I have been thinking more about my feelings towards Singer's argument put forth in the past two posts about our moral obligation to charitable contribute to those in need. On the one hand, after reading his argument I want to sell all of my gorgeous leather-bound books and forfeit next years travel plans in order to buy bushels of rice for the starving in order to relieve my guilt. At the same time, I think that there is something in his argument about this giving being a 'moral obligation' doesn't sit quite right with me. I would not feel right condemning those who did not give to charity, as Singer suggested, in the same way that I would in condemning someone who embezzled money or burglarized a family's home. For instance, if the world's richest man, Bill Gates, planned to give every penny of his fortune to his children instead of the $28 billion he has given to charity, I would feel wrong calling him a 'bad man' simply because of his lack of giving. Reading "World Hunger and Moral Obligation- The Case Against Singer" by John Arthur helped me to figure out what might be the cause of my discrepancy of moral feeling. In this article, Arthur explains how entitlements, such as rights and deserts factor in to play. In terms of rights, Arthur argues that a duty to help a stranger in need would be the consequence of some sort of positive right, such as an agreement or contract. However, no such contract exists between, for instance, a US citizen and an impoverished person living in Africa. He maintains that these rights are not the only considerations in determining morality, simply that that they are nuances which Singer's argument never takes into account. The example Arthur gives is in reference to an example in Singer's "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" which puts forth a similar argument to the reading for post number one:
"[in the case of] a lifeguard who contracts to watch out for someone's children. The parent whose child drowns would in this case be doubly wronged. First, the lifeguard should not have cruelly... ignored the child's interests, and second, he ought not to have violated the rights of the parents that he helped. ... Other bystanders also act wrongly by cruelly ignoring the child, but unlike the lifeguard they did not violate anybody's rights."
I think Arthur is correct in arguing that there is something more in play in terms of Singer's argument. In the case of the drowned child, I would feel right condemning the lifeguard and although I might feel that the bystanders acted poorly or even wrongly, it would be much easier to sympathize with their reasoning for not helping.
Arthur argues that these rights as well as deserts, which are benefits or punishments for those who justly earn them, are important parts of our moral code and are based upon fundamental values such as fairness, justice, and respect. He maintains that a rational moral code must be practical and that "Rules that would work only for angels are not the ones it is rational to support for humans". To Arthur, a rework of Singer's conclusion would require people to help when their is no substantial cost to themselves or significant reduction in their level of happiness. Most people's savings accounts are not insignificant, and thus Arthur argues these entitlements would outweigh another's need. However, if something trivial is at stake, such as dirtying one's clothes to save a drowning child, then these rights would not override the greater moral evil that could be prevented. Both Singer and Arthur's conclusions would require most people to donate more than they currently do, however, I think that Arthur's argument takes into account a better reality of human beings who feel that they are entitled to be happy by using the money that they work for and also a less critical frame of reference for passing judgements on humans who make make frivolous mistakes with their money. Thus, to me Bill Gates seems entitled to use his money as long as it was not ill begotten. However, at the same time I can think that I morally ought to donate more to charity because I can determine for myself what I need to be happy and what would be better spent on feeding the hungry. In all, I agree with Arthur that the situation is more nuanced than Singer would have us to believe.
Arthur, John. "World Hunger and Moral Obligation- The Case Against Singer." What's Wrong? Applied Ethicists and Their Critics. Ed. David Boonin and Graham Oddie. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 142- 145. Print.