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Famine, Affluence, and Morality

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  633 ratings  ·  64 reviews
In 1972, the young philosopher Peter Singer published "Famine, Affluence and Morality," which rapidly became one of the most widely discussed essays in applied ethics. Through this article, Singer presents his view that we have the same moral obligations to those far away as we do to those close to us. He argued that choosing not to send life-saving money to starving peopl ...more
Hardcover, 2015 edition, 120 pages
Published December 1st 2015 by Oxford University Press (first published March 1972)
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Jul 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Includes Singer's classic 1972 essay "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" as well as two related 2006 articles in The New York Times Sunday Magazine: "The Singer Solution to World Poverty" and "What Should a Billionaire Give—And What Should You?", both aimed at a more general (nonacademic) U.S. audience with the rather explicit intention of increasing donations to charitable organizations involved in foreign aid. ...more
Apr 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a reprint of an essay, "Famine, Affluence, and Morality," that Peter Singer wrote 40 years ago. As Bill and Melinda Gates write in the new Forward, maybe "it's time has now come." I remember reading it as a student some twenty years ago and I'm even more persuaded by it today than then. Singer's claim is as simple as it is profound: "If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it." ...more
Jul 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
I liked this book more than I expected to! Admittedly, the introductions are nearly as long as the original essay and updated article, but the whole thing is worth a read. The author argues that, from a purely moral standpoint, it is wrong NOT to reduce ourselves to near the poverty line and give all our excess in order to reduce the suffering of others, no matter how far away they are. The original, from 1972, was prompted by a refugee crisis in India, but the message is still timely, as such p ...more
Daniel Hageman
Such a quick read disproportional to its undeniable impact. If this book doesn't stir up some thought regarding the way you live your life, not much will. ...more
Joao Almeida-Domingues
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it

1. Suffering is bad, a lot of suffering is really really bad
2. If you can stop something really really bad from happening, then you should do it, unless if by doing so something really really bad would happen to you
3. Your shoes are not as important as starving children
4. Give money

“ But Mr.Singer Sr., what about...”

... the fact that there are a lot of people in a very similar situation to me that do f**k all?
!! Not important son, that’s morally irrelevant, it also helps you to know tha
Alex G
Apr 03, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: pel-podcast
I feel like this helps develop an incredibly shallow perspective on providing aid.

It seems to center around offloading effort onto others rather than analyzing how one can more directly contribute to aid, or how structures that lead to extraordinary affluence tend to create the very conditions that charities are meant to alleviate.

It feels like effective altruism can't be particularly effective if it never grapples with conditions that generate disparity.
Sep 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A short read that is a much more convincing argument for donation and is, so far, the only paper I've read in my philosophy studies that has made an impact on how I act. Singer's case that giving is a moral obligation is perhaps the strongest argument in philosophy for any given position, and something that I believe more people need to read. ...more
Feb 08, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Singer first wrote this book 30 years ago and the contents are very much relevant to this day. I don't think there is a single person that would read this book and not be profoundly touched by it. In fact, in his preface he speaks about the various people who have contacted him after having read it and gone on to change their lives dramatically. This book should really be mandatory reading in every school. Hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I did.
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A compelling argument for affluent and relatively affluent people to spend more on providing life-saving aid to people in drastically impoverished regions of the world. Compelling but I don't think airtight, which in some ways is irrelevant to Singer's greater point, but does come into play when those will the ability to help must determine how to quantify "reasonable" and "rational." The weakness in Singer's argument (which I won't rehearse here) is that the difference between the toddler in fr ...more
Jakub Ferencik
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A very important book. This is the second book I have read by Peter Singer, I was mainly introduced to him via his debates on Religion (specifically the one with Oxford Prof. John C. Lennox).

I have written about P. Singer in the past. He has helped put a lot of things for me into perspective and I am extremely grateful for that. As a philosophy student, he has helped me realize, that as I am studying Ethics and proper living, I should be readily prepared to sacrifice material comforts that actu
Megan Staunton
Apr 15, 2016 rated it did not like it
'If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.' And of course we should. Singer asks the question of what a human life is worth and discusses the moral code that most who earn an income can save a child's life by donating to charity, instead of spending frivolously on luxuries that one never needs but instead wants. Singer poses a situation of if a child nearby falls into a pond and ...more
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book actually includes three essays, but I most enjoyed and was most challenged by Famine, Affluence, and Morality itself. Singer's arguments over the course of all three essays hold dramatic implications for the way most of us live our lives, especially in terms of how we spend our money. I personally hesitate to praise major philanthropists (especially those who have made their fortunes through large corporations) because I'm not sure how feasible it is to amass such great amounts of weal ...more
Feb 26, 2022 rated it it was amazing
"If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.”

