Peter Singer: Maximizing Morality with Reason

April 27, 2015

Peter Singer has revolutionized the way we think about morals and values. He’s lead the way in providing evidence for some of the toughest moral controversies such as animal rights, abortion, and wealth inequality. Singer’s newest book is entitled The Most Good You Can Do, and it’s an exploration of the philosophical movement known as effective altruism; the desire to make the world its best possible version using reason and evidence.

This week on Point of Inquiry, Singer discusses how opinion and fact are not mutually exclusive, and how effective altruism uses science-based evidence and critical thinking to uncover moral facts and open a dialogue about what values are objectively going to benefit us the most.

This is point of inquiry for Monday, April 20 7th, 2015. 

I’m Josh Zepps, host of Huff Post Live, and this is the podcast of the Center for Inquiry. 

Peter Singer is one of the most influential philosophers in the world. In 1975, he revolutionized how we think about animals. With his groundbreaking book, Animal Liberation, which coined that term and sparked a global movement, he’s now the RWA camp professor of bioethics at Princeton University, where his books, essays and lectures have reshaped how academics and lay people alike think about the ethics of everything from euthanasia to abortion to religion. His latest book profiles a growing movement that he helped create called Effective Altruism The Unsentimental, Rational, Secular Pursuit of Doing the Most Good You Can Do. That’s the book’s title, the most good you can do. Peter Singer is here. Thanks for being here, Peter. 

It’s good to be with you. What is effective altruism so effective? 

Altruism is is both a philosophical outlook on life and an emerging social movement. The philosophical outlook on life says for at least a significant part of what you do, you should be thinking altruistically. That is, you should be thinking about helping others, making the world a better place. And moreover, you should do that using your capacities to reason and to weigh evidence. And you should be trying to do it as effectively as possible. So not just satisfied with saying, well, I’ve made the world a slightly better place, but thinking I’ve done the most with the resources that I have to make the world a better place. 

How do you decide how to make the world a better place? 

Obviously, you need some values to decide what is better. The effective altruist movement generally thinks that things like reducing suffering makes the world a better place. Of course, making people happier will also do it. But reducing suffering is often easier, more tangible thing to do it. Also, people in the movement also think that reducing premature death makes the world a better place. That trying to prevent diseases that kill millions of children or other adults before that getting towards the end of their own normal lifespan. That that’s a good thing to do. And then there’s beyond that, there’s a variety of other values that people will talk about. But. But the core of it, I would say, is improving well-being. 

You don’t have a huge amount of time in your and your book for what you call warm glow altruism. 

People who give small amounts of money to a bunch of different charities who because it makes them feel better. How do you contrast that from this more, I suppose, data driven approach to it, rationally deciding precisely how you should allocate your resources for the for the best good? 

Well, you’ve characterized the contrast, in fact. So there’s this impulsive giving. And surveys show that the overwhelming majority of people who give to charity do it impulsively. They do zero research on the effects. You know how well a charity is doing. And whereas there’s this minority who actually tend to give more larger donations, who do a little bit of research. But even the research they do is often just checking how much of the revenue that an organization receives goes to administration and fundraising. And that doesn’t really tell you anything about how effective their programs are. Maybe that 90 percent of the revenue goes to programs, but the programs are useless. And it would be better if they took more for administration to make sure that the programs are actually doing something useful. So there are now ways of finding out through online Web sites, which are the charities that are really effective and effective. Altruists are taking advantage of that information and making sure that what they do goes to the most effective charities. 

What are those that those Web sites that people want to look them up? 

Sure. Well, the pioneer in this field really of rigorous evaluation is give well. So that’s just give well. Dot org. There are now other sites, including one that spun off an earlier book of mine called The Life You Can Save. And so the organization is the life you can say the Web site is the life you can save dot org. And that has recommendations for charities to give to as well or based on research of various kinds. 

What is it about our psychology that makes us so much more likely to give to something that’s immediate? That’s right in front of us. Than to something that’s abstract, like global poverty. 

It’s the way our psychology has evolved. We and our primate ancestors for millions of years lived in small Face-To-Face societies where we knew everyone. The assumption is that humans evolved in societies. Not more than 150 individuals. So you knew everybody and therefore you responded to people that you knew and you would be prepared to help them. But then, beyond the bounds of that society, there were other humans who often you were in conflict with. And you had no inclination to help strangers beyond those that you knew. So we respond to appeals from identifiable individuals. If we see a face, a name. We are more likely to respond than if somebody tells you, look, this organization will help thousands of people with modest amounts of money and can really do a lot of good. But you don’t know any of those thousands of people. It’s statistical information. It doesn’t have the emotional pull that just seeing the face of one child and saying she needs your help is going to do. So that’s I regard that now that we are no longer in a small face to face society. But in this large world and now that we have the. Abilities to help people far away. I regard it as a kind of flaw in our psychology, that we are still stuck with the psychology of beings who evolved in the small face to face societies rather than in the world in which we’re really living. 

