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Philosophy and Public Affairs

In the end of the film, “Schindler’s List,” the great Schindler who saved so many lives weeps over how many more lives he could have saved. Placing a price on every item he owns, and the number of dead jewish people he could have saved had he sold more possessions weighs on him. In that moment, and possibly carrying forth to a substantial duration of his life. Schindler felt and conserved some of that grief or shame, and in enlisting the logic of applying a symbolic tapestry of lives upon every item he chooses to consume for his needs and desires.

Schindler suffers in a kind of nihilistic world where what he did right was forgotten in relation to what he did not do, and therefore, did wrong in is moralistic world. While it is Singer’s premise that if a person has some power to prevent something bad from happening, he ought to do something to prevent that ‘something bad’ from happening. While this makes intuitive moral sense and it is hard to disagree with it on principle. Singer does note, that few people think this way, or rather, judge this way.

That their judgements are rarely seized by this ‘radical’ altruism and that rarely do people mail large checks to alleviate the sufferings of people in particularly demolished places like Bangladesh was during the period in which Singer was composing his paper, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality. ” While it is and should be examined whether principles are truly motivational for altruism to actually take place. Due to the seizable logic of Singer’s argument, it would be unfair to abandon his principle entirely simply because it is rarely applied and rarely used to persuade the course of a much less altruistic ‘judgement. ‘

The two refinements I suggest would be made in the spirit of Singer’s principled premise but would scale down the ambitions to a level for which they can be conditionally and typically applied in reality. The first refinement is that if one is deeply concerned with an incident or rather, incidents of suffering somewhere so that they may impinge on that person’s ability to live to a degree satisfactory to himself; then that person should do something about it so that the person is able to alleviate their dissatisfaction with their own non-action so that they are no longer guilty and can continue being productive or good as they see fit.

The second refinement would be that a person can be in charge of judging sufferings and scales of harm based upon his conditioned responses but also his individual decisions to the degree that there is nothing which is a ‘universal incidence of suffering’ and the person can peaceably ignore what is charged as intolerable global suffering so that the daily frustrations, pains, even humiliations or rather, sufferings, in his life can be taken over first of all and foremost of all. II. An Examination of the First Refinement

In the first refinement, a person’s quality of life is taken into consideration under the presupposition that a person should care about suffering as a general classification and that certain types of suffering will impinge enough on their quality of life that reasonably, action should be taken. Peter Singer says something that is very valuable when he makes the more specific point that, “if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.

By “without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance” I mean without causing anything else comparably bad to happen, or doing something that is wrong in itself, or failing to promote some moral good, comparable in significance to the bad thing that we can prevent.. ”(Singer, 1972, 231) As my first refinement particularly concerns quality of life, a person’s means and needs for maintaining a functional quality of life are greatly called into question and therefore permit very individual and far less geography specific decisions to take place.

While Singer places much stress on categorizing American’s as wealthy and noting that many Americans can make changes but few do. America is also one of the most divergent countries in terms of quality of life. Many Americans are barely scraping by below the poverty line, are begging in the streets, based on some global measurements which factors in literacy, teen pregnancies, even miscarriages, America does not rank favorably and even seems more like a third world country than a truly developed and happy nation filled with rich and happy people with formidable means and power.

With Singer’s example of Bangladesh, which he notes, is largely examined because it has received much press and has been brought to his attention by many media accounts. One can be quite critical of the moral imperative of this, as to resort to the logic that press and media define suffering for Americans is a hard ‘logic’ to argue for. On a more critical note, especially in a time of a questioning of America’s ability to be the crucial economic leader and epicenter of the world.

The very category of America as a powerful nation which is capable of providing aid and salvaging foreign economies without sacrificing anything of comparative moral importance is very unstable and not easily digested. The idea of moral obligations as varying in practicality due to reasons of distance and the individual address are very crucial here. One example I offer is of a man with an average income, who does not have health insurance due to past illnesses and who is rather unhappy with life and without a substantial social network or many close friends.

Receiving a letter in the mail one day talking about the condition of Bangladesh orphans, going in great depth into their intolerable suffering while listing things like infants dying from easily preventable diseases. Many mini-catastrophes in its winding brochures that impinge upon the man’s conscience in a natural sense as they list things so horrific that it’s hard to not be effected by the illustrated suffering of a category of suffering ‘the children in bangladesh.

‘ However, if the man is having an especially bad day, or even has recently received word that his relatively secure retirement savings have gone down the drain. He may think that he is suffering a great deal after all, that he has worked arduously for his livelihood, and is suffering a great deal and in his own way. That to part with money which provides him with some modicum of reassurance and happiness, such as a new tie to boost his confidence or a new book to deflect the misery of his overall life. Is money that is very much valued.

Is so much valued, that he would sacrifice a substantial amount to bring him the pleasurable knowledge that he is truly aiding some child in Bangladesh and for him to know that he is a good person in some light due to doing a global duty. However, this simple example is not so simple when a various net of factors are taken into consideration. Such as that this man is surrounded by incidences of suffering everywhere, from facing the grief of his sister whose child died from a heart failure, to the beggar approaching him while he walked to grab a coffee.

Even driving through a rough neighborhood, the man may have seen the eyes of a young boy walking home from school and remembered the statistic that in a neighborhood like this, that young boy is more likely to spend most of his life incarcerated than in a nice house with a nice family, living a nice life. As America is a wealthy country that is nevertheless full of misery, as this misery is more frequently concealed behind the banners of prosperity. The man may cynically wonder if American’s are not suffering too and whether American’s do not too, deserve global support and assistance on a variety of issues.

