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The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  2,617 ratings  ·  310 reviews
From the ethicist the New Yorker calls “the most influential living philosopher,” a new way of thinking about living ethically

"Singer’s argument is powerful, provocative and, I think, basically right. The world would be a better place if we were as tough-minded in how we donate money as in how we make it."—Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

"Bold, fresh, inspired, reasone
Hardcover, 232 pages
Published April 7th 2015 by Yale University Press
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Apr 30, 2019 rated it liked it
I will be debating Peter Singer next month at a forum and so I read this book to find its flaws and so perhaps because I was looking I found many. My main critique is that he claims that it is moral and acceptable to work in any lucrative industry so long as you give away your gains. So go into investment banking, make a ton of money and buy mosquito nets. But no--first off, these industries are extractive so they are not neutral ways of making money and second off, charity is not as good as tax ...more
Apr 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
What a weird book. "Effective altruism" sounded very interesting since it's true that tremendous resources are wasted on things that are known to be useless or harmful. This book is only vaguely about that. It functions OK as a discussion-starter on philosophical issues but I think it flops as a practical introduction to "the most good you can do." There is some good information on that but way too much of the book is devoted to dangerously irrelevant BS.

Singer starts with, and repeatedly brings
Jul 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: thinkers, volunteers, supporters of charities
Bill and Melinda Gates are quoted on the front cover saying this is “An optimistic and compelling look at the positive impact that giving can have on the world.”

Singer himself says, “The most interesting question is whether effective altruists can become numerous enough to influence the giving culture of affluent nations. There are some promising signs that that may be starting to happen.”

WOOHOO! I sure hope he’s right! Peter Singer, an Aussie (!) is a renowned philosopher, Princeton professor
Mar 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
A quick read.

The main gist: not all opportunities for charitable giving are created equal. We should be donating to the causes and organizations that do the most good. How does one evaluate "the most good?" Cost-Benefit Analysis, of course. For example, does it make more sense to spend $40,000 training a seeing-eye dog to help one blind person, or should we spend the money on operations that restore sight to the blind and cost $100-450 each? It's kind of a no-brainer, isn't it?

The book begins by
Sep 10, 2015 rated it liked it
I picked this latest of Singer's books to read in my Ethics class for the utilitarianism requirement of the university's curriculum. The book has worked at generating interesting conversation among the students.

Singer's stories of effective altruists and his concrete examples are interesting, some inspiring. The philosophical ideas come in reflection on real life issues.

I have two criticisms (of the book). One, I'm not convinced by the structure. Some of the chapters seem misordered to me. Also
Jul 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Ah, Peter Singer. The ethic philosopher who's system is based purely on logic and reason. Emotion is usually the most important factor when it comes to ethics, but not for Singer and I think that's a good thing.

This book is a nice quick read on effective altruism, which is basically: heavy suffering is bad, we can do something about it, therefore we should do something about it. In fact, we should do a a lot about it. But, in doing so, we should not be guided by personal opinion, we should striv
Apr 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Cheri by: NYTimes
I will change the way I donate based on what I’ve learned from this book. It is a thoughtful, rational approach to making charitable donations. It was eye-opening in many ways (things like percent of funds spent on the charitable activity itself is not a marker of effectiveness; how donors of small amounts are less likely to be repeat donors when they have evidence that shows a charity is effective; and how very small amounts of money can save many lives when donated to the right places). The di ...more
Ginger Markley
Jan 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was a very positive and engaging read that made me consider how to do more in my life for the betterment of the world. This book's title (and message) is not entirely clear until you read it. The book is not about simply doing the most good that You-the-Reader can do, although I am sure it is a play on words, but is about "what" one chooses to do, as rated by effectiveness.

Singer describes a group of people who have chosen to be called "effective altruists" and breaks this down: the defini
Julian Worker
Jul 30, 2021 rated it liked it
I like the premise of this book, but I what I didn't like was the denigration of people who give only "small" amounts of their money to charities.

On Page 5 of the book, the author states:

"In many cases, the donation is so small - $10 or less - that if they stopped to think, they would realise that the cost of processing the donation is likely to exceed any benefit it brings to the charity."

