Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
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Philosophy 1A


Professor Andreas Teuber

Saving the World's Children
from Dying of Starvation


So what do you think?

Singer sees "no escape," as he says, "from the conclusion that each one of us with wealth surplus to his or her essential needs should be giving most of it to help people suffering from poverty so dire as to be life-threatening. "

He believes "you shouldn't buy that new car, take that cruise, redecorate the house or get that pricey new suit. After all, a $1,000 suit could save five children's lives."

And, Singer believes, if you buy that new car, take that cruise, redecorate the house when you could save children's lives who are dying of starvation you are acting badly, failing to act morally. Indeed, Singer thinks if you buy the new car, take that cruise, etc. you are being no better than Bob - remember Bob? - who saves his Bugatti and lets the child on the tracks die.

What do you think?

Do you agree? If so, why?

If not, why not.

And what moral theory best explains, best supports your position?

We seem to have come full circle. We seem to have arrived back at the trolley problem.

Or have we?

Drawing on the reading, your own considered opinion and good judgment, make a case for or against the morality of buying that new car, etc. when you could save children's lives.

In arguing for your position, think of the arguments that might be made against it, and respond to them. In defending your position, offer what you believe are the most principled arguments you can make.

Much of what Singer says here expands upon and develops what he says in "Famine, Affluence and Morality," written almost four decades ago.

Take a look back at that essay. How does your judgment and answer to Singer's challenge differ here from your judgment of John and in the Case of the Shallow Pond and yourself in the Envelope cases. Is there a significant moral difference among all these cases? And if there isn't, your judgment in each case ought to be at least consistent, no?

Recall, too, some of the cases we have already discussed - at least to some extent - in class. Here I am thinking about the handouts on "Baby Theresa" and "John on a Botany Expedition in the Amazon" as well as "The Trolley Problem Case"and "The Emergency Room Case", Queen v. Dudley and "The Strange Case of the Speluncean Explorers"

Do your views of John in the Amazon, The Trolley Problem , , The Baby Theresa Case and the Spelunkers' Case cohere with your view of Bob and his Bugatti and your buying of that new car when you could save a number of children from starvation?

Does your moral theory, principle or principles capture your intuitive judgments of how these cases should come out?

To do a good job with this, you may want to take a look again at the moral theories laid out in the reading in the Perry, Bratman, Fischer Introduction to Philosophy text in the section under the title: "Ethics and Society," lat utilitarianism, Kantianism, virtue theory, and the social contract theory of John Rawls.

You may also find Thomas Nagel's essay on "War and Massacre" in the reading for the course to be useful since it provides a Kantian approach to the treatment of civilians and non-combatants in time of war and so offers insight into how moral theory can be given practical application. Looking closely at the different positions taken by Onora O'Neill in her "Kantian Approaches to Some Famine Problems" and by Peter Singer in his "Famine, Affluence and Morality" article are also likely to help, although do not forget . . .

"Philosophy has to be self-thought, if it is to be thought at all. It is an activity rather than [merely] a set of positions. You need to think out the problems and solutions for yourself, and although another person's philosophizing may help you in your own, you cannot accept their conclusions, or even understand their arguments, until you have already argued a lot with yourself." - J. R. Lucas.

But as with the other topics you should feel free to talk to others in the class as well as to family and friends, to show your parents brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles the paper topic, to brainstorm and consult with them. If you feel confident about your answer, it may help to ask others what they think is wrong with it as well as to ask if they think you may have overlooked something and if so, what? And the reading is like having a professional philosopher on call, always ready to step out onto the court with you and help you improve your game. Take advantage of the reading! And . . .




Peter Singer and World Hunger and Famine Links



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Last Modified: 11/28/10
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