Surrounded by suffering via the suffering of others, himself suffering so much that it takes better coffee or a better tie to make him feel better. Knowing that he does not have health insurance and lives paycheck to paycheck, alone, in his apartment. Quite unhappy. It is completely unclear if he is suffering more or less than a bangladesh child who cannot see anything better than his life who is quite proud of his assistance and enjoys the warmth of a good family and treasures the occasional dishes of meat that his mother makes when their fortunes are somewhat better than they have been.

While one can argue that this man in question is facing a more existentially ‘not so good’ quality of life. That though his basic needs of life, his higher needs for love, affirmation, respect, are not met at all. That even, as American doctors and the overall health system can treat his sore legs or his headaches, but that they do not choose to do so because he has not chosen to make it a firm commitment and do whatever necessary to get health insurance.

It is questionable if this man has enough resources to maintain a reasonable standard of living for himself, without even thinking about the suffering of others. This refinement very much brings into question and gives greater tolerance to people who are in some way sacrificing and suffering due to the relatively inelastic supply of some goods that many people desire such as high quality health care, great spouses, and loving environments with a great deal of emotional security. As much as this hypothetical man is perhaps more privileged in matters of avoiding suffering than the child in Bangladesh.

There are probably many children in Bangladesh who will be living far higher quality lives than this hypothetical man. So for Singer to engage in as he does frequently in his paper, a dialectical classification of America and hence Americans to be rich and Bangladesh and hence residents of Bangladesh to be poor. Does not work at all under more scrutiny and under factors of the high pressures, stress, and even isolating loneliness that is experienced by many Americans. While in evaluating the ‘quality of life’ based refinement, more statistical and survey analysis is needed.

It is important to stress that though a person can be thought of to have a great amount of power, because they are classified as such, they can be radically misclassified. As American’s are often times more aware of how so many are living better lives than they, and expectedly suffering less. It will seem to many Americans that their quality of life is based on a zero sum game, and that if they sacrifice their material necessities they will allow another to suffer less, but at their expense.

This refinement allows for generalities and classifications to be made which can advise a person as to their ability to give, and perhaps be persuasive towards that end. As a useful refinement, this is regularly enlisted by the U. S. Government after people mark of charitable deductions because their income is frequently used as a main indicator for suggesting how much they should be giving to charity in reference to peers who make a similar amount of money. However, quality of life, although it allows for normative persuasions, can never be enlisted as a principled duty that enforces a conduct for a person.

As too much is unknown that only persuasions can be made based on what public knowledge is available on the individual and how they are judged upon what knowledge is available of their means and of their sense of power. III. An Examination of the Second Refinement The second refinement registers that a person’s decisions on what to do about suffering and how to categorize a certain situation or predicament as prompting suffering is almost entirely based upon the individual. However, this recognizes that individuals are expectedly much conditioned by the social environments they inhabit.

While an argument initially arises with a hypothetical person who has absolutely no moral sense but who by inheritance has a lot of money and could have a great deal of influence over people’s lives. This person can provide the provisions which are hospitable to him. He can afford almost all of his whims and desires. However, this hypothetical person may be so entrapped in a world of chasing after whims and desires that he is not at all aware of the world around him and has no idea that a hurricane occurred or truly what impoverished conditions feel like.

Having never experienced them. Issues can generally be seen, so that instinctual bias against people who have endured almost no profound grief, suffering, loss, or living in absence of a loved person or situation is simply not morally equipped to have enough empathy to have the suffering of others effect their quality of life. Yet this hypothetical person may have very interesting ways of classifying tragedies such as what happened in Bangladesh. He may view it as a tragedy but have no feeling or identification attached to it.

However, he may give more money simply because the pleasure of being looked upon favorably by those around him will make him feel happier. He may like to seem like a better person an thereby have more positive interactions with more people because he has given a great deal to causes they deem worthwhile. I use this second refinement to illustrate how a person who may possibly be classified as very charitable may not be doing it at all because he feels in any way emotionally impacted by suffering and has a duty to help.

But rather by entirely individual desires and ability due to an excess of wealth. The hypothetical person in the first refinement made actual judgements about suffering in relevance to his own experiences. Though he, in theory, is unlikely to give money due to the magnitude of his own deprivations. While the latter person, illustrating the second refinement, helps clarify that the ‘end action’ of giving or not giving money should not be necessarily thought to be a causal relation to the feeling of sympathy in response to recognized suffering.

While of course the very wealthy hypothetical person is vaguely drawn, it is to be expected that with greater means there is nothing said about empathy but much said about ability to give with little incidental cost or pain to the person giving money to assist in some cause which may be interchangeable in his mind with just another charitable cause. This is to say that with the second refinement, a person with limited moral capacity to recognize ‘suffering as bad’ because he has never really experienced it and cannot compare or enlist empathy very acutely or easily.

Can still do good acts without the feeling or motive behind it that one would usually attribute to charitable actions. That consciousness of pain and suffering is not necessarily a pre-condition of being charitable is an important point to make and does something to examine classifications and also their somewhat arbitrary quality in certain cases due to some absences in moral recognition that a certain individual may have or that even, many individuals may have. It recognizes that consciousness of suffering may be a far less important element of judgements to give money than social prompts.

As many charities do recognize, as they find that spending more money on better parties and celebration gifts can draw more financial support and better revenues. III. To Conclude In conclusion, I think that both refinements are acceptable as they are common in society and not so deviant or so awful that they are generally frowned upon. Though they are not refinements which favor the explicitly benevolent sectors of american society, they take into account the various pressures and factors which can be formed into a composite of an individual and their judgements in relation to suffering.

While one may not like how the hypothetical persons, operating on the addressed refinements, may make their decisions. This is to disagree but not to be at such great contention that acceptability is really the matter as disagreement is a more minor form of the later but is quite different as it is more of an individually taken stance than a societally taken normative judgement. Bibliography Singer, P. (1972) Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1(3), 229-243.

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