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The Q&A

Peter Singer “The gap between rich and poor isn’t just about the billionaires”

The philosopher Peter Singer first published “Famine, Affluence and Morality” in 1972. It argues that richer nations could give enough assistance to reduce further suffering in less developed nations and that individuals ought to do more to alleviate suffering. A new edition, introduced by Bill and Melinda Gates, is published by Oxford University Press.

You wrote “Famine, Affluence and Morality” over four decades ago. Has poverty risen or fallen? The reduction of trade barriers is certainly an important factor in making the number of people in extreme poverty fall dramatically since 1972: especially if you consider the increase in global population. So if you take it proportionately – rather than in absolute numbers – the reduction in extreme world poverty has been quite impressive.

You use the analogy of rescuing a drowning child in a pond in front of you, versus a starving child far away. Can you explain? The child in the pond example says: if there was a child in front of you, and you could easily rescue that child at a modest cost to yourself, not only would you do it, but you would think badly of somebody that didn’t. I believe we should also make a negative judgement about somebody who refuses to help refugees living in extreme poverty somewhere far away from their own country.

t o n y p h i l l i p s


New Humanist | Spring 2016

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