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notes 04-22 - 04/22/08 Why we all should give away 25% of...

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04/22/08 Why we all should give away 25% of our pay June 9, 2007 YOU are wandering through Hyde Park and spot a friend gasping for breath and flailing in a shallow pond. You decide not to wade in and help her because you don't want your new shoes to get wet. She dies. Is this wrong? Consider another scene. You have received a pay rise, and oops, manage to blow $100 on a celebratory dinner. While clinking glasses in the restaurant, a Sudanese child you've never met dies of malnourishment. Is this wrong? Peter Singer, the Australian ethicist and contrarian pot-stirrer, offers up these scenarios and says, sorry, you have the same duty in both situations: to prevent poverty and death, simply because you can. This week Professor Singer returned to his old stamping ground, Oxford University, where in 1972 he catapulted to fame with an essay that has stood the test of time. Famine, Affluence and Morality can still make the reader cringe with shame. "The fact that a person is physically near to us … may make it more likely that we shall assist him, but this does not show that we ought to help him rather than another who happens to be further away," it reads. Singer continues his 35-year anti-poverty crusade, splitting his time between Princeton University in the US and the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Melbourne University. He donates a quarter of his income to charities such as Oxfam, and says we all should too. In a series of lectures at Oxford that coincided with the G8 summit in Germany, Singer has been calling for an end to "frivolous consumption". He argues that donating to alleviate poverty is a moral duty, not just a generous act of charity. People who do not donate should be condemned, as they would be for standing by while a person drowns. "There is this thing that we get from that remark of Jesus, about 'don't show your alms before others'. We get that sense of somehow it's not nice to talk about what you're doing; you should just do it quietly," he says. But studies show that people are influenced by their peers who give, he says. "Maybe Jesus didn't know the market research." The amount needed to reduce extreme poverty - defined as having the spending power of $US1.08 ($1.28) a day- is humbling when divided among the world's affluent. Singer quotes Jeffrey Sachs, an economist instrumental in developing the 15 United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which include halving the number of people living in extreme hunger and poverty, ending sex disparity in education, and reducing the mortality rate among children under five by two-thirds, by 2015. Sachs's top-end estimate to achieve these is $224 billion, requiring $240 each year to 2015 from the world's roughly 1 billion well-off people.
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"Given that that's a modest sum, it means we could do more," Singer says. "You and I might give $US200. Bill Gates would give $US200, so that's not really right. You need to work out a progressive scale and people with more money should give more." But some are less persuaded by Singer's theory, like Andrew Shepherd, the director of London's
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This note was uploaded on 09/16/2008 for the course PHIL 165 taught by Professor Gradstudent during the Spring '07 term at UNC.

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notes 04-22 - 04/22/08 Why we all should give away 25% of...

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