Do we have our hands on the rail switch?

Discussion: Do we have our hands on the rail switch? What

does justice require of us?

This assignment asks you to consider if,  in your perspective, Peter Singer is correct that justice requires us as individual citizens to help reduce global poverty or if counter arguments are correct. Clearly reasonable people can differ and there is no expectation that you give a certain answer- only that you give it thoughtful reflection. As we talked about the first week our class is based on thinking not raw memorization. Current social and problems “require armies of independent-minded, collaborative, and passionate problem-solvers, not more Jeopardy champions” (p. xii).* The same can be said of the current job market. Portable skills are ideally suited to a rapidly changing job market. Justice requires moral reflection from among competing values and you will encounter the need for decisions in the presence of conflicting values throughout your life in ways large and small. 

To that end make sure you understand Singer’s arguments. Consider both arguments and evidence that could be made for his view and against it. Weigh the merits of the arguments and evidence. 

1) Do you agree or disagree with Peter Singer- that we all have our hands on the rail track switch when it comes to dealing with global poverty? Why? Why not?

Each 1st post should be at least three substantial paragraphs. 

The Readings:

Do we have our hands on the rail switch?

In this section Peter Singer explores the implications of this extension of the trolley problem to social justice. Is Singer correct or incorrect in whole or in part? Do we all (and not just our leaders) have our hands on the trolley switch? 

If our choices impact social justice and the environment, what can we find that isn’t related to politics?

Singer continues: “Bob’s conduct, most of us will immediately respond, was gravely wrong. Unger agrees. But then he reminds us that we, too, have opportunities to save the lives of children. We can give to organizations like Unicef or Oxfam America. How much would we have to give one of these organizations to have a high probability of saving the life of a child threatened by easily preventable diseases? (I do not believe that children are more worth saving than adults, but since no one can argue that children have brought their poverty on themselves, focusing on them simplifies the issues.) Unger called up some experts and used the information they provided to offer some plausible estimates that include the cost of raising money, administrative expenses and the cost of delivering aid where it is most needed. By his calculation, $200 in donations would help a sickly 2-year-old transform into a healthy 6-year-old — offering safe passage through childhood’s most dangerous years. To show how practical philosophical argument can be, Unger even tells his readers that they can easily donate funds by using their credit card and calling one of these toll-free numbers: (800) 367-5437 for Unicef; (800) 693-2687 for Oxfam America.

Now you, too, have the information you need to save a child’s life. How should you judge yourself if you don’t do it? Think again about Bob and his Bugatti.

If you still think that it was very wrong of Bob not to throw the switch that would have diverted the train and saved the child’s life, then it is hard to see how you could deny that it is also very wrong not to send money to one of the organizations listed above. Unless, that is, there is some morally important difference between the two situations that I have overlooked.”

“Bob’s Bughatti”

In a 1999 essay, the Australian philosopher Peter Singer proposed another thought experiment, a modern twist on the classic Trolley problem drawing on the work of New York University philosopher Peter Unger .

Singer writes, “Bob is close to retirement. He has invested most of his savings in a very rare and valuable old car, a Bugatti, which he has not been able to insure. The Bugatti is his pride and joy. In addition to the pleasure he gets from driving and caring for his car, Bob knows that its rising market value means that he will always be able to sell it and live comfortably after retirement. One day when Bob is out for a drive, he parks the Bugatti near the end of a railway siding and goes for a walk up the track. As he does so, he sees that a runaway train, with no one aboard, is running down the railway track. Looking farther down the track, he sees the small figure of a child very likely to be killed by the runaway train. He can’t stop the train and the child is too far away to warn of the danger, but he can throw a switch that will divert the train down the siding where his Bugatti is parked. Then nobody will be killed — but the train will destroy his Bugatti. Thinking of his joy in owning the car and the financial security it represents, Bob decides not to throw the switch. The child is killed. For many years to come, Bob enjoys owning his Bugatti and the financial security it represents.”

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