A positive obligation is a responsibility that we have to fulfill (Singer, 1964). Singer has successfully removed the supererogation concept from aid. This means that giving more than asked for is not punishable. It is important to note that Singer refers to people in wealthy countries who have the means to live beyond the basics. In my essay, I will also clarify that when I refer to poverty, I assume Singer is addressing people who are living in extreme poverty, as he uses the example of Bengalis. In my essay, I’ll outline Singer’s three premises on our moral duty and then go on to limit these statements. I conclude by saying that although Singer is right in that we are obligated to help those who are in need, the argument he uses to support this conclusion is not convincing enough.
Singer’s argument assumes that’suffering, and even death, caused by lack of healthcare or food is bad’. The statement can be easily backed up as the services mentioned are considered essential to human survival (Singer, 1972). Singer then goes on to say that we should prevent bad things from happening if we can do it without sacrificing something of (comparable moral importance). Singer proposes two principles for this premise, one weak: “If there is a way to prevent bad things from happening while not sacrificing morally significant items, it’s our duty to do so” and another strong: “If you can stop something from happening but without sacrificing morally meaningful items, it’s your duty to do so”. My analysis will focus on the latter principle. Singer uses the analogy of the “Pond” to support this claim. The act of saving a child from drowning is equated with sacrificing your clothes in order to address the issue of global poverty. Singer argues that if you can save a child from drowning, then it follows that you have the ability to help those who live in poverty. The assumption is that if we are able to save the child, then we should be able to provide aid to those in poverty.
Singer is fully aware of its flaws, so he tries in advance to counter any objections to his pond analogy. He first addresses the issue of proximity. In the pond analogy, the person is in your face whereas in the affluent country the people are far away. Singer believes that it doesn’t matter if we are morally obligated to help. Second, there is the issue of how many people are helping. On a local level, you are the sole person who can provide assistance. However, on a global scale you do not bear all the responsibility. Singer responds once more to this objection, stating that it is an excuse to not fulfill moral obligations as individuals believe they are the responsibility of others (Singer 1972). Singer may be right in that we are all morally obligated to help those in need. But the real responsibility lies with those in power. Even though we can provide financial help, poor leadership in a country will lead to even greater poverty. This cannot be changed simply by a donor. To use an analogy from the movie “Pond”, if I were to rescue the boy who is drowning, would the lifeguard not be able do it more efficiently? The answer would seem to be yes. But this doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t try my best to save the boy.
I also find that the ‘Pond analogy’ fails to illustrate how we should prevent poverty by providing financial aid. The analogy emphasizes that the sacrifices are not comparable. For example, the sacrifices to ruin clothes or give up luxury items is not comparable. This link has a few problems. The first is that the difference between the two is significant. One is an emergency and the other a chronic illness (Badhwar 2006). As absolute poverty doesn’t happen once, if we wanted to compare the two, then the individual would constantly have to rescue children from ponds. Morally speaking this isn’t comparable with saving lives. Singer has raised the bar on what used to be a minor cost into something that is now a regular cost. This makes us question whether it’s our duty to help others in need with as much as they can afford. What the pond initially presented as being a simple task has now become a demanding task. Singer would still maintain that we are obligated to help as many people as possible, even though it may be costly.
It seems that we will be asked to spend a great deal of time and money if we accept Singer’s conclusion, which is that we should give whatever we can to charities working to alleviate poverty. Singer considers that this is a just thing to do, yet it seems like an infringement on the personal wishes of each individual (Otteson (2000). Singer suggests that to be moral, you should give whatever you can to charities fighting poverty. However, you might want to devote your time to other interests which are morally acceptable but do not align with Singer’s intentions. Singer’s philosophy also promotes equality by encouraging those who can to give as much money as they are able. The idea that people who have worked hard and earned luxuries should donate them to charity or be immoral (Otteson, (2000)) would demotivate some. I agree that individuals should do more for those in need. But, expecting that it’s a moral obligation is too much and impossible. Singer says that this will bring about a radical change in our “moral scheme” but I do not believe that his argument is strong enough to convince people to sacrifice so much.
Final words: I applaud Singer because he has addressed the issues that we, as those with financial excess, must take on. It is not a secret that those with a financial surplus have the means to help more people in poverty. Although I agree with Singer that we all have a moral duty to help those in poverty, I don’t think we should be obligated to do so. Singer’s arguments seem to suggest that individuals should be allowed to live their life freely without having it severely restricted.