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Peter Singer

Peter Singer

Author: Ethics in the Real World, The Most Good You Can Do, Animal Liberation, The Life You Can Save

Articles by Peter Singer

The Ethics of Prioritizing COVID-19 Vaccination

January 19, 2021

In the United States and some other countries, members of disadvantaged racial and ethnic minorities have a lower-than-average life expectancy, and therefore are under-represented among those most likely to die from COVID-19. How should policymakers weigh this and other factors specific to population sub-groups?

MELBOURNE – Now that COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out, policymakers are wrestling with the question of how to distribute them quickly and equitably. There has been wide agreement that health workers should be vaccinated first, because they are needed to save the lives of those who are ill because of the virus. But deciding who should come next has spurred considerable debate.

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What Is Your Moral Plan for 2021?

December 30, 2020

A New Year’s resolution to be a morally better person would not be a matter of sticking to rules, like not smoking or eating sweets. Consciously directing our attention to living ethically requires considerably more thought and work.

MELBOURNE/WARSAW – Many people make New Year’s resolutions. The most common ones, at least in the United States, are to exercise more, eat healthier, save money, lose weight, or reduce stress. Some may resolve to be better to a particular person – not to criticize their partner, to visit their aging grandmother more often, or to be a better friend to someone close to them. Yet few people – just 12%, according to one US study – resolve to become a better person in general, meaning better in a moral

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Giving with the Heart and the Head

December 7, 2020

The world’s most effective charities do much more good, per dollar spent, than typical charities, but they often lack the emotional pull that motivates donors to give. Psychological research points to a possible solution.

MELBOURNE/CAMBRIDGE – Worldwide, people donate hundreds of billions of dollars to charity. In the United States alone, charitable donations amounted to about $450 billion last year. As 2020 draws to a close, perhaps you or members of your family are considering giving to charity. But there are, literally, millions of charities. Which should you choose?

Can Joe Biden’s America Be Trusted?

Mark Makela/Getty Images

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Has America Lost Its Soul?

November 6, 2020

Even if Joe Biden wins the presidency, he will have a hard time restoring ethical concerns in a country with so many voters who have become indifferent to the well-being of those outside their immediate communities. And if Donald Trump manages to hold on to power, America will come to reflect more faithlessly the narcissism of its president.

MELBOURNE – As I write, the US presidential election remains undecided. Former Vice-President Joe Biden has said that he believes he is on track to win. President Donald Trump has said, without qualification but also without evidence: “We did win this election,” adding that he will go to the Supreme Court to prevent “a major fraud on our nation.” But in several states, the result

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To Lock Down or Not to Lock Down?

October 7, 2020

When deciding whether to impose strict public-health measures to rein in COVID-19, it is not enough to determine how many lives will be saved and lost. An adequate assessment of the costs and benefits must address three issues.

MELBOURNE – For the past three months, this metropolitan area of nearly five million people, the capital of the Australian state of Victoria, has been under one of the world’s tightest lockdowns. You may leave home only if shopping for essential items, meeting medical needs, providing care, taking up to two hours of daily exercise, and going to work if it is impossible to work from home. Travel of more than five kilometers (3.1 miles) from home, or across the boundary of the metropolitan area,

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How (Not) to Fight COVID-19

September 3, 2020

Public-health experts who adhere to rigid rules for containing the pandemic are standing in the way of new technologies that can help us develop a more flexible approach. By focusing on those with the highest risk of spreading the virus, we can inflict less harm and contain the pandemic more effectively.

MELBOURNE/TUCSON – When COVID-19 first appeared, strict quarantine requirements and short, tight lockdowns would have been a small price to pay to keep it at bay. Now that the pandemic has infected over 26 million people in 213 countries and territories, we need to find new ways to control it that are not just effective, but also efficient.

The Post-Pandemic Economy’s Barriers to Growth

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The Case for Human COVID-19 Challenge Trials

August 5, 2020

Regulators should permit and begin to prepare for “human challenge” vaccine trials in order to end the COVID-19 pandemic. In these trials, fully informed volunteers would be injected with potential vaccines (or with a placebo) and then intentionally exposed to the virus.

MELBOURNE/LOS ANGELES – Last month, the vaccine advocacy group 1Day Sooner published an open letter to Francis Collins, Director of the US National Institutes of Health, urging regulators to permit and begin to prepare for “human challenge” vaccine trials in order to end the COVID-19 pandemic as soon as possible. In these trials, fully informed volunteers would be injected with potential vaccines (or with a placebo) and then would be “challenged” by

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Are Riots Justifiable?

