Tuesday, July 31, 2007
"All we did in this class was save some lives...."
Time for this blog to get a bit more multimedia savvy!
This is largely an "informative" post, sharing what I (try to) do and seeking any feedback.
Above is a video clip I use in discussions of arguments about helping people living in absolute poverty. I use Singer's NY Times "The Singer Solution to World Poverty" and some snippets from "Famine, Affluence and Morality" for some philosophical details. I like this issue because, unlike many moral issues, it has a stronger potential than many issues to be "relevant" to one's personal life, in this case, how one spends money and, indeed, even one's career choice.
While I think there are a lot of complex moral and empirical issues here, many students tend to think that Singer's arguments can easily be refuted. Since I think it's initially important to address objections that people actually have (as opposed to objections that philosophers raise, but just about nobody else would think of), I focus on the objections I round up from students. Some of them are here.
Inspired by Stuart Rachels, I also challenge them to put their thinking into practice. Since Singer's conclusion is stated in a way that is hard to pin down, we consider whether his arguments might show that each of us (who is able) is obligated to donate $.25 a day to help people in absolute poverty. This is about $10 a month and I encourage them to check out a maximally efficient organization called The Ten Dollar Club. Other students, business majors, have learned about microcredit organizations and have gotten involved in that. Here's a neat book of ideas I recently came across: Our Day to End Poverty. I also make some fun posters too for those who believe they do something that warrants their getting them.
I can add that, of course, anyone can do this even if they believe (as I do!) that Singer's arguments are, strictly speaking, unsound.
Singer writes that "Discussion, though, is not enough. What is the point of relating philosophy to public (and personal) affairs if we do not take our conclusions seriously? In this instance, taking our conclusion seriously means acting upon it." This seems right to me and this is one way I've tried to do this. And maybe I've even saved some lives in the process.