Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices and the Overpowering Urge to Help

by Larissa MacFarquhar,
Psychology Today, September 16, 2015

In “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” an essay written in the aftermath of a cyclone and genocidal violence in already impoverished regions of East Pakistan in 1971, Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher and animal rights advocate, proclaimed that spending money on middle- or upper-class lifestyles instead of helping starving and sick individuals was an act of depravity. Since most people would muddy their clothes to save a child from drowning in a shallow pond, Singer argued, they should be willing as well to bring food and medicine to those in need, whether these human beings lived nearby or far away. Anyone who refused to help was, in some sense, a murderer.

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