I would have thought people should be encouraged to give to charity. The cost of transferring money into t
Richard Thompson
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
It is certainly nice to read a book by a real philosopher that is written in a clear and totally comprehensible style, but that puts forth serious and thought-provoking ideas. I found that Singer regularly anticipated my objections to his arguments and shot them down one by one. If you want to do good, why wouldn't you want to do the most good possible, and therefore isn't it logical to earn the most money that you can while living modestly so that you can give it to people who are in the best p ...more
Filippo Pacifici
Apr 19, 2015 rated it liked it
While in agreement with most of the ideas I did not fully enjoy this book.
I had read "The life you can save" still by Peter Singer just months before and I find most of this book covers the same topics and does not evolve the position much. Even some examples are the same presented in "the life you can save" which I enjoyed a lot more.
Even when the book goes into the philosophical points in favor of effective altruism, the same points look more convincing in the previous books, since there, Pete
Ian McHugh
Aug 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Wow this book made me think. My conclusion is that I'm a convert. Singer sets out in academic and accessible language the utilitarian arguments for "effective altruism". Convincing I so many ways and thought provoking in the same vein as his 'Justice' course. Incredibly useful for argumentation on rational arguments for altruism - as opposed to the traditional emotional views - this is well researched, clear, and concise. Referencing was very useful in following up on how a reader like me may pr ...more
ash c
Aug 24, 2019 rated it liked it
I was pretty convinced of this book even before I cracked it open, because I've had an interesting conversation with someone working in the Singapore chapter, and I personally, also feel that we can make better decisions when it comes to altruism and charity. Giving a couple dollars to fundraisers on the streets - young volunteers rattling tin cans with their cause printed on it for 4 hour shifts is a common sight in Singapore - seems like too little money for the amount of resources mobilized. ...more
Oct 30, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Over the past three decades, Peter Singer has been continuously jolting us out of our reverie by goading us to think about some of the most pressing issues plaguing humanity. He takes this entrenched habit of his a notch higher with his new book "The Most Good You Can Do". Deliberately provocative and dilemma inducing, this book provides a rousing flavor of what it means to lead a life characterized by 'effective altruism'.

Himself, one of the founding fathers of this moralistic concept, Singer d
I love reading Peter Singer’s books; he inspires me to be a better person.

The Most Good You Can Do is about the concept of ‘effective altruism’; basically it’s about interrogating your own philanthropic choices to ascertain whether it’s money, time or other forms of altruism well spent.

All of us are influenced to some extent by emotion when we give. There’s some rather dismaying research that shows that we are more likely to give to one child with a photo and a name than we are to photos of more
Text Publishing
‘Peter Singer’s status as a man of principles and towering intellect—a philosopher extraordinaire, if you will—is unrivalled in Australia.’
Sydney Morning Herald

‘Peter Singer is a public intellectual par excellence.’

‘Peter Singer may be the most controversial philosopher alive; he is certainly among the most influential.’
New Yorker

‘Forty years on from Animal Liberation, Peter Singer is still challenging our complacency with his advocacy for new ideas and movements…In clear prose, Singer we
Peter Soboyejo
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book in itself covers what it means to be an altruism in this day and age especially in the perspective of others that follow this practice. Initially my idea of "effective altruism" was fairly vague but Peter Singer addresses many things from common real world problems to everyday living. A lot of the points addressed in the book mostly revolving around money and how spend it were some fairly valid points, although I don't agree (or I wouldn't) do most of what people do to sacrifice to give ...more
Apr 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I already donate my 10% with Giving What We Can but I still found the information in this book really compelling and a great way of explaining a lot of the more controversial effective altruism arguments. People don't have to agree with everything that Peter says, only with the idea that we should all be using our lives to make the world a better place, and doing that in the best way we can, using reason, not just the heart alone.

Also- love the NZ Aussie segment at the end, really helpful for a
Larry Bassett
An idea about doing the most good you can with your charitable donations

This book by Peter Singer may seem in some ways
counterintuitive. Many of us determine our charitable contributions because of our emotional reactions to a perceived need or emergency. This book suggests some ways that we be more rational in our decisions and identify charities that can make the most difference in the world. It is an excellent starter book on the issue of effective altruism. One third of the book is footnotes
Ragnhild Holm
Dec 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
An interesting, thought-provoking and at times unsettling book - I don't agree with all of Singer's arguments or conclusions, but there're plenty of interesting ideas and excellent points made that I hope to remember and heed when making (hopefully sound, ethical) decisions and judgments in the future. ...more
Jana Light
Aug 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
As with so much of Singer's work, I have conflicting feelings about this one. On one hand, the idea of understanding the impact of lifestyle and philanthropy is incredibly important. We need to be better about evaluating the organizations we give to and looking at what the greatest needs in the world are. We also need to expand our beliefs about whose lives matter and work to make the world, as a whole, better for everyone.

