Ethics In The Real World
82 Brief Essay on Things That Matter
By Peter Singer
Princeton University Press – £19.95
No man is liberated from fear who dare not see his place in the world as it is; no man can achieve the greatness of which he is capable until has has allowed himself to see his own littleness.
Such humble thinking wouldn’t go a miss in the White House right now, not to mention the Turkish Parliament and an array of other so called high places of high-octane power.
It does after all seem that when certain movers and shakers, hipsters and shirkers – be they politicians, financial investors or perhaps worse, City mortgage advisers – reach the penultimate threshold of no longer having to worry about the next pay cheque, they automatically feel compelled to relinquish all and every shred of decency they may have once had.
A quality which may well perhaps, (partially) explain why they are the people they invariably are: usually highly motivated and focused, yet simultaneously dull and exceedingly unpleasant.
In a round-a-bout kind of way, this (partially) accounts for Ethics In The Real World – 82 Brief Essay on Things That Matter being the book it is: real and inspired, provocative, yet relentlessly well thought through and honestly considered. Qualities which ought hardly be surprising, as Peter Singer has often been described as the world’s most influential philosopher, which these 330 pages (excluding Introduction, Acknowledgements and Index) do much to clarify.
One can literally open any page of this most wonderful book, and be wholeheartedly reached by way of unarguable truth – with even the very idea of philosophy itself, already being scrutinized in the book’s Introduction: ”There is a view in some philosophical circles that anything that can be understood by people who have not studied philosophy is not profound enough to be worth saying. To the contrary, I suspect that whatever cannot be said clearly is probably not being thought clearly either.”
And the shedding of light on philosophy doesn’t end there.
The chapter ‘Philosophy On Top,’ actually concludes with the optimistic note: ”More surprising, and possibly even more significant than the benefits of doing philosophy for general reasoning abilities, is the way in which taking a philosophy course can change a person’s life. I know from my own experience that taking a course in philosophy can lead students to turn vegan, pursue careers that enable them to give half their income to effective charities, and even donate a kidney to a stranger. How many other disciplines can say that?”
Indeed, how many other disciplines can say that?
There again, As Singer openly admits: ”Given the practical importance […] as a good utilitarian I ought to aim to write for the broadest possible audience, and not merely for a narrow band of committed utilitarians.”
Broken into eleven prime parts (Big Questions, Animals, Beyond the Ethic of the Sanctity of Life, Bioethics and Public Health, Sex and Gender, Doing Good, Happiness, Politics, Global Governance, Science and Technology, and finally, Living, Playing, Working), these 82 essays traverse all that is fundamentally important in one’s life.
As such, this book ought to be considered as something of a prime humanistic template for (the intrinsic motivation of) one’s everyday behaviour.