What about our family and our and our kin? Can a case not be made that we act? The world ends up being a better place if we make sure that we take care of our kids and our neighbor’s kids and and those about those people in our community and that a world comprised of people who have a commitment to doing that is better than a world comprised of people who who abandoned their responsibilities to their own community in favor of some objective measure of good. 

You can certainly make a case that the family is a vital institution in society, that it’s the best way to bring up children. I mean, no more utopian experiments at bringing children up communally, as in the Israeli kibbutzim didn’t really succeed. So I think you could say, yes, we want to preserve the family. And beyond that, we want to preserve some sense of local community, friends and relationships that people are in. That’s important for humans because we still are these sort of social mammals that we evolved as. But I don’t think you want to stop there. You want to say, sure, give some priority to those groups. Everybody would save their child rather than the child of a stranger if it came to that choice. But that doesn’t go to the extent of saying, my children, my friends, my family must have everything that I’m able to lavish on them, that my kids must have the latest computer games or the latest paraphernalia from whatever movie it was that’s currently in vogue with kids, and that somehow that because they’re my kids, that trumps things like helping the children of strangers where I can make a life saving difference or whether I can do things like preventing them go blind for what I really do is pretty trivial sums of money, 50 or 100 dollars. We shouldn’t go that far. There’s got to be a point at which we say we can also see that other other humans, strangers and for that matter, non-human animals as well, that they matter, that their interests can’t. And we’ve got to give them some light in one of your books. 

You’ve got an analogy about walking through a deserted park or forest after having bought a brand new pair of shoes and seeing a child drowning in a lake. Do you remember that? That thought experiment? 

And I certainly do. Yes. It’s in the life you can save, which is the earlier book. And in an earlier article as well. Just tell it to us first. 

Yeah, sure. So, as you said, you’re walking. You’re walking through a park and there’s a pond in this park. And you happen to know that it’s quite a shallow pond because you think it’s, let’s say, playing in and in summer when it’s warm. But now it’s not summer and there’s nobody in the pond, or at least there seems to be nobody in the pond. But then you notice actually there is something splashing around in the pond and it’s a small child. And because the child is small, although the pond is shallow, that child is likely to drown. A child can’t swim and can’t stand up. So because your first thought is, well, who’s looking after this child? You know, where are the parents of the baby sitter? But there seems to be nobody there. But you and the child, you don’t know how that’s happened, but that’s the situation. And so then you think, well, I better jump into the pond and save the child. And then you have this less noble thought that all of these new shoes I just bought, they’re so nice and they’re not at all going to stand up to jumping into a muddy pond. They’re going to be ruined. And I’ll have to replace them. Trust me, a lot of money. So then at that point, you think, well, I could just walk on. This is not my child and I’m not responsible for the child being in danger of drowning. So why don’t I just ignore it? Go on with whatever I was going to do today. I often ask my audience if I’m doing this before a live audience like students. So what would you think of somebody who did just walk on? Would that be wrong? And everybody or, you know, perhaps there’s one contrarian in a room of 300 people. Just about everybody says that would be wrong. In fact, some people think that would be just monstrous to put a pair of shoes above the life of a child. But then I point at. That, in fact, we do that all the time when we buy things that we don’t really need, rather than give them to charities that are effectively saving lives in developing countries. And yet we don’t typically think that that is wrong. And what I’m suggesting is we should change those those standards of what it is to live ethically, that if you don’t share at least some of your resources, your good fortune, and having grown up in an affluent society with people who, through no fault of their own, are much, much poorer than you, and therefore their children may be in danger of dying, or they might go blind from preventable causes. You know, if you don’t do that, then you’re really pretty much in the same situation as the person who chose to leave the child to drown. 

How much then should we give? How much should a middle class person in the Western world be sacrificing? 