July 9, 2020

The protests that followed the brutal police killing of George Floyd have at times become violent and caused considerable damage to public and private property. But riots are not always indefensible, and we can use three criteria to assess that question.

MELBOURNE/LODZ – In late May and June, following the brutal death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis, mass protests against systemic racism took place across the United States and around the world. Floyd’s death followed many previous police killings of unarmed African-Americans who were not behaving violently. Most protests were peaceful, but some turned into riots with widespread looting and vandalism. But while protesting against

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Is Age Discrimination Acceptable?

June 10, 2020

When the coronavirus overwhelmed Italy’s health-care system, a working group of the Italian Society of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation, and Intensive Care reluctantly supported rationing by age. They were right to do so.

MELBOURNE – Should we value all human lives equally?This question arose in an acute form in March, when the coronavirus overwhelmed Italy’s health-care system. Envisaging a situation in which there would not be enough ventilators for all patients needing one, a working group of the Italian Society of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation, and Intensive Care reluctantly supported rationing by age, while also taking into account frailty and the severity of any other health problems. The group’s aim

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Put a Price on Carbon Now!

May 7, 2020

Before the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying fall in oil prices, a carbon price would have been immediately painful for the countries that imposed it, but far better for everyone over the longer term. In this unprecedented moment, introducing a carbon price would be beneficial both now and for the future.

MELBOURNE/PRINCETON – Six years ago, oil was selling for over $100 per barrel. Today, thanks to the twin shocks of a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, and falling demand caused by the COVID-19 crisis, the price is closer to $20 a barrel. That makes this an ideal time for industrialized countries all over the world that have yet to put a price on carbon to follow the lead of those who have.

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The Two Dark Sides of COVID-19

March 2, 2020

Historically, tragedies such as the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic have sometimes led to important changes. The probable source of the new coronavirus – so-called wet markets, at which live animals are sold and slaughtered before customers’ eyes – should be banned not only in China, but worldwide.

PRINCETON – The apocalyptic images of the locked-down Chinese city of Wuhan have reached us all. The world is holding its breath over the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, and governments are taking or preparing drastic measures that will necessarily sacrifice individual rights and freedoms for the general good.
Solidarity Now

PS OnPoint

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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Orphanage Tourism Endangers Children

February 3, 2020

Many believe that there are millions of orphans in poor countries who need food, shelter, and the care, love, and support of an orphanage, and that without the support of rich-country donors, many of them would lead miserable lives, surviving by begging or selling their bodies. This is a myth.

MELBOURNE – Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Melania Trump, and Kanye West have all, in recent years, made highly publicized visits to orphanages in low-income countries. Tourists who “travel with purpose” are following their lead. Tourist itineraries often include a visit to an orphanage, alongside local markets, craft workshops, and historic sites. Tour operators promote these visits as a form of ethical tourism that allows affluent Westerners

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Was Killing Suleimani Justified?

January 6, 2020

At a press conference following the US drone strike that killed Iran’s top military commander and several others, a senior State Department official blurted out: “Jesus, do we have to explain why we do these things?” In fact, the international rule of law depends on it.

MELBOURNE – On January 3, the United States assassinated Qassem Suleimani, a top Iranian military commander, while he was leaving Baghdad International Airport in a car with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi leader of Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia. All the occupants of the car were killed.
The Suleimani Assassination and US Strategic Incoherence

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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The Lives You Saved

December 11, 2019

Living ethically in today’s interconnected world involves helping people who, through no fault of their own, are suffering in ways that we could easily prevent or alleviate. In the last ten years, many people seem to have taken that message to heart.

PRINCETON – A decade ago, I wrote The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty. This month, a fully revised Tenth Anniversary edition was published, and is available, free, as an eBook and audiobook. The chapters of the audiobook are read by celebrities, including Paul Simon, Kristen Bell, Stephen Fry, Natalia Vodianova, Shabana Azmi, and Nicholas D’Agosto. Revising the book has led me to reflect on the impact it has had, while the research involved in updating

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Are Randomized Poverty-Alleviation Experiments Ethical?

November 6, 2019

When this year’s Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to three pioneers in using randomized controlled trials to fight poverty in developing countries, the choice revived questions about the ethics of the method. Three questions, in particular, need to be addressed.

