SingerUnderFire - Separateness, Suffering, and Moral Theory...

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Separateness, Suffering, and Moral Theory David Schmidtz Philosophy Department University of Arizona Tucson, AZ 85721 schmidtz@u.arizona.edu What I call the Singer Principle has an awkward consequence. Section I explains the principle. Section II explains the problem. Later sections discuss implications for morality and moral theorizing. I. T HE S INGER P RINCIPLE In “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” after describing the famine in East Bengal circa 1971, Peter Singer says, I shall argue that the way people in relatively affluent countries react to a situation like that in Bengal cannot be justified; indeed, the whole way we look at moral issues—our moral conceptual scheme—needs to be altered, and with it, the way of life that has come to be taken for granted in our society. In arguing for this conclusion I will not, of course, claim to be morally neutral. I shall, however, try to argue for the moral position that I take, so that anyone who accepts certain assumptions, to be made explicit, will, I hope, accept my conclusion. I begin with the assumption that suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad. . . . Those who disagree need read no further. My next point is this: 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. By “without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance” I mean without causing anything else comparably bad to happen, or doing something that is wrong in itself, or failing to promote some moral good, comparable in significance to the bad thing that we can prevent. This principle seems almost as uncontroversial as the last one. It requires us only to prevent what is bad, and not to promote what is good, and it requires this of us only when we can do it without sacrificing anything that is, from the moral point of view, comparably important. 1 Here, then, is what I call the Singer Principle: SP: 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.
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15:22:56 Singer Under Fire 2 SP has weaker and stronger forms. SP’s weaker form lets us rewrite “anything of comparable importance” as “anything significant.” SP’s stronger form requires us to interpret the original phrase literally. Singer acknowledges that SP’s uncontroversial (!) appearance is deceptive. If SP were acted upon, even in its weaker form, our lives would be very different. SP’s strong version, though, requires “reducing ourselves to the level of marginal disutility,” by which Singer means “the level at which, by giving more, I would cause as much suffering to myself or my dependents as I would relieve by my gift. This would mean, of course, that one would reduce oneself to very near the material circumstances of a Bengali refugee.” Singer adds, “I should also say that the strong version seems to me to be the correct one.” 2
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This note was uploaded on 04/20/2008 for the course PHIL 313 taught by Professor Greene during the Spring '08 term at University of Delaware.

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SingerUnderFire - Separateness, Suffering, and Moral Theory...

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