Peter Singer: Singer Solution to World Poverty


  • Character from the movie Central Station
  • Unknowingly sells an orphan to organ thieves, uses the money to buy a TV


  • Bob has to sacrifice his car/savings to save a life
  • “We same  to lack a sound basis for drawing a clear moral line between Bob’s situation and that of any reader of this article with $200 dollars to spare who does not donate it to an overseas aid agency.” (Singer 223)

How much does it take to save a child’s life?

  • $200



  • Objection 1: People just aren’t going to do that, that is a morality for saints
  • Response:

◦                     “Now, evolutionary psychologists tell us that human nature just isn’t sufficiently altruistic to make it plausible that many people will sacrifice so much for strangers. ON the fact of human nature, they might be right, but they would be wrong to draw a moral conclusion from those facts. If it is the case that we ought o do things that predictably, most of us won’t do, then let’s face the fact head-on. Then, if we value the life of a child more than going to fancy restaurants, the next time we dine out we will know that we could have done something better with our money. If that makes living a morally decent life extremely arduous, well, then that is the way things are. If we don’t do it, then we should at least know that we are failing because knowing where we should be going is the first step toward heading in that direction.”

◦                     Objection 2: Why should I give more than my fair share?

◦                     Response: It is true that if everyone gave their fair share then you wouldn’t have to give more BUT that doesn’t mean that in the actual world where everyone is not giving their fair share you are somehow exempted.

▪                                       “the question of how much we ought to give is a matter to be decided in the real world – and that sadly, is a world in which we know that most people do not, and in the immediate future will not give substantial amounts to overseas aid agencies” (Singer 234)

▪                                       This is a very utilitarian response, a Kantian response might be more sympathetic to this objection

▪                                       Objection 3: It is not my responsibility; it is the governments responsibility.

▪                                       Response: See above.

▪                                                         “While the idea that no one need do more than his or her fair share is a powerful one, should it prevail if we know that others are not doing their fair share and that children will die preventable deaths unless we do more than our fair share?” (Singer 235)


  • “In the world as it is now, I can see no escape from the conclusion that each one of us with wealth surplus to his or her essential needs should be giving most of it to help people suffering form poverty so dire as to be life-threatening. That’s right: I’m saying that you shouldn’t buy that new car, take that cruise, redecorate the house or get that pricey new suit.
  • American households should donate any money in excess of $30,000 per year that they earn.

“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 236)

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