PRINCETON – Last month, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to three pioneers in using randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to fight poverty in low-income countries: Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer. In RCTs, researchers randomly choose a group of people to receive an intervention, and a control group of people who do not, and then compare the outcomes. Medical researchers use this method to test new

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Greta Thunberg’s Moment

October 7, 2019

No one could have predicted that a then-15-year-old Swedish girl would start a movement supported by millions of young people and gain a platform from which to address the world’s leaders. To avert an environmental catastrophe, we need many more like her.

PRINCETON – “This is all wrong!” These words begin the most powerful four-minute speech I have ever heard. They were spoken by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate activist, at the United Nations Climate Action Summit last month, and followed a week of climate strikes and marches attended by an estimated six million people.
The Impeachment Trap

Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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Why Climb Mount Everest?

September 5, 2019

The record number of deaths this year on the world’s tallest mountain underscores the immorality of seeking to reach the summit. But even if you are lucky enough to reach the top without passing a climber in need of help, you are still choosing your personal goal over saving a life.

PRINCETON – In 1953, when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest, I was seven years old. For a time, I was immersed in the stories of the epic climb. It seemed like an achievement for all of humankind, like reaching the South Pole. Would there still be any frontiers left, I wondered, by the time I grew up?
The Trump Narrative and the Next Recession

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Can Ethics Be Taught?

August 7, 2019

On a range of ethical issues, philosophy professors specializing in ethics have been found to behave no better than professors working in other areas of philosophy, or than non-philosophy professors. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that ethical reasoning is powerless to make people behave more ethically.

MELBOURNE – Can taking a philosophy class – more specifically, a class in practical ethics – lead students to act more ethically?
India’s Bad Bet in Kashmir

Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images

What About Rochester?

Culture Club/Getty Images

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How Honest Are We?

July 5, 2019

It is common to hear people complain that we live in an era in which self-interest prevails, moral standards have collapsed, few care about others, and most people would steal if they thought they could get away with it. But a new study covering 40 countries provides solid evidence that the world is not nearly so bad.

MELBOURNE – You have lost your wallet. Inside are your business cards with your email address. How likely is it that you will receive a message telling you that it has been found? If the wallet has money in it, does that improve, or reduce, the odds that you will get it back, with its contents intact?
What’s Driving Populism?

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Rugby Australia’s “Own Goal”

June 11, 2019

If Rugby Australia had existed in the first century of the Christian era, and Paul had had enough talent to be a contracted player, the sport’s national governing body presumably would have ripped up his contract once his first letter to the Corinthians, with its injunction against homosexuality, became public. Just ask star fullback and born-again Christian Israel Folau.

MELBOURNE – There is no such thing as an own goal in rugby, but Rugby Australia, the game’s governing body in Australia, has done its very best to score one by terminating the contract of Israel Folau. In doing so, it has lost the services of a star fullback who has played 73 tests for Australia.
Europe’s

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How Many Lives is Notre Dame Worth?

May 9, 2019

Barely a day after the fire that damaged the famous cathedral, France’s wealthy had pledged more than $1 billion to repair it. If the rich can so easily give hundreds of millions to restore a building, they could just as easily have spent that money elsewhere in better ways.

PRINCETON – Just a little more than 24 hours after the fire that seriously damaged Notre-Dame de Paris, donations to rebuild the 850-year-old cathedral had passed €1 billion ($1.1 billion). Most of the money is coming from some of France’s wealthiest people. Untec, the national union representing construction economists in France, has indicated that the cost of the reconstruction is likely to be between €300 and €600 million, far less than the

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Who Needs More White Saviors?

April 3, 2019

Very few people in need care about the color of the skin of the people who direct the organizations helping them. If the goal is to help those living in extreme poverty, we need all the saviors we can find.

PRINCETON – Comic Relief is a British charity that raises money for disadvantaged people both in the United Kingdom and overseas. Every two years, it holds Red Nose Day, when supporters wear red clown noses. The day culminates in a TV extravaganza featuring comedians and celebrities. This year, Red Nose Day raised £63.5 million ($83.5 million) – a lot of money, but down nearly £8 million from two years ago.

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Beyond the Traditional Family

March 5, 2019

In many countries today, the traditional family consisting of a heterosexual married couple with children is becoming less dominant, as same-sex marriage, co-parenting, and single-parent child-rearing spread. Are these trends really as dangerous as a document signed last month by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar suggests?

