Friday, 23 November 2012

Challenged by Philosophy


Peter Singer's The life you can save: Acting now to end world poverty is a challenging book by any measure. Singer is uncompromising in his discussion about ending world poverty. As I read, a lot of the time I'm wondering is he dictating what we should do to end world poverty or is he making suggestions? 

The three premises on which he bases his argument are set out in a clear and concise way. I quote
 First premise: Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care are bad.
Second premise: If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so.
Third premise: By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important.
Conclusion: Therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong.

The example he gives in the second premise of his argument is this; by cutting back on unnecessary spending "... and donating what you save, until you have reduced yourself to the point where if you give any more, you will be sacrificing something nearly as important as a child's life - like giving so much that you can no longer afford to give your children an adequate education". I read that before reading more deeply into the premises and was, I have to say, shocked. In my thinking (and I don't know whether I am alone in this) I presume education to be of vital importance in alleviating world poverty. So, perhaps his example is not one that appeals to me! 

I may or may not add to this blog. The book really is difficult on all sorts of levels and I end up playing solitaire on my iPad to take my mind off it. In a way it seems Singer is provoking a guilt trip in the reader. 

One reviewer writes, I gave the book 3 stars because (a) I assume the *facts* presented are accurate, and (b) we should be doing something about poverty on this planet. Just not the way Singer says we should.

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