Almost everyone reading this could save a life by sacrificing something far less valuable (than the life of a human) if they simply chose to do so. So why don’t we?
Philosopher Peter Singer is probably most famous for arguing that each of us (who don’t live in poverty) should give up at least some of our luxuries in order to save the lives of those who do live in extreme poverty. In making this argument, Singer usually begins by sharing a scenario/story like the following:
Imagine that you are on your way to work, and you drive by a pond and notice that a child is drowning. You are an expert swimmer, and you aren’t worried about drowning or being injured. However, if you stop to help the child, your favorite and most expensive outfit (perhaps a new suit you just bought) will be ruined by the dirty water, and you will loose some of your pay for the day because you will be several hours late for work.
Singer argues that when we chose to purchase luxuries rather than save the lives of those that live in extreme poverty, we are acting no differently than someone who would allow the child to drown in order to earn a little more money and have nicer clothes. Singer’s “basic argument” goes something like this:
- If we can prevent something bad from happening without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, then we ought to do so.
- Death by starvation (or any other death that is easily preventable – such as measles) is bad.
- We can prevent many people from dying of starvation by sacrificing our luxuries, which are not as important.
- Therefore, we ought to prevent people from dying of starvation by sacrificing our luxuries.
(This argument can be seen here.)
Do you disagree with him? If so, why? Should each of us do more to help those in need?
And since this has to be a religious topic, and despite the fact that this argument does not rely on any appeal to religious belief (there are many ways/approaches to argue for the moral importance of human life), it is worth pointing out that the historical Jesus (who I think spoke more about helping those in need than anything else) would have agreed with Singer.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.