Friday, April 10, 2009

The Life You Can Save - Peter Singer

Peter Singer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton. In this book, he asks what each of us can do to help end world poverty - suggesting that every person with means to spare (most of us) should aim to give 5% of their income each year to charity. Specifically, Singer advocates donations to international organizations, despite most people's inclination to give to organizations closer to home. Singer then addresses various philosophical or ethical responses from people who choose not to give - from futility arguments to the diffusion of responsibility. Singer maintains that it is morally indefensible to turn a blind eye to the lives that are lost each day as a result of poverty - given that it is within all of our power to do something as individuals to change this. Singer is very convincing - and he does it in a way that is not about guilt, but rather about common sense. He acknowledges that most people who will choose to read his book are people who already give in some sense - in both money and time. But, while I think it would be great if everyone read this book, I do think even if you already give much of your time and income, that this is a good book for thinking about why you give and how you decide which organizations to give to. It has helped me to think about being more focused in my giving, and to prioritize in different ways. I am always interested in ideas that further creating a culture of giving - in our smaller communities and in our society as a whole. Singer has great anecdotes about big change by small people, and admirable recognition of people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates who regularly give large percentages of their income. This book will help you to re-evaluate what you "can" give to others, and why it is so necessary to do so. Even in these tough economic times at home, this book is a reminder that millions and millions of people world-wide are struggling just to obtain clean drinking water, immunizations, and daily food - and that there is always more we can be doing to help.

1 comment:

Marji said...

How do you think Singer's concern about saving lives among the poor of the world accords with his views on infanticide and abortion of those deemed to have little social value? I don't think there is a consistent ethic there,