Reading List - Peter Singer: Practical Ethics

Peter Singer: Practical Ethics

It is not easy being good. It is not easy to live ethically. What does it even mean to live ethically? How can a busy person take their time to try to tackle something so vas and at a first glance, overwhelming?

Yes, simply accepting what you are taught by your teachers, parents and religion is one way to go, but in order to really try to live a genuine and honest life, the key lies in deciding these things for yourself. We are not saying here that how to live ethically is always something that can be decided by each person and for each situation, as that would mean embracing moral relativism. Instead, we should embrace rational thinking about these issues and decide how we are to behave and what to believe based on arguments that are presented. It's certainly a more honest way to live that simply accepting what you are told.

Practical Ethics is one of the books that will help us to do that.

Practical Ethics is, just as the name suggests, a book that concerns itself more with the real world and less with a philosophical notions of what is truth or what is morality anyway, and as such it is perfect starting point for people interested in living an ethical life to they best of their abilities. It concerns itself with the following themes, which are divided into chapters:

  • Equality and Its Implications
  • Equality for Animals?
  • What's Wrong with Killing?
  • Taking Life: Animals
  • Taking Life: The Embryo and Fetus
  • Taking Life: Humans
  • Rich and Poor
  • Climate Change
  • The Environment
  • Civil Disobedience, Violence and Terrorism

As you can see from the list of topics alone, the book indeed concerns itself with the ethics for the real world - the issues of equality, euthanasia, abortion, the divide between rich and the poor, the environment and generally speaking, almost every theme that we concern ourselves with.

The author is very careful to examine pro and counter arguments from all sides in every theme. What you do not see very often, but indeed see in here, is that Signer actually discusses objections to his conclusions. He does this in great detail, so it feels like a debate and not simply like he intends to convince you using only the arguments of one side.

The best part is, he is not limited by a particular doctrine or faith and is not afraid to ask the really tough questions. And I feel that we need more books like this, that, as Kafka said, have the potential to make you angry. Because, if you read only to Ben comforted, then you are not growing.

This book, much like the author’s other work “Animal Liberation”, has inspired many people to rethink the things they thought they have already figured out. And it will undoubtedly do the same for you. How do I know? Because it will be hard for you to put it down, as it tackles such serious and important issues, yet it is not too difficult to read - you do not need to have any introduction too philosophy in order to be able to understand it.

So, it makes the big questions accessible to the general public - you do not need to be a philosopher in order to understand it - and that is the best recommendation. Do not think however that it is shallow. It’s just that the author took his time to make the arguments as simple to understand as possible, without losing too much or clouding the issues for an average person with too much philosophical jargon.

I particularly find the various chapters about killing very well argued, reasoned and thoughtful, as it should be the case for such serious topic. The chapter about climate change is also guaranteed to make you stop and think for a bit as it offers some, I would say, rather unique points.

Although it is very possible you will not agree with all the conclusions in this book - I am still not sure that I agree with all of them - you will find it rewarding that you stuck with it and took this first step on a journey called “thinking for yourself”.

Take some time to read this. You will be glad you did.

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