Doing the Most Good

The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, by Peter Singer.  Yale University Press, 2015.

How fortunate we are to have a practical philosopher as articulate as Peter Singer!  He doesn’t just talk idly about doing the most good for the most people, but shows us how, based on solid research on the effectiveness of charities and on the examples of actual people who are living their values.  (To “meet” Singer and watch him give an 18-minute summary of the book, I highly recommend this TED talk.)

I especially like that he does not limit the good we can do to helping people, but includes animals as also worthy of our consideration.  He points out that we can prevent a great deal of animal suffering for a very low (or no) cost, e.g. switching to a vegetarian diet.

I also like that he encourages simple living in order to have the maximum amount of our income for charitable giving.  He’s not suggesting austerity, but we can ask ourselves, when contemplating an unnecessary purchase or trip, whether the value of more stuff or experiences is greater to us than what that same amount of money could do in preventing suffering, or saving lives in developing countries.  He introduces us to some people who train for and take high-paying jobs yet continue to live simply, giving as much as 50% of their income away. However, if the average person can manage giving 5-10% of income, that can do a lot of good.

This movement of living deliberately in order to be able to give, and making use of charity evaluation websites to determine where one’s dollars will do the most good, is called effective altruism.  Singer says it is particularly popular among the millennial generation, which gives hope for the future.

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