If you have never read Peter Singer’s indispensable and highly influential article, “Famine, Affluence and Morality (1972),” I recommend taking the time to do so. And if you have read it, but only the original version, you may want to read the ‘Revised Edition,’ particularly the ‘Postscript.’ You will find it illuminating. This article is still essential reading, and, like a good movie, play, or work of art, worth revisiting again and again. You can find the Revised Edition with Postscript online HERE.
“Those of us who care at all may send a donation to one of the agencies trying to help: ten dollars, or fifty dollars, or perhaps even a hundred dollars. Any more would be a rare act of generosity by the standards of our society. Yet those of us fortunate enough to live in Western Europe, North America, Australia, or Japan regularly spend as much or more on holidays, new clothes, or presents for our children. If we cared about the lives and welfare of strangers in Africa as we do about our own welfare and that of our children, would we spend money on these nonessential items for ourselves instead of using it to save lives? Of course, we have lots of excuses for not sending money to Africa: we say that our contribution could only be a drop in the ocean, or that the agencies waste the money they receive, or that food handouts are no good—
My contribution cannot end a famine, but it can save the lives of several people who might otherwise starve.
what is needed is development, or a social revolution, or population control. In our more honest moments, though, we recognize that these are excuses. Continue reading
(Suggested Meditation Time: 20 minutes)
“If a single 747 crashed, it would be on the nightly news. Scenes of rescuers looking through the wreckage and doctors treating any survivors would fill our living rooms and it would – rightly – be seen as a moral emergency. Yet the much larger moral emergency of forty 747s worth of children dying each day from easily preventable diseases is left unreported – even though tomorrow’s deaths are not predetermined, even though it is part of a much more interesting and challenging story about who is responsible and how they should be brought to account. It is old news. It is an everyday emergency.” – Toby Ord, from “Global Poverty and the demands of morality” in God, The Good, and Utilitarianism: Perspectives on Peter Singer, Cambridge University Press, 2016.
- The number of people living on less than $1.25 per day has dramatically decreased in the last three decades, from half of the citizens in the developing world in 1981 to 21% in 2010. But, there are still more than 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty. While one might argue that $1.25 goes much further in developing countries than it does in the USA, this figure represents the amount of buying power one would have if one were living in USA. Imagine living in the USA on about $1.25 per day, $9 a week!
- The top five poorest countries in the world are India (with 33% of the world’s poor), China (13%), Nigeria (7%), Bangladesh (6%), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (5%).
- Adding another five countries — Indonesia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya — would include almost 80% of the world’s extreme poor.
- About 22,000 children die each day due to conditions of poverty. This is equivalent to 40 Boeing 747s crashing each day without media coverage.
- Approximately 1.2 billion people — nearly as many as the entire population of India — still live without access to electricity.
LAST YEAR IN TAIWAN Peter Singer had an extended dialogue with the Buddhist scholar, feminist and animal advocate Shih Chaohwei. They exchanged views on many ethical issues, finding both similarities and differences between Chaohwei’s Buddhist approach and Singer’s utilitarian one. The dialogue was recorded, and their plan is that it will eventually become a book, but they will first continue the dialogue over email before finalizing the text.
On the 4th of May 2007, Shih Chaohwei was awarded the 48th Chinese Literature and Arts Medal for her outstanding contributions to cultural debates. She was also awarded the International Outstanding Women in Buddhism Medal on March 6th, 2009 and The Person of the Year Prize for social movements on December 28th, 2012. Together with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, she has been appointed as the spiritual mentor of INEB, the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, founded by the renowned Thai Buddhist reformer, Sulak Sivaraksa. Continue reading
IN THE FAR-REACHING DIALOGUE featured in this post, world renowned moral philosopher Peter Singer and physicist Lawrence Krauss meet for an intimate evening of conversation at the Origins Project Dialogue. The Origins Project at ASU (Arizona State University) is a transdisciplinary initiative exploring fundamental questions facing humankind today. This candid and unscripted conversation on ethics for the 21st century covers topics ranging from animal liberation to dying with dignity, food, global poverty and effective altruism. Of the many Peter Singer presentations available on YouTube, this is one of the best. It is both penetrating and humorous. Highly Recommended. Continue reading
In his book The Most Good You Can Do, Peter Singer says, “Effective altruists do things like the following: living modestly and donating a large part of their income—often much more than the traditional tenth, or tithe—to the most effective charities; researching and discussing with others which charities are the most effective or drawing on research done by other independent evaluators; choosing a career in which they can earn most, not in order to be able to live affluently but so that they can do more good; talking to others, in person or online, about giving, so that the idea of effective altruism will spread; giving part of their body—blood, bone marrow, or even a kidney—to a stranger (p.4).”
It seems to me that the above list might be somewhat off-putting to many people. Looking at the first activity, donating a large part of one’s income, I immediately feel that Continue reading
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)
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 Continue reading
The ‘Drowning Child’ thought experiment was first posed by philosopher Peter Singer to challenge his students to think about the ethics of what we owe to people in need. Though the problem is simple, its implications are complex and difficult.
In his experiment, Singer asks students to imagine that their path to school takes them past a shallow pond. “One morning, I say to them, you notice a child has fallen in and appears to be drowning. To wade in and pull the child out would be easy but it will mean that you get your clothes wet and muddy, and by the time you go home and change you will have missed your first class.” Continue reading