The shallow pond

Here’s a thought experiment.

On his way to class, John spots a little child drowning in a puddle of water. John is wearing his brand new Gucci shoes that cost $400. If he wades in to rescue the child, John is sure to ruin his shoes, and there isn’t enough time to take them off. John heads straight for his class, leaving the child to drown and die.

What is your judgement of John’s behaviour? What would you have done in his place?

Most people consider the act of letting the child drown to be reprehensible. They claim that they would have rescued the child even if it meant buying a new pair of shoes.

Now consider this real-life situation.

You receive an email from a well-reputed charity, asking for a donation of $400. Your donation would be used to save the lives of many children in a faraway country. You recognize that if you do not send this money, those children will die.

Is it acceptable for you to ignore this email? Surely, there are differences between the two situations. But is there a moral difference?

Most people end up ignoring or deleting such emails. But isn’t that absurd? Why would we rush forward to save one child, but ignore the plight of many others?

Then, isn’t donating a part of our wealth a moral responsibility rather than a magnanimous act of charity?

Source: Peter Singer’s thought experiment

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