It’s it’s difficult to draw a line. And there are some organizations that like this idea of a tithe, 10 percent. There’s an organization called Giving What We Can. That suggests people pledge to give 10 percent. I think it shouldn’t be a flat percentage because I think the more money you have, the higher percentage you can you can give. So I suggest something like a sliding scale, which starts off quite low. You know, you could start off if you’re not at all wealthy, you could start off at one percent. And see how that feels. But you’ll probably find, I predict, that it isn’t a problem to do that. You’re not really missing anything that makes a big difference to your life. And you get the satisfaction of knowing that your helping some of the world’s poorest people or maybe you’re giving it to reduce animal suffering or mitigate climate change. Something like that. But you’re doing something worthwhile with a part of your resources. And then you might build up from there. You might say, oh, I can do better than that next year. And you may get to 10 percent. I get 10 percent quite quickly. I take a few years to get there depending where you are. You may, if you’re comfortably off, go beyond that. In my book, I talk about people who are giving 50 percent of their income and are very happy with what they’re doing. 

You mentioned animal suffering a couple of times so far. How does one make that calculus between the suffering and potential death of a human being versus the widespread mistreatment and torture of factory farm animals? 

Given that presumably their lives, I would hesitate to say most people would agree are worth less than they are than a human life. 

Well, I would say, you know, if we’re talking about life and death, I would say perhaps that there’s less at stake than a normal human life because we humans plan our lives ahead. There’s also something we want to do in the future. Perhaps there’s things we want to achieve in the future. And I suppose it’s true that a pig or a cow doesn’t think about the future or that much and not in that long term way and doesn’t have achievements that he or she is hoping to have. So you could say in that sense, the loss of the life of a normal human is a greater tragedy of the premature death of a normal human. But when it comes to suffering, I think that doesn’t apply in the same way. So certainly pigs and cows can suffer as much as humans from certain things. They can suffer from boredom and confinement, and they are confined in very closely so that they can’t even turn around in the case of breeding sites, for instance, or they can suffer physically from being beaten and having surgery performed on them with an anesthetic like castration for four male pigs. And I think that way you have similar quantities of suffering. They can’t equally. I don’t think that there’s really any justification for saying because this being is a member of the species homo sapien, its suffering is more important than that being, which is a cow or a pig. 

This brings us to the question of speciesism, which is a term that you’ve also coined and which a lot of people misunderstand. 

I’ve I’ve interviewed Sam Harris on this podcast, and he’s he’s expressed incredulity at the assumption, for example, that that A, that a shrimp should have the same the same consideration as, for example, a chimpanzee. And that’s his misunderstanding of what speciesism means. Can you just clarify that? That’s not exactly what you’re talking about. 

No, it’s not. What what speciesism rules at is giving more consideration to the interests of being because of its species where those are similar interests. So if you take something like a shrimp, there’s questions about whether it can feel pain at all because it has a very different kind of nervous system from that which vertebrates have. And it’s hard to. Estimate how much it can suffer. And as I was saying before, even with with mammals. You know, it doesn’t have the same plans and thoughts about the future, I presume. So I’m not saying, as I already said, I’m not saying that the lives of all these different beings are worth the same, irrespective of their cognitive capacities. But I am saying that similar massive suffering manages as much now with a shrimp. It’s very hard to know what would be a similar amount of suffering. So I would just say, you know, let’s avoid causing suffering to shrimps if we don’t need to. And that might mean choosing not to eat them where we have good options that we don’t need to eat them. But, you know, the principle of rejecting speciesism is most easily applied. I think when you compare beings of similar cognitive abilities but different species and particularly where one of them is human. So take a human who is profoundly intellectually disabled and is not cognitively more advanced than, let’s say, a chimpanzee. And of course, there are quite a few humans in that category. We have laws that say it’s permissible to do. Painful or lethal experiments on the chimpanzee where it would be a crime to do that to the profoundly intellectually disabled human. Now, I’m certainly not suggesting we should be doing painful experiments, of course, on the intellectually disabled human, but I don’t think we are justified in giving less consideration to the chimpanzee than we give to the intellectually disabled human. So those who think that you should give less consideration to the chimpanzee than the profoundly intellectually disabled human who is no more cognitively advanced than the chimpanzee, they’re the species. That’s the clearest kind of example of species. 

One of the striking things about living in a modern society is how inured we’ve become to the suffering of people around us. The political conversation is just starting to catch up with that. I think we’d talk about the one percent and with discussions of inequality. But every day here in New York, we walk past people who are destitute and we are targeted by our conscience as to whether or not we should give money to beggars, to to buskers, to street performers on the subway and so on. 

In a purely rational, effective, altruist mindset, should we not be doing anything to directly help those people? 

