Poverty and Rightful Obligation: Comparison of Arthur and Singer

Poverty and Rightful Obligation

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, one billion people are currently living in a state of chronic hunger. This means that approximately one out of every six people on earth are undernourished and unable to access enough food to produce the amount of energy needed to lead active lives. Perhaps even more disturbing is that most Americans have access to as much food as they could ever need and many die every year from obesity-related diseases. Thus, we must ask, Do those with an abundance of resources have a moral obligation to give to the less fortunate and, if so, what portion of their earnings are they morally required to give? In order to properly address this question, I will first examine the contrasting views of philosophers Peter Singer and John Arthur in regard to this issue. Then, I will argue for my own position that while the affluent are morally required to give a portion of their earnings to those in absolute poverty, they are only morally required to give to the point that they do not affect their own rightful pursuit of happiness.
According to Peter Singer, “ 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”(Singer 2). This sounds very uncontroversial until one starts examining what it obligates one to. So, qualifying starvation as a bad thing, it becomes clear that we should do everything we can to stop absolute poverty as long as it does not cause anything comparably bad to happen to us. He goes as far as to say that we should, morally, give everything to the poverty stricken up to the line of marginal utility. Knowing this will strike many as extreme, he does offer a second view which allows for not giving to prevent absolute poverty if it requires sacrificing anything morally significant (Singer 2). Still, this view requires giving up many of the luxuries that...