Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hack attack

From Kekes' "On the Supposed Obligation to Relieve Famine":
The question is whether there is a moral obligation to [contribute to famine relief efforts], and, if there is, how strong is this supposed obligation. Singer's moralism enters with vengeance in his answer. Since 'allowing someone to die is not intrinsically different from killing someone, it would seem that we are all murderers.' This is not a slip or a momentary exaggeration. Singer really means it. When we stay at home after work and read a book, listen to music, watch TV, or, God forbid, go out to a restaurant, instead of ... writing a check to Oxfam, we are allowing someone to die, we are murderers (2002: 505)

Kekes never backs off the claim that Singer equates going to a restaurant with picking off peasants on the far side of the globe with a rifle for kicks. Here's what Singer actually said in Practical Ethics:
[Because] allowing someone to die is not intrinsically different from killing someone, it would seem that we are all murderers. Is this verdict too harsh? Many will reject it as self-evidently absurd. They would sooner take it as showing that allowing to die cannot be equivalent to going over to Ethiopia and shooting a few peasants. And no doubt, put as bluntly as that, the verdict is too harsh. There are several significant differences between spending money on luxuries instead of using it save lives, and deliberately shooting people (1993: 222).

Singer then goes on and offers five reasons to think that the verdict Kekes claims is Singer's verdict is too harsh.

Dishonest much?


Mike Almeida said...

Keke's is entertaining and a good writer, but he does not put a premium on being fair. He doesn't make much of an effort to even be accurate. I think this has something to do with aiming his work at readers who are not professional philosophers. I just reviewed a book of his for PQ (yes, more complaints against liberalism . . . it has truly palled) and it suffers from the same faults.

Clayton said...

Hey Mike,

I assigned Kekes' article for my contemporary moral problems course. It is filled with the beginnings of arguments that need much, much, much more development. I thought it would be a nice exercise for the students to identify reasons the arguments do need further development and try their hand at improving upon them. They tend not to be all that sympathetic to Singer, but I am hoping they can see that the article needs work and what it would take to do that work.