An evening with Peter Singer

Nonprofit Chronicles

IMG_1116.JPG-cropFunny, how timing is everything. Peter Singer, the Princeton professor, ethicist and author who has been called the world’s most influential living philosopher, laid out the principles of what is now known as Effective Altruism in a succinct 1972 essay called Famine, Affluence and Morality. “If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it,” he wrote. He made the argument, vividly, with a thought experiment: “If I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing.” If this principle were to be widely acted upon, he observed, people would reduce their consumption, give much…

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