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Arguments against Peter Singer’s Solution to World Poverty

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Updated: Nov 3rd, 2019


The article The Singer solution to world poverty was written by Peter Singer. Peter Singer has also authored the Animal Liberation (1975) and has served as the editor of the Bioethics Journal. The article compares the lives of people in the developed world represented by America and that of developing world represented by Brazil; It is about a school teacher who sells a young boy for adoption to enable him to earn money to purchase a TV.

The school teacher is driven by the desire to enjoy luxury and hence she uses the money to buy a TV set, and this drives her to the comfort she desires. The teacher compares herself to the American people who use their money enjoy unnecessary luxuries, and the money instead could have been used to change the lives of people in the developing world by donations through charities.

Dora, poised by the concerns from her neighbor manages to redeem back the child who is considered too old for adoption. The writer argues that the spending behavior of the Americans and the unconventional mode that people from emerging countries use to acquire money both raise moral concerns. This is captured well by philosopher Peter Unger in his book Living high and letting die. The culture of excessive spending in the developed world and poverty in the developing world are both matters of moral concerns.

Brief summary of the article

The article is captured in the film ‘central station,’ and it is about a Brazilian schoolteacher called Dora who due to the harsh life she experiences decides to sell a young boy for adoption to earn money that will enable her to enjoy life like people in America. According to Dora, her actions are as a result of the hard life she is facing.

The article argues that the lifestyle in America is lavish and the excess money could be a utility to the lives of people in developing countries. The writer argues that the lavish spending in America and the unorthodox tactics of making money like the one used by Dora are both moral issues which raise ethical concerns. This is because it is not ethical to consign a live child to death and similarly it is not ethical to ignore the appeal to help a child we will not meet.

The works of the philosopher Unger support this part of the argument in his book “living high and letting die” when he takes the example of Bob, who spends much of his retirement savings to buy himself a Bugatti which he cherishes most. And he is willing to let a child killed by the train than his Bugatti being runaway with just like how Dora loves his TV at the expense of the young boy.

Unger proposes avenues like UNICEF as the better way of saving the lives of vulnerable children in the developing world. They value their vintage properties at the expense of a child’s life (Soccio 533).

Analysis and evaluation of the essay

In this essay, I will be dealing with the ‘Singer solution to the world poverty’ by analyzing the examples he borrows from the book Living high and letting die by philosopher Peter Unger. The essay will bring out the ethical juxtaposition between the audiences being addressed by Singer and the examples used; the Singer’s audience is mainly people from the developed countries.

The essay applies a theory referred to as Utilitarianism which tends to advocate for actions which are aimed at creating happiness. By introducing the story with the striking and emotional reactions of the school teacher who consigns a young boy for the sake of acquiring money for his pleasure and comfort, Singer captures the mood of the article.

A retired schoolteacher who makes ends meet by sitting at the train station writing letters for illiterate people. Suddenly she has an opportunity to make $1000. All she has to do is to persuade a homeless 9-year-old boy to follow her to an address she has been given. She is told that a wealthy family will adopt the boy.

She delivers the boy and gets the money, spends some of it on a new TV and settles down to enjoy her new acquisition. Her neighbor spoils the fun, however, by telling her that the boy was too old to be adopted – he will be killed and his organs used for transplantations. (Singer 326)

Singer argues that there are similar people in the developed world who find themselves in the same situation like the one of the school teacher who is forced to forfeit her luxury of $1000 and TV set to save the life of a child. Along this vein, singer argues that the people in the developed world could save the lives of children from the developing world by letting go some of their luxuries and donating the surplus to the poor through charities.

According to Singer, the Americans are generally lavish and careless about their neighbors. The striking question in the article is ‘what is the ethical comparison between the school teacher who consigns a young homeless child to organ peddlers and an American citizen who aspires to upgrade his luxuries despite having the knowledge that the money could be donated through organizations like UNICEF to help save the lives of needy children in poor countries?’.

When Bob first grasped the dilemma that faced him as he stood by that railway switch, he must have thought how extraordinarily unlucky he was to be placed in a situation in which he must choose between the life of an innocent child and the sacrifice of most of his savings. But he was not unlucky at all. We are all in that situation. (Singer 331)

My Opinion

I disagree with Singer since his requirements are challenging to be implemented; this is because by just contributing money to the third world countries, their problems world will not be solved since they are deep-rooted and can’t be just simplified like the way Singer has done.

Financial assistance from the developed world may even worsen the situation in the developing world since it will make them over dependent and over-reliant on aid which is not be a long term and permanent solution. The case of donations may result in a straightforward answer where the donating country may grow materially poor, and the recipient country may become wealthier. Also, Singer’s work falls short of the argument that the donation of surplus wealth to charity may not give the best results (Singer 146).

Among the compelling comparisons from the article in general and the above ethical question in particular include; it is indeed heartlessness for the schoolteacher to consign a child to death as juxtaposed with the kind appeal for money to help a child that one will never meet which appears easy. There is feeling that it is not right that the boy was sold and that people in the well off nations cared less about this behavior.

Singer agrees that similarities exist in the two situations, but it is only the ends that are different. Singer supports his works with that of philosopher Unger who initiated “a series of imaginary examples to probe our intuitions about whether it is wrong to live well without giving substantial amounts of money to help people who are hungry, malnourished or dying of easily curable diseases” (Unger 138).

The man (Bob) finds himself in a difficult situation when he parks his vehicle and takes a walk, but he notices a runaway train and a small child who is likely to be killed by the train. The man thinks about the joy and pleasure he derives from the car with the additional financial value and the option of saving the life of a child, he chooses the former.

The actions of the man are considered immoral, but Singer argues that there are people in the developed world are unwilling to forfeit their pleasures to save the lives of several children. And only they can be in a position to do so if they can sacrifice their financial security for the sake of saving a child’s life (World Poverty 1).

Summary of the article

Singer’s article can be summarized as; first, it is possible to prevent something unpleasant from taking place without necessarily sacrificing another thing of comparable utility. Also, the article posits that we can prevent many people from dying of any disease or ailment that we can easily avoid through sacrificing our luxuries which are at times unnecessary. The main argument according to Singer is that if we can save lives by sacrificing our luxuries and then let us do so.

The lesson learned is that sacrificing something valuable at the expense of more precious things is a delicate choice that must be navigated carefully (Feldman 138).

Works Cited

Feldman, Fred. Living high and letting die, our illusions of innocence by Peter Singer. Feldman, 2011. Web. <>

Singer, Peter. The Singer Solution to World Poverty, the Best American Essays. New York: Cengage Learning, 2003. Print.

Soccio, Douglas. Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy. New York: Cengage Learning, 2009. Print.

Unger, Peter. Living High, Letting Die. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.

World Poverty. Singer solution to world poverty. World Poverty, 2011. Web.

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