Peter Singer’s new books on ethics

Peter Singer’s new book on ethics, a series of short essays about real-world ethical issues, came out September 13 (Princeton University Press), and already it’s Amazon’s #1 release in “Philosophy of Ethics and Morality”. I’ll be reading it for sure, as Singer is one philosopher who has something to say about how real people live their lives. He’s a clear writer, and tries personally to adhere to his ethical conclusions. Here’s the Amazon blurb; click on the book’s screenshot to go to the Amazon order page:

Now, in Ethics in the Real World, Singer shows that he is also a master at dissecting important current events in a few hundred words.

In this book of brief essays, he applies his controversial ways of thinking to issues like climate change, extreme poverty, animals, abortion, euthanasia, human genetic selection, sports doping, the sale of kidneys, the ethics of high-priced art, and ways of increasing happiness. Singer asks whether chimpanzees are people, smoking should be outlawed, or consensual sex between adult siblings should be decriminalized, and he reiterates his case against the idea that all human life is sacred, applying his arguments to some recent cases in the news. In addition, he explores, in an easily accessible form, some of the deepest philosophical questions, such as whether anything really matters and what is the value of the pale blue dot that is our planet. The collection also includes some more personal reflections, like Singer’s thoughts on one of his favorite activities, surfing, and an unusual suggestion for starting a family conversation over a holiday feast.

Provocative and original, these essays will challenge–and possibly change–your beliefs about a wide range of real-world ethical questions.

I haven’t seen many reviews of this book, though of course it deserves wide review; you can find a positive review at The Economist.



And you might consider this book as well, which came out last year (again, click on screenshot for ordering and details). It has a Wikipedia entry which sums up the reviews (mixed):



  1. Peter
    Posted September 21, 2016 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Some of Singer’s essays were published first here:

  2. Posted September 21, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Sam Harris’s recent podcast about “Effective Altruism” with Will McAskill was excellent. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in moral philosophy, ethics, and altruism.

    • Mark Reaume
      Posted September 21, 2016 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      I just happened to read a review McAskill’s book “Doing Good Better” over at:

      Turns out I don’t do good well 😦

      • somer
        Posted September 22, 2016 at 1:17 am | Permalink

        McAskill assumes charities can be like industrial mass production – one tech solution fits all. However in many poor places there is rampant corruption and inequality – reinforced by dysfunctional but still ingrained human behaviour, historic and geographic factors. McAskill seems not to appreciate the importance in involving the local community for tailor made solutions that they actually need or else understand, or empowering to continue the services into the future. Services have to be tailored to the community – and what works in one agricultural setting (e.g. Africa with its more evolved diseases, ancient terrible soils, deserts, tropics – again terrible soils in the tropics, and lack of temperate areas) is very different from what works here. Also highly organised large scale or high powered solutions have to deal with a big man/men as it were who are likely to be corrupt in these settings.

      • somer
        Posted September 22, 2016 at 1:56 am | Permalink

        I have to correct myself – The book looks great and I have made a note of some of the charities it mentions. I didn’t like the review in Quillette by Keiran Harris because of some mentions it made that don’t actually reflect the book (e.g. his allusion to a hedge fund manager can still make a huge positive difference with what they give whereas I would say a lot of futures and derivative trading contributes to the poverty). However from reading some of the book itself it is very focussed on finding out grassroots needs and impacts that have been proven rather than some simplistic corporatised solution.

  3. Posted September 21, 2016 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Honest atheists either have to accept the fact that morality is an artifact of evolution, or come up with some semblance of a rational explanation of why they believe good and evil are real, objective things, floating around out there in the luminiferous aether. In common with most modern “experts on ethics,” Singer does neither. I’ll read his book, but I’m not optimistic about what I’ll find.

    • Flemur
      Posted September 21, 2016 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      morality is an artifact of evolution

      Oh, I dunno.

      Virtue signaling & sexual selection
      Author Miller had a web-page with a funny slide show on the subject, apparently now broken..
      Or here

      Virtue rewards itself. Why?

      • Flemur
        Posted September 21, 2016 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        “Peter” posted a link to some of Singer’s writings above; I picked on “virtue signaling” because of this excerpt from Extreme Altruism:
        “If they can live by higher moral standards, then so could we.”

        That sure sounds like sexual selection (competition).

        • Posted September 22, 2016 at 4:44 am | Permalink

          The fantasies of objective Good and Evil are much harder to give up than the God fantasy. Our consciousness portrays them to us as real things, just as Westermarck pointed out in the first chapter of his “The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas” back in 1906. He’s the only philosopher I know of who has drawn the obvious conclusions from the fact that evolved behavioral predispositions are responsible for the existence of morality. Among those conclusions is the fact that no one’s version of morality can possibly be any more legitimate than someone else’s. In spite of that, we find the likes of Harris and Singer still chasing the gaudy butterflies of Good and Evil more than 100 years later. What they are chasing are not realities, but whims.

          • peepuk
            Posted September 22, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

            These conclusions may be very obvious but not very popular. But I believe there are more philosophers who argued that morality is an adaption.

            Recently philosopher Alex Rosenberg defended the truth of moral nihilism with the help of Darwin and Newton in his “Atheist guide to reality; Enjoying life without illusions” (2011).

  4. Posted September 21, 2016 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    After finally finishing the excellently argued FVF, I was wondering what would be next on my reading list. One can count on Coyne for good literature, food, travel, and film suggestions.

  5. Posted September 22, 2016 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    Charity begins at Home. I will never be able to afford charity giving…

  6. Posted September 22, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I have a deep admiration for Singer, and own several of his books, one of which is the only philosophy book I know with a recipe. 🙂

    Anyway, I think he’s largely on the right track (though I say that hypocritically when it comes to eating non-human animals, alas), except for one detail about the “effective altruism” thing. There’s less in his stuff about *changing the social conditions that make it necessary* than there should be, and more about correctives. As the saying goes, it isn’t about charity, it is about justice. So, reform of the international financial institutions, etc. are not addressed as much as I think they should be. I have to read more of S.’s works to know how much of this is omitted.

    (I do know from B. Leiter and others this is how Singer is often criticized by others from “the left”.)

  7. Posted September 24, 2016 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

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