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Singer (2015) discusses effective altruism in his book, which entails leveraging our resources to achieve the maximum good. He contends that leading an ethical life necessitates doing the greatest good with our resources by contributing to charitable organizations that have shown to do the most good with our resources. The most you can do, according to Peter Singer, is make the world a better place by reducing suffering and increasing happiness. I agree that we are all responsible for the state of the world today, and we have a responsibility to improve it by reducing poverty and hunger. According to Singer, who embraces effective altruism, we should get well-paying jobs and then contribute a huge amount of our earnings to charities that will improve the standards of living by eliminating hunger and poverty.
While I agree with Singer that it is our responsibility to improve the world, I don’t agree with him on the fact that our obligation to feed the starving outweighs other competing goals such as responsibility towards our family. Our obligation starts with those who are closest to us. We cannot be able to assist the world if we sacrifice our families’ happiness, whether in terms of time spent with them or in terms of finances.For example, let’s say a family member falls sick and requires a certain amount of money to get medical assistance, and the same amount of money can be used to feed more than a hundred kids and make their lives better. From a utilitarian standpoint, the best option would be to pick the outcome that benefits the greatest number of people, which in this case is feeding more than one hundred kids. According to Singer, this would also be the best option since he argues that our obligation to assist the starving outweighs our other competing obligations. However, this cannot work in the scenario described above because it is only logical to help the sick family member first. In this case, the most you can do would not involve foregoing your responsibility towards your family to meet the obligation of making the world a better place.
In addition, I think that charity as a way of alleviating poverty, as proposed by Singer, is not enough. Instead, we should focus on creating opportunities for the poor. This is more sustainable than charity, and it also enforces a sense of responsibility on individuals. There is also this point that working for those charity organizations is not as beneficial as working somewhere else then contributing the earnings to those charity organizations(Singer, 2015). However, I think that this argument is dependent on an individual’s abilities. Some individuals can do the most good by volunteering and working in charity organizations rather than contributing money. Having specific qualities such as an understanding of the cultures of the people in which the organization serve is far better than contributing money, which anyone can contribute.
Is Utilitarianism the Best Platform for Pursuing the Most You Can Do?
I don’t think utilitarianism is the best platforms for pursuing “the most you can do.” My opinion is that Kantianism would be a better platform for pursuing this. On one hand, utilitarianism considers performing an action that produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people. It is concerned with the outcome of an action, rather than the action itself. On the other hand, Kantianism considers the intention that makes us perform a certain action. It is concerned with the morality of the actions, rather than the consequences of those actions.
Assisting the poor and starving is our responsibility, but we must consider the actions we perform in our quest to achieve this. Utilitarianism does not consider whether the action itself will be harmful to others, as long as it produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people. In his book, Singer argues that even if some of your income generating activities were harmful, it is okay as long as they produced positive outcomes that outweigh the harm. In my opinion, this disregard of the action itself is controversial. For example, if you engage in profit generating activities that are harmful to a small group of people such as selling guns to the militias who use them to terrorize a small group of people, then donate a huge amount of the profit to a larger number of starving people, that should be seen as a morally right action in the utilitarian theory. In this case, the utilitarian standpoint disregards the rights of other individuals that might be harmed in the quest for greater good.Moreover, it may result in failure to take moral responsibility for our actions since the outcome is more valuable than the action itself. However, Kantian theory will consider the actions that resulted in the given outcome, while putting into consideration the rights of other people. In Kantian theory, the end does not justify the means as opposed to the utilitarian theory.
Additionally, different people view the value of a consequence differently. This may discredit the utilitarianism standpoint used by Singer in the sense that different people may view the consequences of charity differently. On one hand, some people may view charity to the poor and starving as an action that results in the reduction of hunger and poverty which will be a greater good for the greatest number of people. On the other hand, some people may view charity to the poor as a way of promoting laziness and reducing the motivation to create more wealth. To these two groups of people, the value of the outcome of charity is different. However, explaining the most good you can do from a Kantian standpoint would be more appropriate in this case because it would consider charity itself as a moral action without considering the consequences of charity. Utilitarianism makes this case a question of judgment rather than fact.
Singer argues that we should take up jobs that are well paying so that we can then contribute a huge amount of income to charity. From a Utilitarian standpoint, it is not a guarantee that we will eventually contribute the money to charity. This means that it is hard to determine the outcomes of our actions, which in this case is getting a huge salary. The outcome can either be contributing to charity or using the money to further our own self-interests. In addition, you cannot be sure that contributing to charity will produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Explaining Singer’s proposal from a Kantian standpoint will eliminate all this doubt because we will concentrate on the action itself, which is, getting well-paying jobs and contributing to charity and the focus on the consequences of our actions will be removed.
An Objection that Someone Else Might Have
Some people might argue that Kantianism is not the best platform to explain Singer’s “the most good you can do” because it does not tell one what to do especially in situations that are conflicting such as the example I gave above concerning selling of guns to Militias and donating most of the profits to charity. In addition, Kantian theory considers the actions rather than consequences which is not the case with human beings, who more than often consider the consequences of their actions before performing an action. On a different note, it is human nature to allow emotions guide our actions, which goes against Kantianism.
Response to the Objection
Kantian theory bases morality on the actions rather than consequences and explains that morality is not based on feelings, unlike in the utilitarian theory where our feelings of helping the greatest number of people cloud our judgment. No one should suffer so that the greatest number of people benefit from the greatest good. We cannot make the world a better place if we inflict pain or harm some people so as to benefit others. It will become a cycle of suffering and happiness, which is pointless. We can still achieve Singer’s goal from a Kantian standpoint since the theory advocates for fair treatment and respect for individual rights. We can perform actions that are considerate of individual rights and still make the world a better place for all. Furthermore, living selflessly as advocated by effective altruism, requires individuals to listen to reason rather than emotions and Kantian theory is more appropriate in achieving this goal since it states that our actions should not be guided by our emotions.
Singer encourages us to address moral issues by doing the most good by proposing that people should work and contribute the largest part of their income to charity. This is a good cause that should be embraced by every single one of us. However, his argument that the obligation of helping the hungry and poor outweighs our other competing responsibilities is not a practical one because as human beings, it is our nature to think of our own self-interests before thinking about other people. This is only possible theoretically especially if we as a people have embraced capitalism. More than often, we only focus on meeting our individual needs, at the expense of other people. I believe that we are complicit for the situation that the world is in today because we have contributed directly or indirectly to the poverty levels in most of the developing countries. We want to benefit from cheap labor that is offered by people from developing countries, and sometimes our corporate social responsibility is not even enough to change the lives of those communities. It is our responsibility to make the world a better place, and we can find practical ways to achieve this.
Singer, P. (2015). The Most Good You Can Do. Yale University Press.
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