We should only be doing things to help people if we know that we really are making a difference to them and that that is a cost effective use of our resources. Now, with street people, it’s really hard to know that. For one thing, it’s hard to disentangle truth from fiction. Right? 

I mean, if somebody comes up and tells you a story about how they come to New York from their home and then they got robbed and they don’t have eighteen dollars for the fare home. If that story is really true, then giving them 18 dollars might be a cost effective thing to do. But, you know, I think very often those stories are not true. 

They have had the same guy give me that same story about three days apart. 

Exactly. Exactly right. So we can’t disentangle that. And therefore, if we can’t do that, I think we’re justified in not helping. And also, you know, some people are homeless, have addiction problems. Some people have mental health problems. And it’s very hard, very costly to really help them. Whereas we know that there are charities working for people in developing countries who whose only real problem is that they’re in this poverty trap. They they are working hard. They’re doing the best to get out of it, but they just don’t have the resources sometimes to get out of it. So helping them is likely to be more cost effective than helping people on the street in a wealthy city. 

So woven into all of this conversation. And underpinning your thinking is it is a set of criteria which we use by which we judge what the good is. Right. Which annual broadly utilitarian. Can you explain what that means and how you arrive at your conclusions about what’s good? 

Well, a utilitarian is somebody who thinks the right act to do is the act that will have the best consequences. And there’s some debate among utilitarians is what counts of having the best consequences. But I would say it means doing the most to maximize the surplus of happiness over misery. So therefore, you try to reduce suffering or you try to increase happiness as far as you can possibly do that. 

Some of your colleagues in the world of moral philosophy don’t take it out, Utilitarians. Obviously, they’re a bunch of different strains of moral philosophy. What do you say to their criticisms of utilitarianism that suppose you’ve got an heir to a multi-billion dollar fortune who wants to keep it all for himself and is a real ratbag and you’re in a position because you’re close to em where you know that if you if you kill them, you’d be you’d take over his his fortune and you’d be able to save hundreds of thousands of lives in the developing world. 

What’s what’s to stop you from? Why isn’t that the right thing to do? Is it? 

Well, if we’re talking about a hypothetical story and you make the conditions such that you can be confident that you’re not going to get caught and so on, you know, then I’m prepared to say in this hypothetical situation, that would be the right thing to do. But if you live in the real world, I think rules like, you know, don’t kill innocent people. There are rules that we really ought to stay with because in the real world, you don’t know that you’re not going to get caught. You don’t know that there’s going to be a lot of other bad consequences coming from this. 

But even if you got caught. And even if you got the death penalty for two people, dying is preferable to 100000 people dying who could be saved. 

You’re assuming that you’re already before you get caught. 

You’ve already been able to disperse this fortune and in a way that can’t be recovered by this other guy’s heirs or something, you know? 

Yes. Like, again, I’ll say I think that that’s. That you could get away with it or that you could do it is is hypothetical. And of course, I also think it’s good that you should be the kind of person it couldn’t really contemplate killing somebody innocent, that you would just not be able to do that, because that’s how we want to bring up people in this society. We don’t want people to be cold blooded, easy to kill somebody. And that’s a useful disposition to have. But that will contrast with these extraordinary circumstances that you just mentioned, which you’re really never going to encounter, in which, as I say, hypothetically, you could justify that a lot of our listeners are interested in religion and in secularism and in the impact that religion has had and is having on our conception of ethics and on the way we treat each other. 

We live at a time when radical Islamism is obviously causing a huge amount of problems. And conservative Christianity in the American South and Midwest are holding back causes that a lot of our listeners would care about, like gay rights and progressive causes like euthanasia and the war on drugs. Do you have a thought about about the role that religion has played and is playing in ethics? 

Oh, certainly. 

I’ve thought about that a lot because I’ve worked a lot on issues like euthanasia or physician assistance in dying and also abortion, experimentation on human embryos. 

And I think religion has been a major obstacle to progress on those things into rational thinking on those issues. And now, of course, we see, as you mentioned, with with militant Islam, we see sort of some really ideas that are really very much contrary to well-being, human rights, whatever, whatever values you might have. And I think that’s it’s it’s interesting in a way that now seeing that with Islam, you realize the limitations of a faith based approach anyway, because once you accept the idea that faith is the way to know what is right and wrong and faith in some particular scripture being divinely inspired and therefore the truth, then, you know, you’ve got no better basis for believing in divine inspiration of Christian scriptures than you do for Islamic scriptures. So I think it shows that everybody really is in the same basket and that we really need to be trying to put that aside and saying, look, if we want to make progress here, we really should be trying to look at this in a secular way based on our capacities to reason and to think about what is going to promote the welfare of all of those involved. 

