Distance, Divided Responsibility and Universalizability

The Monist 86 (3):501-515 (2003)
Peter Singer is responsible for having developed a powerful argument that apparently shows that most of us are far more immoral than we take ourselves to be. Many people follow a minimalist morality. They avoid killing, stealing, lying and cruelty, but feel no obligation to devote themselves to the well-being of everybody else. If we are unstintingly generous, constantly kind or untiring advocates for the prevention of cruelty, we take it that we are doing more morally than is strictly required. We commend those who give generously to foreign aid, but we do not look on those who fail to give us unthinking criminals or moral reprobates. Yet, if Singer's argument is cogent, our standard judgements are seriously askew. Those who fail to do what they can to alleviate the absolute poverty of the worst off in the world are not quite as bad as murders and thieves, for they do not intentionally act in such a way as to kill and deprive others of their rightful share. They are, however, about as bad as reckless drivers who act in a way which will cause death and destruction, without desiring that these predictable consequences of their actions should come about (Singer 1993, p. 228)
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