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

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9780300219869: The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically

From the ethicist the New Yorker calls “the most influential living philosopher,” a new way of thinking about living ethically

Peter Singer’s books and ideas have been disturbing our complacency ever since the appearance of Animal Liberation. Now he directs our attention to a new movement in which his own ideas have played a crucial role: effective altruism. Effective altruism is built upon the simple but profound idea that living a fully ethical life involves doing the "most good you can do." Such a life requires an unsentimental view of charitable giving: to be a worthy recipient of our support, an organization must be able to demonstrate that it will do more good with our money or our time than other options open to us. Singer introduces us to an array of remarkable people who are restructuring their lives in accordance with these ideas, and shows how living altruistically often leads to greater personal fulfillment than living for oneself.

The Most Good You Can Do develops the challenges Singer has made, in the New York Times and Washington Post, to those who donate to the arts, and to charities focused on helping our fellow citizens, rather than those for whom we can do the most good. Effective altruists are extending our knowledge of the possibilities of living less selfishly, and of allowing reason, rather than emotion, to determine how we live. The Most Good You Can Do offers new hope for our ability to tackle the world’s most pressing problems.

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From the Author:

In a nutshell, what is effective altruism and how does it differ from ordinary charitable giving?

Effective altruism is both an emerging movement and the set of ideas behind that movement. The basic idea is that to live a fully ethical life, we should seek to do the most good we can. To discover what will do the most good, we need to use reason and evidence. In contrast, two-thirds of donors to charity do no research at all into the organizations to which they donate—they are moved by images that play on their emotions, but give no indication whether the organization is effective at what it claims to be doing.

Aren’t we all, at the core, self-interested?

The book introduces readers to many of the men and women who are practicing effective altruism. What they are doing will startle many readers—choosing their careers so that they can donate more, and donating half their incomes to effective charities. Yet typically they don’t think of themselves as making a sacrifice. They find their lives more rewarding than they were before they made these choices. So it may not be a question of denying self-interest, but of a different understanding of what really is in one’s own interests. 
Can effective altruism change the world?
 
I find the stories I tell in this book immensely encouraging. There are not many effective altruists yet, but they are already changing the world, and their impact is growing.

About the Author:

Peter Singer is Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University, and Laureate Professor, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne. He is the author of more than twenty books including Animal Liberation, Practical Ethics, and The Life You Can Save. He divides his time between New York City and Melbourne, Australia.

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