Luke donate to the needy. Singer obviously

April 17, 2019 General Studies

Luke Darling
Professor SchCourse Number10/23/18
Title: SubtitleEveryday, wealthy American consumers buy big-screen TV’s, TV’s for their bathrooms, $100,000 Mercedes, DVD players to go in their brand new Mercedes, and countless other luxury items. Peter Singer, in “The Singer Solution to World Poverty,” argues that there is no reason why these Americans and every other American who can afford to does not donate to the needy. Singer obviously cannot force anyone to donate money, so he creates two hypothetical situations to support his argument and to get the reader to ask the question, “am I going to donate or not?” These hypothetical situations are fairly persuasive in getting the reader to want to donate, but the argument loses its strength later on and the reader becomes less persuaded and motivated to donate when Singer begins to demand that people donate every cent of their extra money.

The first hypothetical situation comes from the Brazilian film, Central Station, and involves a retired schoolteacher, Dora, who has the opportunity to make a quick thousand dollars. What she has to do is persuade a homeless nine year old boy to go with her to an address she is given where he will be adopted by foreigners. Dora does this, receives the thousand dollars, and after spending some of the money on a television, she finds out that the boy was too old for adoption and so will be killed and his organs will be sold. Dora decides to take the boy back.

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The second hypothetical situation that Singer uses in his argument is taken from the philosopher Peter Unger’s book, Living High and Letting Die. A man Bob has just spent the majority of his savings on a rare and valuable old car, a Bugatti. Bob loves his car not only because he enjoys riding in and caring for it, but also because its market value continues to increase, ensuring Bob that he can sell it after retirement and be financially stable. Bob parks his Bugatti one day by a railroad track and gets out to take a walk. He sees a runaway train speeding down the tracks, heading towards a child off in the distance. Bob now has a choice. He can flip a switch which will redirect the train away from the child and towards his Bugatti. He decides not to flip the switch and as a result the child dies and the Bugatti is not harmed.

Singer introduces these two situations to invoke a response from the reader. With regards to Dora, who chose to save the child, Singer says, “Suppose Dora had told her neighbor that it is a tough world, other people have nice new TV’s too, and if selling the kid is the only way she can get one, well, he was only a street kid. She would then have become, in the eyes of the audience, a monster” (Singer 367). Singer says about Bob, who chose not to save the child, “Bob’s conduct, most of us will immediately respond, was gravely wrong” (Singer 368). Singer wants the reader to praise the actions of Dora and denounce the actions of Bob.

Singer makes a distinction between Dora’s situation and Bob’s situation. Dora had actually been face to face with the child whom she could save whereas Bob had not. The child on the tracks was too far away for Bob to make out. “Unlike Dora, Bob did not have to look into the eyes of the child he was sacrificing for his own material comfort” (Singer 369). Singer says that although the nature of Dora and Bob’s relationships with the children was different, they still both should have done everything they could have to save the child. Singer is a utilitarian philosopher, which means that he looks at the consequences of an action to see whether it is right or wrong. The consequence of Dora’s action was the child lived, therefore Dora acted right. The consequence of Bob’s action or more appropriately lack of action was the child died, so he acted wrongly according to Singer. Singer believes that Bob’s lack of action should be condemned.

Singer relates the stories of Dora and Bob to this argument about Americans not donating to the poor by saying that “Bob’s situation resembles that of people able but unwilling to donate to overseas aid” (Singer 369). These situations are similar first of all because just as Bob did not know or could not see the child on the tracks, we do not know the child that will receive our donation. Secondly, just as the consequence of Bob not flipping the switch was that the child died, the consequence of people not donating to help poor children results in children dying. It is inferred, from Singer’s belief that the consequence of an action determines whether it is right or wrong, that if any action results in the death of a child, the action is wrong. So, if we condemn Bob for not saving the child, how can we not condemn all of the people with surplus wealth who do not donate a dollar? Singer researched and used Peter Unger’s hypothesis that it would only take $200 to “help a sickly two-year-old transform into a healthy six-year-old” (Singer 369). According to Singer, it takes only $200 to save a child’s life, and yet so many people are able but not willing to donate.

The already mentioned parts of Singer’s argument are the strongest and most persuasive found in the essay. The comparison of Bob with the person who does not donate was effective in showing how we can determine whether or not a child lives. I believe that we are like Bob in that we have the choice of whether or not to divert the train. We can help save the child or do nothing and let the child die. Two hundred dollars is not much money at all and if it is true that this could help save one child’s life than I think people who are able but do not donate should be condemned. Singer’s argument has taken the form of a pathetic appeal in that it has appealed to the reader’s emotions. I, at least, feel sympathetic towards the children who are dying and feel guilty and ashamed that everyone cannot donate $200. I felt very compelled at this point in the article to donate $200 because I realized what little sacrifice I would have to make in order to save a child’s life.

Singer’s argument, though, loses its persuasion towards the end. Two quotes in particular cause the strength of Singer’s argument to weaken. The first is “I can see no escape 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” (Singer 372). The second quote reads, “again, the formula is simple: whatever money you’re spending on luxuries, not necessities, should be given away” (Singer 372). Earlier in the article, Singer seemed to be asking every able person to donate just $200. He showed that this amount of money could truly save a life and I believe it would be hard to find someone who would object to giving this relatively small amount of money if it meant saving a life. Now Singer has said that he wants everyone to donate every cent of his or her extra money to charity. This is a large demand that does not convince people to want to donate their money.

Earlier I could not see how anyone could object to giving $200 but I can see here how some people would object to giving all of their extra wealth. Singer is telling people that they need to donate all their surplus money, money they have earned themselves, and I can see how this would make some people irritated that he would demand this and make them want to do the opposite of what he wants them to do. Singer does not say why people should donate every penny of their surplus wealth, he just says we should do it. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that I need a little more convincing if I am going to just one day send all of my extra money to a foreign country or some other unknown location. Singer does not even address the issue of what would happen if no one had any extra money. There could be serious consequences including at the very least that no one would have any financial stability. Singer did not provide any real persuasion as to why people should donate all their extra wealth and so left the readers wondering why they should give away all that they have worked for.

Peter Singer should not have included in his argument his demand for people to donate every penny of their extra wealth. He had a strong argument up to this point but the last page of the article almost completely cancelled out the strength that the rest of the argument had. I went from being irritated at the people who do not donate anything and very persuaded to donate $200 to being very unsure as to whether or not I wanted to donate. Singer’s demand that people donate all of their surplus money made me, and I’m sure other people who have read this article as well, irritated at Singer for making such a large request without explaining why this was the right thing to do and almost made me not want to donate at all because Singer had angered me. If he had limited his demand for donation to $200, he would not have angered anyone and more people I think would have been compelled to donate after reading this article.


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