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PHILOSOPHY 103 (STOLZE) Notes on Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save.

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Presentation on theme: "PHILOSOPHY 103 (STOLZE) Notes on Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save."— Presentation transcript:

1 PHILOSOPHY 103 (STOLZE) Notes on Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save

2 The “Drowning Child” Thought Experiment “On your way to work, you pass a small pond. On hot days, children sometimes play in the pond, which is only about knee-deep. The weather’s cool today, though, and the hour is early, so you are surprised to see a child splashing about in the pond. As you get closer, you see that it is a very young child, just a toddler, who is flailing about, unable to stay upright or walk out of the pond. You look for the parents or babysitter, but there is no one else around. The child is unable to keep his head above the water for more than a few seconds at a time. If you don’t wade in and pull him out, he seems likely to drown. Wading in is easy and safe, but you will ruin the new shoes you bought only a few days ago, and get your suit wet and muddy. By the time you hand the child over to someone responsible for him, and change your clothes, you’ll be late for work. What should you do?” (p. 3)

3 Poverty Today Extreme poverty = “not having enough income to meet the most basic human needs for adequate food, water, clothing, sanitation, health care, and education” (p. 6). Relative poverty = “many of the good things they see advertised on television are beyond their budget--but they do have a television” (p. 8). Singer doesn’t “deny that the poor in the United States face genuine difficulties….nevertheless, for most, these difficulties are of a different order than those of the world’s poorest people. The 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty are poor by an absolute standard tied to the most basic human needs” (p. 8).

4 Affluence Today “Roughly matching the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty, there are about a billion living at a level of affluence never previously known except in the courts of kings and nobles” (p. 9). “And then we have the superrich, people who spend their money on palatial homes, ridiculously large and luxurious boats, and private planes. Before the 2008 stock market crash trimmed the numbers, there were more than 1,100 billionaires in the world, with a combined net worth of $4.4 trillion” (pp. 9-10).

5 “Bob and the Bugatti” Thought Experiment “Bob is close to retirement. He has invested most of his savings in a very rare and valuable old car, a Bugatti, which he has not been able to insure. The Bugatti is his pride and joy. Not only does Bob get pleasure from driving and caring for his car, he also knows that its rising market value means that he will be able to sell it and live comfortably after retirement. One day when Bob is out for a drive, he parks the Bugatti near the end of a railway siding and goes for a walk up the track. As he does so, he sees that a runaway train, with no one aboard, is running down the railway track. Looking farther down the track, he sees the small figure of a child who appears to be absorbed in playing on the tracks. Oblivious to the runaway train, the child is in great danger. Bob can't stop the train, and the child is too far away to hear his warning shout, but Bob can throw a switch that will divert the train down the siding where his Bugatti is parked. If he does so, nobody will be killed, but the train will crash through the decaying barrier at the end of the siding and destroy his Bugatti. Thinking of his joy in owning the car and the financial security it represents, Bob decides not to throw the switch.” (pp )

6 The Injured Hiker Thought Experiment “You are driving your vintage sedan down a country lane when you are stopped by a hiker who has seriously injured his leg. He asks you to take him to the nearest hospital. If you refuse, there is a good chance that he will lose his leg. On the other hand, if you agree to take him to the hospital, he is likely to bleed onto the seats, which you have recently, and expensively, restored in soft white leather.” (pp )

7 Singer’s Basic Argument (1)Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad. (2)If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so. (3)By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important. (4)Therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong.

8 Traditional Views on Helping the Poor Christianity Judaism Islam Confucianism

9 Common Objections to Giving There is no black and white universal code for everyone. You’ve work hard for, and have a right to, your money. We don’t owe them a thing. Americans already give enough. We need structural political change not individual acts of charity. Giving breeds dependency. Undermines economic growth. It would ruin our economy. We have more important special relationships. Humans are naturally selfish.

10 Reasons We Don’t Give More Identifiable victim Parochialism Futility Diffusion of responsibility Sense of fairness Money

11 Psychology, Evolution, and Ethics Question: Is giving in our nature as human beings?

12 How to Create a Culture of Giving Get it into the open. Put a face on the needy. Provide the right kind of nudge. Challenge the norm of self-interest.

13 Examples of Aid that are Effective Microfinance (Grameen Bank) Capacity building among “ragpickers” and (Oxfam) Treating obstetric fistulas

14 Improving Aid “Trade not aid”? Bad institutions undo good projects The United Nations Millennium Villages Project What about overpopulation?

15 Three Final Objections to Singer’s Basic Argument Your children and the children of strangers A fair share Moderately demanding alternatives

16 Your Children and the Children of Strangers Case studies of Zell Kravinsky, Paul Farmer, and Chuck Collins

17 Children, Basic Needs, and Luxuries (1)Parents should love their children more than the children of strangers. (2)However, parents should not provide luxuries for their children before they meet the needs of the children of strangers. (3)Therefore, parents should only meet the basic needs of their children before they meet the needs of the children of strangers.

18 Is Singer Asking Too Much? A fair share Moderately demanding alternatives

19 Ten Drowning Children Thought Experiment “You are walking past the shallow pond when you see that ten children have fallen in and need to be rescued. Glancing around, you see no parents or caregivers, but you notice that, as well as yourself, there are nine adults who have just arrived at the pond, have also seen the drowning children, and are in as good a position as you to rescue a child. So you rush into the water, grab a child, and place him safely away from the water. You look up, expecting that every other adult will have done the same, and all the children will therefore be safe, but to your dismay you see that while four other adults have each rescued a child, the other five just strolled on. In the pond there are still five children, apparently about to drown. The ‘fair-share’ theorists would say that you have now done your fair share of the rescuing. If everyone had done what you did, all of the children would have been saved. Since no one is in a better position to rescue a child than anyone else, your fair share of the task is simply to rescue one child, and you are under no obligation to do more than that. But is it acceptable for you and the other four adults to stop after you have rescued just one child each, knowing that this means that five children will drown?” (pp )

20 A Realistic Approach The public standard for giving Singer’s “seven-point plan (pp ) The greatest motivation--giving and happiness


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