Sarah's Reviews > The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty

The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer
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's review
Apr 21, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: philosophy, social-justice

This book relies upon parallel reasoning from Singer, using one of his older and oft-cited examples of walking by a person drowning that you could or could not save. Other than getting wet, a mild inconvenience, it would not cost you anything to save said person, so to not do it would be unethical.

Likewise, Singer sets up his thesis for the rest of the book:
(1)[Just as death by drowning is bad, so too is death by lack of basic essentials:]
Death due to lack of food, basic medical care and shelter is bad.
(2)The premise for both the drowning example and the poverty example are the same, exactly: "If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so."
3.) "By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important."
Here, the parallel is simple: By jumping in the water, we would have prevented suffering and death by drowning, a mere inconvenience and small sacrifice, all things considered.

He supports this argument in a clear, concise way with data on how luxurious the American lifestyle is (even lower-middle class) and how much crap all of us have that we simply do not need. It's superfluous; it's embarrassing, and he shows that by giving away even the tiniest fraction of our incomes (yes, even in an economic downturn like this one) that huge impacts can be felt by those who really truly are in need.

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