On the other hand, I'm not fully on-board with some of Singer's conclusi
Jun 04, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
Say you are Mr. Spock, and you take it as a personal goal to optimize the good in the world. You’d first define what good is. After some thought, you might come up with the good that you want to focus on is eliminating medical issues in the world to reduce human pain and suffering. Then you would emotionlessly put forward your efforts and wealth to making that happen. Only after you totally solve the problems of health would you consider turning your attention to something farther up Maslow’s hi ...more
Dec 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
The argument is simple and clear, though I'm not sure if I agree! I responded to this book in my article "Should You Maximize Your Ethical Outcomes?" on Books Are Our Superpower. ...more
Apr 08, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to read this book to learn a little bit more about Effective Altruism. However, you can probably get away with just reading about it online for free. But then proceeds from the book go to charity, so reading it for free online wouldn't be effective.... Nonetheless, this is a well put together documents of all the ethical reasoning and concerns that surround effective altruism aka How You Can Most Effectively Save the World! Interestingly Peter Singer never addresses whether or not peopl ...more
Sep 07, 2015 rated it liked it
This is quite useful if you're struggling with finding meaning in your life and are curious about what you can do about it. If you really dislike John Stuart Mill, then this is *not* the book for you. The whole idea is built upon utilitarianism so, although I agree on many issues, I find it a bit hard to grasp all elements that Singer is talking about.

The most useful information for myself is how we deceive ourselves into thinking that if we give 10$ to that charity and 10$ to the other we're he
Jesse Richards
May 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Effective altruism is the practice of donating money based on where it will do the most good in the world. Research shows that currently only a small amount of the world's charity is donated this way. Most people donate money based on emotional appeal (look at this photo of a sick child) or personal connection (their alma mater, a friend's fundraiser), and limited to their own locale or country.

The concept of effective altruism appeals to me a lot because it is like a turbo boost to The Secret P
Hoang Trang
Jan 08, 2016 rated it liked it
This book fell short of my expectations given that Peter Singer is a prominent advocate for effective altruism. The arguments are pretty superficial and backed by name-dropping oftentimes. I am told that his other book on the same topic, "The Life You Can Save" or another one by Will McAskill are both better choices.

Though the book may not be able to change my giving habits, two important takeaways come to mind. First, even when we sincerely care and want to do good, most of us focus on the caus
Andrew Murano
May 15, 2015 rated it liked it
It is hard to disagree with the premise of this book, what Singer calls "effective altruism," that we should live our lives in whichever way will do the 'most good' for the world. However I do not believe it is always as easy to calculate the most good as Singer suggests. There are the obvious examples such as Barry Diller's recent $113 million donation to build a floating park for the affluent in downtown Manhattan is money that could have been used better elsewhere, but I do not agree that enc ...more
Max Androne
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I want to start by saying that this is one of my favorite non-fiction books because it opened my eyes to a more global humanitarian outlook on life (a perspective that I have come to embrace 100% in my day to day life).
"The Most Good You Can Do" showcases a very agreeable definition of effective altruism and explains the movement perfectly, whilst also showing the way this type of altruism can lead to - and these are my words not the authors- ethical capitalism.
This book is great if you want
Carlene Kucharczyk
Mar 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
"The Most Good You Can Do" is a good resource for learning ways in which you can do good. It provides useful information on charities as well as metacharities to determine how donations can be most beneficial. It's an inspiring, informative read that I recommend to anyone wanting to do more good, and wondering how or where to begin. Singer's language is so accessible and clear that you almost forget you're reading philosophy.

"If the world seems to be a more violent and dangerous place than ever
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Peter Singer is sometimes called "the world’s most influential living philosopher" although he thinks that if that is true, it doesn't say much for all the other living philosophers around today. He has also been called the father (or grandfather?) of the modern animal rights movement, even though he doesn't base his philosophical views on rights, either for humans or for animals.

In 2005 Time mag

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“Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place. Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can.” 7 likes
“Effective altruists do things like the following: •Living modestly and donating a large part of their income—often much more than the traditional tenth, or tithe—to the most effective charities; •Researching and discussing with others which charities are the most effective or drawing on research done by other independent evaluators; •Choosing the career in which they can earn most, not in order to be able to live affluently but so that they can do more good; •Talking to others, in person or online, about giving, so that the idea of effective altruism will spread; •Giving part of their body—blood, bone marrow, or even a kidney—to a stranger. In the following chapters, we will meet people who have done these things.” 5 likes
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