains
that if one is already living comfortably, the act of acquiring
luxuries to increase pleasure does not entail the same moral
importance as saving someone’s life. Since he is a utilitarian, he
judges whether acts are right or wrong based on the consequences the
action brings. Therefore, if the consequence of the wealthy people’s
failure to donate money is that another poor person dies, then that is
just as bad as killing them, since they are consciously letting them
die. In his work, Practical Ethics, Singer offers his thoughts about
one’s obligations to world poverty and suggests what must be done to
fix this dilemma. He questions whether it is ethical for people to
live a life of luxury while they allow others to barely survive, or
even die.

In the world today, there are two extremes of world poverty: absolute
affluence and absolute poverty. The basic definition of absolute
affluence is earning more income than is necessary and possessing an
abundance of money that can be used for luxuries. Exactly opposite of
this extreme are those who are so poor that every day is a struggle to
survive. The majority of people living in western industrialized
countries, specifically, the United States, live in absolute
affluence. Singer writes, “Those who are absolutely affluent are not
necessarily affluent by comparison with their neighbors, but they are
affluent by any reasonable definition of human needs” (221). Singer
is not interested in dealing with relative poverty, since every
country has this. However, he is concerned with an issue that does
not occur in the United States, although it is “normal” for some other
countries to experience. Additionally, Singer is not angry that
absolute poverty exists, but he is outraged that people who are able
to help but choose not to prevent it.

Singer recognizes that the cause of the problem is that the wealth in
the world is not being distributed properly. He asserts, “Only by
transferring some of the wealth of the rich nations to the poor can
the situation be changed”...

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