This is the logical extension of Peter Singer's recent book, The Life You Can Save (sub-titled, "Acting Now to End World Poverty"). Building on principles of moral philosophy, Singer begins by discussing a moral problem: If you are walking to an appointment and see a child drowning in a pool, are you morally obligated to help that child? The obvious answer is "yes," regardless of the time spent or the damage to our clothing that may result. Singer suggests that we are, then, morally obligated to aid other children around the world if we are able to.
To argue this more forcefully, he demonstrates a "logical argument from plausible premises."
First premise: Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad.
Second premise: If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so.
Third premise: By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important.
Conclusion: Therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong. (pgs. 15-16)
Singer seeks to establish that each of us is under a moral obligation to help others as much as we can without sacrificing anything nearly as important. This means, unless we are withholding food, shelter, or care from our family members, we ought to give. The logical extension of this is that most, if not all, luxury and leisure activities and things must be seen as immoral pursuits that cause us to overlook our moral obligation to others.
As an example, Singer writes, "To buy good stereo equipment in order to further my worthwhile goal, or life-enhancing experience, of listening to music is to place more value on these enhancements to my life than on whether others live or die" (p. 149).
The book is filled in by discussions of aid, types of aid that may be given, and how to arrive at an appropriate amount to give. While advocating much more, Singer recognizes it is not realistic to expect people to give as much as he desires them to. Even he himself does not achieve that much giving.
He draws from the principle of fairness to suggest a modest goal. We can all chip in, and if we do our fair share, we will not become disgusted by those who are not doing their fair share. The alternative is to push people to give a lot, only to become frustrated when they see others not doing their part. He suggests that most of us can start at 5% of our annual income. (He does think the rich can and should give much more than 5%.)
I found this to be a fascinating book that caused me to really think through my giving and my lifestyle. In fact, I'm still thinking about it. I enjoyed the argument from moral philosophy and found him to go much deeper with his thinking than many Christian writers do. I recommend the book for anyone interested in the problems of poverty, service, and giving.