April 21, 2024

Peter Singer to release new book on altruism

“Doing the Most Good” is an apology for “effective altruism”.

A new book by utilitarian philosopher and bioethicist Peter Singer will be released in April. “Doing the Most Good” (Yale University Press) is a defence of what he describes as “effective altruism”. Here’s a preview of some of its key ideas from a blog at TED Talks, where Singer gave a popular presentation in 2013.

What it is: “For a lot of people, altruism is simply the idea of doing good. Those people are happy if they’ve donated to some cause that they think is good and it gives them a nice, warm glow. Effective altruists want to do more than that—they want to make sure they get the best value for what they’re doing … An effective altruist uses his or her capacities to reason, gather evidence, and analyze data to ensure he or she makes the most of available resources.”

The basic insight: “This is the website of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and if you look at the words on the top right-hand side, it says, ‘All lives have equal value.’ That’s the understanding, the rational understanding of our situation in the world that has led to these people being the most effective altruists in history, Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.” (TED talk.)

Who are the most effective altruists? “Effective altruism is very well-suited to Silicon Valley—these are people who are quantitative types, good with data, they understand the point of making a difference, and they have the opportunity to do it … Look at somebody like Bill Gates, who took quite a while to commit himself to effective altruism, but is now fully committed. I hope that many of the younger billionaires in Silicon Valley will be making the same sort of commitment very soon.”

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Peter Singer