Famine, Affluence, and Morality

I was persuaded to read Peter Singer’s essay on rationing health care by a friend’s comments, and it reminded me of a long held view that might be worth sharing. Namely, when reading Singer’s article, Famine, Affluence, and Morality, ignore the utilitarianism. Of course parts of the argument do rely on a utilitarian point of view–that I won’t deny. To understand the article as the author wrote it, you must attend to the utilitarianism. But to gain from reading the article, read it from a perspective of common sense morality (or your variant therof), and contemplate your response.


4 responses to “Famine, Affluence, and Morality

  1. I suspect that our generation’s equivalent of slavery and segregation — the acts that future generations will look upon while asking ‘how could they have done those things, and still live with themselves? — will consist of the fact that we let so many people starve and die of preventable diseases. Perhaps ‘let’ is too passive — maybe that we perpetuate a social order that starves people and causes them to die of preventable diseases.

  2. On the contrary. Moon landing : 1960s poverty :: Gothic cathedrals : 13th century poverty, as far as history is concerned.

    At least that’s the analogy I’ve been pondering today, in light of the Onion’s famous words.

  3. I haven’t read Peter Singer’s essay on rationing health care yet, but I will put it on my list of readings to do. I have read a few articles about the idea of rationing health care and this is the thing I am wondering about:
    In one article I read, they exampled (I made a new word!) a medicine that cost a million dollars in order to keep a terminally ill patient alive for six months. But isn’t the cost of medicine in our society artificially high? Is there any medicine that would really cost that much if companies weren’t making huge profits from the sale of it? I know some medicines are costly because of being made of rare materials or needing research to get them ready, etc. but aren’t we comparing something false? If we get a better health care system, shouldn’t it also include bringing the cost of medicine down?

  4. The cost of prescription drugs is one of those issues I don’t feel like I know a lot about. What I do know is that almost all prescription drugs under patent could be sold for much less than they are.

    The question is whether the current costs are a case of gouging, or necessary for recouping the costs of research. It’s an incredibly long process from identifying a compound that might do something to having a pill that’s passed FDA trials. I’ve never seen anything that was a persuasive argument either way (actually, the best might be Megan McArdle, who despite her snideness has made vivid the difficulty of producing new drugs. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, she nowhere quantifies it vs. the cost of prescription drugs, so it’s not a completely persuasive case).