A lot of religious people and a lot of secular moderates. And indeed, people like President Obama will say militant Islamism is a perversion of the religion. It’s a distortion of the lived religion, the way that most people interpret it, that moderate religious people are the vanguard of morality, that they helped with the civil rights movement, that they helped abolish slavery and so on. Then, you know. Killer humanists or atheists might counter that religious people are always playing catch up to secular ethics or that there’s this kind of threat. 

There’s this kind of evolving vanguard of secular ethical thought which religion then scrambles to to come along with. I assume that you’re in the latter camp. 

Yeah, I am. I have to say, as far as what we were talking about earlier, and that is concern for the poor. I think Christianity has been a very positive influence because that is emphasized over and over again in the gospel recordings of what Jesus allegedly said. 

And here, although I know I certainly give credit to religion for that direction, but it is odd, really, that religious people, particularly those conservative Christians that you mentioned, tend to focus much more on things like campaigning against same sex marriage or abortion, and they don’t condemn people for retaining their wealth and not sharing it with the poor. Although these gospel accounts are very clear about what Jesus thought about, you know, the rich man really can’t go to heaven. 

It’s difficult for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. I assume that’s a metaphor for saying more or less impossible, whereas there’s no obviously clear account of abortion or embryo experimentation or what Jesus would have thought about about those things. So I think it’s in fact, in that particular poverty, it would be good for Christians to take their own scriptures more seriously, which is in contrast to what I think about a lot of other attitudes to scripture. 

Tactically, there’s a bit of a debate in the secular community about exactly how strident one should be in opposing religion. There’s that there’s the sort of New Atheists camp of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and others who who believe that you need to call it as you say it and you need to call B.S. on all on all religion, even if you’re even if that means alienating some moderate religious people who might otherwise be be on side with you on a few cultural questions. And then there are others who think, look, just don’t rock the boat as long as everyone’s paint. No one’s bothering anyone else that everyone can believe, whatever, whatever they do believe. Do you have any thoughts about which is tactically superior? 

So I think that it’s right to say faith is not a good basis for belief in things that will apply to moderates as well as to more fundamentalists. So I think that that you should call. And I don’t think you should say, well, all beliefs are equally good or equally valid. That seems to me to be clearly not true. Having said that, I still think it’s worthwhile making distinctions between moderate Christians who work for progressive causes and conservatives who are more rigid, more fundamentalist and don’t. And the same can be said for Islam and other religions as well, because I think it’s tactically it’s very difficult to say to everybody, just abandon religious faith altogether. In the long run, I would hope that we would get to that point. But as a strategy for improving, making progress on the causes that we think are important, it’s better to find allies when you can find them. 

Part of what religious people push back on and mischaracterize atheists as having is there is a dearth of sent them a sense of wonder. Right. Like the like that we’re lacking an ability to appreciate the majesty of the cosmos because we don’t believe in in texts that were written thousands of years ago. How do you reconcile that in your life as a secular person? 

Do you feel that this there’s any element missing and that we need to sort of find some kind of inner peace that other people get through religion? 

I don’t think there’s anything missing in a secular approach at all. I think you can have a sense of wonder at once. You understand the age and vastness of the universe. You can certainly have a sense of wonder at that. Once you understand the process of evolution, you can have a sense of wonder at what it has produced over many millions of years. And and the other thing that I’d also add is religious people sometimes think that if you don’t think that there’s a purpose to life in the sense of the purpose for which the universe was created, you’re lacking something. But I don’t think that at all. In fact, my experience both in the animal movement and in the affective altruism movement is that people respond positively to the idea that they give meaning to their own lives by working to make the world a better place. Working to reduce suffering. And those people, I find a very often fulfilled people who think that they’ve made a difference to the world and are satisfied with that and unhappy with their lives. 

Abortion is becoming a big issue again here in the States with a couple of of states, Oklahoma. Kansas recently banning second trimester abortions, the most popular method of doing second trimester abortions, and I feel like the debate here has become a binary where, you know, it’s impossible to talk about the the moral nuances of abortion without flipping into either a black or white legal position about women’s rights. 

Do you regret that? And how should we think if we want to be secular and morally nuanced about the morality of taking the life of an unborn embryo? 