MELBOURNE/WARSAW – Last month, Pope Francis traveled to Abu Dhabi, where he met Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (Al-Azhar University is the leading Sunni institution for the study of Islamic law). The two religious leaders signed a “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” calling on their adherents, as well as world leaders, to spread tolerance and peace and to

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Dirty Money and Tainted Philanthropy

February 6, 2019

The family that owns Purdue Pharma, which has fueled America’s opioid crisis, has used its wealth to promote the arts. Instead, they should be donating to groups that reduce suffering anywhere in the world, if possible on the same scale as the suffering brought about by the accumulation of their wealth.

MELBOURNE – In 2017, life expectancy in the United States fell for the third successive year. The decline is occurring because an increase in the death rate for middle-aged whites is offsetting lower mortality for children and the elderly. So, why are more middle-aged American whites dying?

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Too Much Gratitude?

January 9, 2019

Many people give from gratitude, not only to the universities they attended, but also to their primary and secondary schools, and to hospitals that treated them when they were ill. But grateful giving doesn’t necessarily do the most good.

PRINCETON – Last November, Michael Bloomberg made what may well be the largest private donation to higher education in modern times: $1.8 billion to enable his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, to provide scholarships for eligible students unable to afford the school’s tuition. Bloomberg is grateful to Johns Hopkins, he explains, because the opportunity to study there, on a scholarship, “opened up doors that otherwise would have been closed, and allowed me to live the American dream.” In

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The Lethal Consequences of Misclassifying Dolphins

December 12, 2018

Japanese law categorizes dolphins as fish, not mammals. As a result, for the past two months, commercial fishers have been herding dolphins into a narrow cove in Tajji and slaughtering them by the hundreds.

PRINCETON – The annual dolphin hunt in the Japanese town of Taiji began in September. By next March, despite global condemnation and mounting criticism from Japan’s own citizens, approximately 1,500 dolphins will have been herded into a narrow cove and stabbed to death.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

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Taiji is not the only place where dolphins are hunted. The Faroe Islands, Solomon Islands, Greenland, Russia,

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Are You Buying Oil from Saudi Arabia?

November 12, 2018

The strong response to Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder stands in stark contrast to the relative indifference the West has shown to the vastly larger number of victims of the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen. To rein in the Saudi regime, the West must not only stop selling it arms, but also stop buying its oil.

PRINCETON – The murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate on October 2 has focused attention on the Saudi regime, and especially on its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In large part, this is because Turkey’s government has kept the episode in the international spotlight.

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Choosing the Best Students

October 9, 2018

In sharply unequal societies, elite universities that receive government funds can properly be expected to play a role in fostering social mobility. But what does that obligation imply when these universities decide which applicants to admit?

PRINCETON – In different countries and for different reasons, university admissions policies are under attack. In a Boston courtroom on October 15, a judge will begin hearing a lawsuit claiming that Harvard’s admission process discriminates against Asian-Americans. In the United Kingdom, Member of Parliament David Lammy described Oxford and Cambridge as “fiefdoms of entrenched privilege” because of the many students they admit from private schools. In Japan, Tokyo Medical University has apologized for

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The Trial of the Century

September 12, 2018

Will 21 young plaintiffs ultimately be able to persuade a conservative-dominated US Supreme Court that the federal government is violating their constitutional right to a livable planet? It depends on whether the Court is willing to heed the scientific evidence.

PRINCETON – Next month, a judge in Oregon will begin hearing a case brought against the United States government on behalf of 21 young people, supported by the non-profit organization Our Children’s Trust, who allege that the authorities’ active contributions to the climate crisis violate their constitutional rights. The government defendants have repeatedly tried – so far without success – to have the case thrown out or delayed, and the trial is currently scheduled to start on

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Is Charity for the Poor Futile?

August 3, 2018

A group of leading economists recently criticized aid to the poor for failing to address poverty’s root causes. But while we wait for politicians to act – and it could be a long wait – it is important to concentrate our spare resources on effective aid that helps poor people lead the best lives they can.

MELBOURNE – In an essay published last month in The Guardian, 15 leading economists – including the Nobel laureates Angus Deaton, James Heckman, and Joseph Stiglitz – criticized what they call “the ‘aid effectiveness’ craze” on the grounds that it leads us to ignore the root causes of global poverty.

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