Berkeley PHILOS 108 - Singer’s Argument (4 pages)

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Singer’s Argument



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Singer’s Argument

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University of California, Berkeley
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Philos 108 - Contemporary Ethical Issues
Contemporary Ethical Issues Documents
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Phil 108 July 7 2010 Singer s Argument In his 1972 paper Famine Affluence and Morality Peter Singer argues 1 Shallow Pond is wrong 2 The best explanation of 1 is the following principle If we can prevent something bad from happening without sacrificing anything of comparable significance it would be wrong of us not to do it 3 This principle implies that Envelope is wrong unless paying the 100 would leave us worse off than the people we d be helping 4 Therefore Ethics is Highly Demanding I e in order to avoid acting seriously wrongly we must give most of our money to relief agencies Notice The point is not simply that it is good and praiseworthy to send 100 to UNICEF That is compatible with its being above and beyond the call of duty Instead the point is that it is wrong and blameworthy not to send 100 to UNICEF just as Shallow Pond is Peter Unger is convinced that Singer s conclusion is correct But Unger wants to improve the argument for that conclusion Unger worries about step 2 Why couldn t the best explanation of 1 be some other principle that does not imply that Envelope is wrong Unger s strategy Liberationism Our intuitions about particular cases e g that Envelope is not wrong often do not accurately reflect our Values Instead our intuitions result from distorting psychological factors Liberates us from our intuitions The alternative Preservationism Our intuitions about particular cases accurately reflect our Values Tries to preserve our intuitions An illustration The Puzzle of the Historical Virginians and Imaginary Australians We think that Washington was a decent person and that his total behavior was all right Are these the same But we don t think this of the imaginary Australians Why Idea of Moral Progress With regard to certain morally bad forms of behavior we have the idea that humanity has morally progressed beyond its being even the least bit normal for anyone to engage in behavior of those forms We overrate behavior of those forms that took place before the progress was made Further moral Perhaps we overrate our own behavior in Envelope because we haven t progressed yet Vintage Sedan and Envelope Vintage sedan fails to sacrifice 5 000 to save one leg of an adult who is responsible for his plight and whose plight results from his own wrongdoing Intuitively wrong Envelope fails to sacrifice 100 to save the lives of thirty children who are not responsible for their plight and have done nothing wrong Intuitively not wrong Possible differences Unger s responses i offers new cases that control for the possible difference and or ii denies that the possible difference is morally important 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Physical Distance Social Distance It matters only when people are very close to you Directness of information It matters only when indirectness casts doubt on the information Experiential impact I e whether you saw it with your own eyes etc Other Potential Saviors Why should it matter if you know that the others won t help Governments just a special case An Emergency rather than a Chronic Horror I e in VS the victim goes from being well off to being badly off all of a sudden But isn t it worse not to save the children in E who have been badly off all along Causally focused rather than causally amorphous aid I e there is no child such that whether or not you donate determines whether or not that child lives or dies But what matters is simply how many are saved Epistemically focused rather than epistemically amorphous aid I e there is no child such that if you save you know that you helped save that child in particular Goods and services rather than money In the following cases Unger iii denies that VS and E even differ in the relevant respect 10 The Disastrous Further Future Saving these children does not cause overpopulation 11 A Single Individual in Need rather than Many in Need But there isn t a single person in need in VS There are still many people in need they just aren t salient 12 A Cleaned Scene rather than a Continuing Mess Similar answer to 11 13 Urgency I e how soon will the bad thing happen Extra time matters only if it means more chances to be helped In E it does not mean more chances to be helped 14 Saving rather than helping people to be saved In VS you don t save by yourself The real difference salience The reason why we think VS is wrong but E is not wrong is that in VS the needs are salient conspicuous attention grabbing to the agent but in E the needs are not Is salience morally important Unger No Why then does salience influence our intuitions Stay tuned A provisional conclusion about the demands of morality Even if ethics is not highly demanding if VS is wrong doesn t imply that ethics is highly demanding then neither does E is wrong Why Because VS is wrong implies that ethics is more demanding than E is wrong implies Objection Isn t VS is wrong less demanding because we encounter such situations less often Does Unger have an adequate reply Salience Unger argues that the reason we intuitively think Sedan is wrong but Envelope is not wrong is that the needs are salient to us in Sedan but not salient to us in Envelope Salience is not morally important So why does salience affect our intuitions Salience frees us from futility thinking 1 Suppose that all you knew was that you can help some people who were in great need Then you would think correctly that it would be wrong not to help them 2 Futility Thinking Most of the time however you think of the people you can help as belonging to a hopelessly overwhelming group a group such that many of its members will still be in great need no matter what you do So helping those people seems to you futile So you think incorrectly that it would not be wrong not to help them 3 In special cases however certain positive highly subjective factors prevent us from thinking of people as belonging to a hopelessly overwhelming group Then helping those people does not seem futile So you think once again correctly that it would be wrong not to help them These positive highly subjective factors include a Salience b Dramatic Trouble A bomb will go off unless Jack Bauer c Descriptive Segregation Two Cal students have been Grouping and Segregating Bank Card Leave Nothing happens Pick up One more Cambodian child picked at random will have its foot cut off But 100 will not be deducted from your account You pick up Wrong Why is Bank Card wrong whereas Envelope is not wrong Puzzling because i As far as the initially promising


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