I certainly regret the polarization and I think there is room for much more nuance. And for example, I, I think that where a second trimester abortion may cause pain to a fetus, the state would be justified in regulating to ensure that the abortion is performed in a manner that avoids that pain or minimizes that pain. And I think that can be done because I think, you know, the pain suffered by any sense in being is a bad thing. Now, exactly at what point the fetus is capable of feeling pain is another question. I think it would only be quite late in the second trimester, but that could happen. But by the end of the second trimester, it’s a possibility anyway. We can’t be sure. So, you know, I would be prepared to support laws like that, whereas many people who are in favor of reproductive rights would say, you know, we don’t want any more laws regulating abortion. But I wouldn’t be in favor of saying because the fetus can feel pain. Therefore, abortion is always wrong, because if the abortion can be carried out without inflicting pain, I think that’s defensible. And the fetus doesn’t experience anything, has perhaps never really had anything much in the way of experience. And again, you know, you come back to that speciesism issue we talked about before. Why are we privileging the fetus as a member of the species homo sapien when we are prepared to kill billions of animals with capacities more advanced than that of the fetus just because we like the taste of their flesh? I don’t think that’s an ethically defensible position at all. 

One of the consequences of your positions here is that that you copped a lot of flak for for saying that infanticide in certain situations was was okay. What’s the rationale for that? 

Yeah, I did cop a lot of flak for that. And it’s interesting because what I’m saying is not all that different from what actually happens without challenge in neonatal intensive care units in every major city in the country. And that is you have infants born with very severe disabilities, for example. Maybe they didn’t. They lost oxygen to the brain during the birth process or they were extremely premature. And therefore, most of their brain, they had massive bleeding in the brain. And most of their brain is destroyed and they will never be able to recognize their parents, even a smile at their mother or something like that. Well, when that happens, doctors in an intensive care unit will often suggest to the parents that they withdraw the respirator. These are very premature babies who can’t breathe without assistance. And the parents will typically say, yes, doctor, if that’s the condition, if this child is never going to grow up to be interacting a human being, that’s the best thing to do. So I think that what’s really morally relevant here is not whether the child is dependent on a respirator, but what kind of life is the child likely to have. And if the child is not dependent on a respirator, then. As the law stands now, the child will live. You’re not allowed to take active steps to end the child’s life. So it’s the kind of accident of do does the brain bleed occur or do you discover the brain bleed while a child is still dependent on a respirator? Then it’s okay to kill the child basically by withdrawing the respirator. It does kill the child. Do you only discover this when the child is no longer dependent on a respirator? Then there’s nothing you can do. And the child is going to live. That seems a really irrelevant moral consideration. You should be able to say, because we think it would be justified to withdraw the respirator if the child were still on a respirator. But the child is not on a respirator. We’re justified in ending the child’s life by giving the child a lethal injection which will painlessly kill the child. 

As an ethicist, you spend your life thinking about what’s good and what’s not good about what we should do and what we shouldn’t do. This is maybe a silly question, but why should we do the things that are good? I mean, the bigger question than what’s good is what imperative do we have in a godless universe to do good anyway? 

Well, we have, you know, maybe, you know, want to use the term imperative for it. It’s certainly not a command of God. But we have the recognition that this is the right thing to do, that we have the idea that. This will say in terms of my ethic, at least reduce avoidable suffering or increase happiness. And I think we can see those as good things in themselves. We certainly value our own happiness and we try to prevent our own suffering. And if we think about our position in the universe and realize that we are just one person, among others, who suffer equally, I think we should be able to see that their suffering matters as well. So by living ethically, we’re doing what matters. We’re doing something that we’re preventing bad things that matter and we’re promoting good things that matter. That should be enough reason to do it. But as it psychologically the way we are, it’s not always enough reason. I’ll add that there is good research that shows that people who do this actually have happier and more fulfilling lives. They’re more satisfied with their life when they’re when they’re generous, when they think of others. It’s something that the ancient Greeks knew and called the paradox of hedonism, that if you aim at your own pleasure, you don’t get it. If you aim at something else, you do. That was their shrewd observation of other humans. We now have experimental data that shows that they were right. 

The book is the most good you can do. The Web sites are give well and the life you can save. 

Peter Singer. It’s an honor to count you as one of my countrymen. Thanks so much for being on point of inquiry. 

Thanks, Jeff. Good to talk to you. 

Josh Zepps

Josh Zepps

An Australian media personality, political satirist, actor, and TV show host. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. He was a founding host for HuffPost Live.