Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer makes the following argument that it’s wrong not to donate to charities that save lives:
•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.
In the second part, he argues that in order to refute his conclusion we have to find some flaw in reasoning. These are my objections.
First premise – These things are not necessarily bad. If they are happening to someone I like, they are bad. If they are happening to people I do not personally know, they are neutral. If they are happening to people I dislike, they are good.
Second premise – Sure. But ‘nearly as important’ can only be defined by me. The life of someone I do not know is not as important to me as even the tiniest pleasure in my own life. How can it be? I don’t know them! Whether they live or die has no bearing on my life at all. People are dying all the time. It’s what people do.
Third premise – Not at all. Everything I do with my money is more important than that. Because it benefits me or people I care about. That is more important to me than saving lives of people I don’t know.
I mean, it’s fine if you want to live a stripped-down no-frills life and donate every spare cent to starving people. But it’s also fine if you want to keep that money to buy a vintage Porsche or to spoil the hell out of your girlfriend with every pair of Miu Miu stilettos she glances at. Just as no one would seriously argue that it is wrong not to spoil the hell out of your girlfriend, no one should argue that it’s wrong not to donate to aid agencies. It isn’t right or wrong. It’s just a difference in what each individual values.