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The Life You Can Save

Peter Singer, Princeton mentor and philosopher, presents a convincing argument for how all of us can make a difference in the lives of others without reducing the quality of our own.

Book Digest There is much anecdotal evidence to support the view that despite America’s vast riches (yes, even now) we are still in thrall to a lifeboat mentality. On the other hand, the nongovernmental response to disasters such as Katrina, the tsunami, and numerous earthquakes are a sign, as Mark Twain held, that each of us contains a secret kindness.

In The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty (Random House), Peter Singer—Princeton mentor, animal liberation activist, and a philosopher who cares to bring his cogitating to bear on the real world—asserts that this is a propitious time to consider what each of us can do to end world poverty and its attendant cruelties and suffering. He suggests:
…Many of us find it difficult to consider giving money to people we have never met, living in distant countries we have never visited. This obviously doesn’t get any easier during periods of economic uncertainty, when many people are justifiably anxious about their own economic prospects. While I don’t seek to diminish in any way the challenges that attend rough economic times, we should remember that even in the worst of times, our lives remain infinitely better than those of the people living in extreme poverty. I’m hoping that you will look at the larger picture and think about what it takes to live ethically in a world in which 18 million [10 million children] people are dying unnecessarily each year…
Toward the end of removing the scales from our eyes, Singer arrays ethical arguments, examples, case studies, and thought experiments to form a seven-point plan that blends personal philanthropy, local activism, and political awareness. The good professor has written a lucid and compelling call to action that convincingly argues how all of us can make a difference in the lives of others without reducing the quality of our own. What could be better than that?
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