Thoughts on Peter Singer and Utilitarianism

A few years ago I read Peter Singer's essay Famine, Affluence, and Morality. The basic premise is:

  • Suffering in the world is bad
  • We have a moral imperative to prevent suffering in the world
  • Therefore, we should give all of our money to effective charities until the next dollar we donate would cause us more suffering than it would prevent for someone else.

Peter Singer is a proponent of utilitarianism which is an ethical system that bases the rightness and wrongness of an action on the net benefit of that action to society. Additionally, an action that provides more net benefit to society is better than an action that provides less net benefit.

When thinking about suffering you can expand that to include not just humans but animals as well. In Singer's book Animal Libration he makes the point that animals suffer at a greater rate than humans. There are over 25 billion animals living in factory farms in the US. That is a lot of suffering that could be eliminated.

We can think about suffering not just in terms of the humans and animals currently living but those that will live in the future as well. According to Nick Botrom there will be over a million billion people that inhabit the earth over the next billion years. This suggest that it might be more important to do work that reduces future suffering (such as funding climate change efforts) than the suffering of people who are currently alive.

So putting this all together to live the most ethical life possible I want to focus on ways to:

  • Reduce human suffering
  • Reduce animal suffering
  • Reduce future generations of human and animal suffering

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