Reviewed by Michael S. Dauber
Peter Singer’s new book The Most Good You Can Do is the latest installment in a series of works dedicated to advancing altruism as a way of life. The book expands directly on Singer’s work in The Life You Can Save (2010), a best-selling text that argued that our obligation to help the poor overseas is just as strong as the obligation to save a drowning child one comes across in a river: if one can easily help, one is required to, and distance and nationality are not excuses to withhold aid.
The Most Good You Can Do is not nearly as theoretical as some of Singer’s earlier work. Instead, the book provides examples of what Singer calls “effective altruism,” a system in which individuals attempt to earn as much money as they can for the specific purpose of giving large sums away. For the extremely rich, one might give as much as half of one’s earnings to charity, as in the case of Singer’s former student, Matt Wage, who works on Wall Street in order to amass wealth to give to the poor. On a more reasonable scale, an effective altruist might give 10-20% of his or her earnings to charity.
The strongest objection people come up with is that giving that amount of money would make it difficult to live one’s life enjoyably or to save for the future.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.