Peter Singer is no stranger to making controversial arguments. In Howard Husock’s Forbes article, “Peter Singer’s Seductive — And Dangerous — Anti-Charity Reasoning,” yet another controversial Peter Singer work is discussed. This time, rather than arguing that animals have greater moral status than infants, Singer tackles the question “Which charities ought we to help?”
Singer believes that money we direct to the arts and culture is ill-directed. Instead, in his New York Times article “Good Charity, Bad Charity,” he argues that charities directed at the arts are not as worthy as charities directed toward health and safety. While he has a point, Husock worries about this sort of thinking.
His first objection to Singer’s argument is that cultural and artistic advances also help a nation to gain footing in eradicating poverty. He suggests that it is important to study cultures that are more well-off to find out how practices common in these cultures can help cultures in developing countries gain ground in the fight against poverty. From this perspective, perhaps arts funding would be equally worthwhile as funding a charity that helps eradicate an eye disease.
His second objection is that we have no way of knowing whether charity projects directed at health and safety are scalable in the long-term. Look at Head Start and the problems with this program when we tried to implement it on the large scale, he says.
Third, Husock criticizes Singer for viewing the world in black and white terms. He states that Singer’s suggested incentives for individuals to give to more worthy charities brings in unneccessary political involvement with philanthropic concerns.
Personally, I see a large problem in Singer’s argument that Husock doesn’t point out – the problem of value and utilitarian interests. Sure, from a purely utilitarian perspective, it makes more sense to earmark money for use in health and safety charities however, this does not account for the intrinsic value inherent in art and culture. Museums are outstanding community resources – and when curated well, a museum’s collection can help increase individuals’ understandings of their own culture as well as the cultures of others. Focusing solely on “worthy” charities seems short-sighted and problematic. We’re already losing arts education in our schools. If we solely give to health and safety organizations, we may lose arts and culture institutions in our communities.
What do you think of Singer’s arguments? Do you agree with him? What do you think of what Husock says in critique of Singer? Share your thoughts in the comments.