It is almost Thanksgiving. Most of us will spend Thanksgiving in comfort – perhaps a warm fire, certainly a large meal (the kind of meal where you have to undo the top button of your pants in order to make room for pumpkin pie dessert). Well, chew on this while you gorge yourself:
Singer’s argument about our moral obligations to the poor (by the way, of all of his work, I think this is his best argument)
Singer makes 2 assumptions, both of them look like REALLY safe assumptions.
1) Suffering and death from lack of food, water, shelter, and medical care are bad
2) If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing something of comparable moral importance, then we ought morally to do it.
Since it is in our power to prevent people from starving to death (by giving more $ to the poor), then we ought to do it. But notice how radical this is. His strongest version is that we ought to give up to the point that any further gift would make us worse off than the one to whom we are giving. Even his weakest version is incredibly challenging: If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening (someone from starving to death), without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, then we morally ought to.
Morally significant things would include education, so I think it would be morally permissible to spend money (or save money) for college expenses. But, on this view, any and all trivial spending would constitute a failure to live up to our moral obligation to prevent bad things from happening to other people.
No more movies, no more dinners out, no more unnecessary food at home (pumpkin pie with cool whip, garish holiday feasts). No spending money on clothes for the sake of being fashionable. No spending on frivolities of any kind!
Many in my Social Ethics course this semester agreed to try this for 7 days. All have reported it to be extremely difficult.