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The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, by Peter Singer

Paperback, 232 pages, published July 5th 2016 by Yale University Press (first published 2015)

RATING: Excellent

Peter Singer (born 6 July 1946) is an Australian moral philosopher, often described as “the most influential philosopher in the world.” He has authored many books including Animal Liberation and The Life You Can Save.

Peter Singer’s new book The Most Good You Can Do is the latest in a series of works dedicated to advancing altruism as a way of life. In Part One, he discusses the central characteristics of  Effective Altruism, and includes a brief history of the movement. In Chapter One, he offers preliminary answers to questions like: What counts as the most good? Does everyone’s suffering count equally? Can everyone practice effective altruism? What if one’s act reduces suffering, but to do so one must lie or harm an innocent person? What about other values, like justice, freedom, equality, and knowledge?

An optimistic and compelling look at the positive impact that giving can have on the world. —Bill and Melinda Gates

bill-and-melinda-gates

Bill & Melinda Gates

In Part Two, Singer addresses the question, “How Can I Do the Most Good.” Its four chapters are, 1. Living Modestly to Give More, 2. Earning to Give, 3. Other Ethical Careers, and 4. Giving a Part of Yourself.

In Part Three, Singer discusses motivation and justification, with particular focus on the relationship between altruism and happiness. He explores emotional and cognitive empathy, conformity to social norms, love, and the role of reason. He suggests that effective altruists have, for the most part, taken “the point of view of the universe”: “They are able to detach themselves from more personal considerations that otherwise dominate the way in which we live . . . they are living from a point of view that is independent of their own ‘dispositions, projects, and affections.'”

In Part Four, he discusses how to choose causes and organizations, showing how some causes may be objectively better than others. Importantly, he offers precise criteria to help us choose the best organizations. Other topics include animal suffering, environmental protection, and the prevention of human extinction.

If any of this appeals to you, I strongly recommend reading the online version of Chapter One which was first published in the Boston Review.  It is the best introduction to the book. Remember, the book may be available at your local library.