The Most Good You Can Do | Peter Singer

Summary of: The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically
By: Peter Singer


In ‘The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically’, Peter Singer introduces us to the world of effective altruism, in which individuals make impactful decisions to improve the world by assessing causes based on evidence and reason. The summary highlights examples of diverse career paths, lifestyles, and levels of dedication to the cause of effective altruism, as well as exploring the principles that guide proponents of the movement and the influence of technology and data on their philanthropic choices. Discover the organizations that evaluate the efficacy of charities and learn about the moral and ethical questions that often arise in the decision-making process.

Effective Altruism: Making a Difference

Effective altruism is a social movement that seeks to improve the world using evidence and reason. One example of an effective altruist is Matt Wage, who chose to donate half his salary to effective charities rather than pursuing a lucrative career on Wall Street. Some effective altruists opt for high-paying jobs while leading humble lifestyles to donate more. They also spread awareness to attract more people to the movement. By applying the principles of effective altruism, individuals can make a difference in the world.

Effective Altruism: Helping Others with Your Money

Effective altruists donate to charities based on evidence-backed success rates, rather than emotions. By putting their money where it will do the most good, they reduce suffering and save lives across various communities. Effective altruists understand the importance of aiding people of different backgrounds and religions while not being swayed away by helping their own children first. Their focus is not on themselves or the “warm-glow” feeling of donating to causes that touch their emotions, but on providing maximum benefit to the most people possible.

History of Effective Altruism

Effective altruism is a philosophy and social movement that advocates individuals to solve society’s problems through critical thinking, analysis, and evidence-based approaches. The pioneers of this movement include Peter Singer, a philosopher whose 1972 article “Famine, Affluence and Morality” introduced the idea that people should give as much as they can to disaster relief. Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) to research interventions against poverty. Holden Karnofsky, Elie Hassenfeld, Toby Ord, and Will MacAskill established organizations such as GiveWell to evaluate the effectiveness of charities and societies like Giving What We Can to eliminate poverty. Effective altruism emphasizes the value of empathizing with others to better help those in need.

Giving Back: How Much is Enough?

According to the principles of Effective Altruism, individuals living in affluent societies can improve the lives of those in developing countries by donating around 10% of their income to charities that have a positive impact. However, a balance between donating while also maintaining a comfortable lifestyle is recommended. Julia Wise and Jeff Kaufman donate half of their income to charity, while Rhema Hokama saves 5% of her modest income to donate at the end of the year. Adopting an effective altruism lifestyle is a practical application of our ability to reason, as the author highlights.

Effective Altruism: A Lifestyle Towards Helping Others

Jim Greenbaum, a man committed to fighting suffering since he was moved by footage of Nazi concentration camps as a child, practiced effective altruism long before it became a term. He founded and sold telecommunications company Access Long Distance, and at age 41, pledged 85% of his $133 million net worth to help others. German professional poker player Philipp Gruissem turned to effective altruism after the high life stopped satisfying him. He donated generously and founded a charity to encourage other poker players to donate. Ian Ross lived on $9,000 a year and donated over 95% of his earnings to ease animal suffering or support public health. An organization can also be formed to support effective altruism. In 1966, Buddhist nun Cheng Yen founded Tzu Chi, which grew from 30 housewives donating pennies to helping families in need, establishing hospitals and training medical staff, and becoming a global organization with over 10 million members across 51 countries, nearly 30% in Taiwan alone. Effective altruists prioritize giving to a cause that will do the most good given the abilities, time, and money available. The lifestyle prioritizes helping others over material possessions.

Making an Impact: A Guide to Ethical Careers and Charities

The article discusses the effectiveness of working for a charity versus donating money, while also exploring alternative ways to contribute positively to society. Starting your own organization may maximize your impact, and working within an organization can influence its direction towards a greater good. However, it’s crucial to prioritize transparent charities and focus on underserved causes. Medical research and regenerative body part donations are also highlighted as avenues for altruism.

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