Peter Singer argues that we ought to donate until we reach the level of marginal utility, the level at which giving more would cause as much suffering to myself or my dependents.

“Again, the formula is simple: whatever money you’re spending on luxuries, not necessities, should be given away.”

It sounds so radical because you really
Michael O'Shea
May 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
It's succinct and tough to refute.
I would like a more detailed discussion of how the 'drowing in a lake' analogy could be applied to encourage more charity (e.g. to the AMF which is an extremely efficient way of saving lives) but this was a sound starting point.
J Earl
Nov 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Famine, Affluence, and Morality centers on Peter Singer's 1972 essay of the same name, a classic in the area of applied ethics. This is one of those rare works by a philosopher that offers plenty of complexity with which to wrestle while also being accessible to a large portion of the general public. Revisiting this essay renewed my interest in applied ethics and may well kindle or rekindle the same in you.

The original essay was a response to a very specific situation but, as mentioned in the ot
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
This 1972 essay contains a sentence that may shatter some moral conceptions:
‘If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing something of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.’
The clear language of this essay easily distracts from the radicalness of the ideas. Singer turns the moral intuition of many on its head. He makes a strong utilitarian argument for giving, by making us weigh up what those in affluent countries spend their mon
Jul 12, 2018 rated it liked it
This book seems to be very basic, trite, and idealistic. It is easy to read. It encourages us to be more moral, arguing that if we can do something to improve the lives of other people, then we should (assuming it doesn’t lead to other bad outcomes). He argues that individuals should give much more of their income to poor people.

Throughout the book, I kept wondering what Peter Singer’s own arrangements are, but there was no mention of it, which is odd. I believe in people doing what they preach.
Aug 10, 2016 rated it liked it
Despite being involved in Effective Altruism (or perhaps for this very reason), I didn't get all that much from this. His writing didn't strike me as philosophically rigorous or informative, and he uses arguments based on moral obligation that I don't find compelling. (In particular, my position is that words like "duty" and "supererogatory" don't apply to anything real.) In the end, I'm not even sure whether the book contained anything that will help me spread EA ideas to others.

It was still wo
Kramer Thompson
Feb 27, 2019 rated it liked it
I didn't realise when buying this book that it is only a very slight expansion on Singer's 1972 article (which I have already read). If I had known that I probably wouldn't have bought it. Still, the other two articles, and Singer's preface, were quite interesting. I knew most of what was discussed in there but I'm always happy to have that sort of stuff solidified through additional reading. So I think ti was worth reading.

Further, I think this would be an excellent introduction to most people
Hemen Kalita
May 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
This momentous essay was written at the height of the refugee crisis caused by indo pak war,1971. Here, Singer argues in favour of donation to help the global poor. He provides two versions of his core argument.

The strong version - we ought to give until we reach the level of marginal utility- i.e., the level at which, be giving more, I would cause as much suffering to myself or my dependents as I would relieve by my gift.

The moderate version - we should prevent bad occurrences unless, to do so
Jackie Rogers
Nov 22, 2015 rated it liked it
I believe in giving whether morally or not. WE who are blessed need to bless others. However, dont believe guilt is the way to incite others to give. We have raised a generation of greedy entitled folks. The thing that motivates me is the Bible and the amount is arrived by what I can cheerfully give. Love must be the motivator. This book was written in 1972 but still relevant today. Also believe we need to take care of our own ion this country before bringing in refugees. Just my view and guidel ...more
Nov 24, 2017 rated it liked it
A collection of Singer’s articles plus a new 2016 foreword by Bill and Melinda Gates. Worth reading—makes you think about the moral obligation you have to give money away to help those in need. We can do more and should. Period.

I’d like to hear more about how he thinks we can get there. Is stating the moral obligation sufficient? His articles and similar ones reportedly have increased donations. But we are so far from giving enough.
The classic article written by Singer, with a few other more recent articles. The basic argument of the paper is that if you were to see a child drowning you would help them, and there is no reason why a child slightly farther away that you wouldn't also help. The argument is extended to the idea that if a person can help someone on the other side of the world by donating money, they have a moral obligation to do so. ...more
Feb 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a very important essay. Philosophy is immensely important. Without these ideas--often ridiculed and dismissed--the world would never change.

Honestly, everyone should read philosophy every once in a while to nourish their brain and supply them with points of view different from their own, activating their critical mind (a thing that's quickly disappearing).
Shari   Gonzales
Nov 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
A short read with one takeaway...give, give, give to better the world.

In compliance with FTC guidelines, I must disclose in my review that I received the book for free through Goodreads Giveaways
Kael Kristof
Dec 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Extremely thought provoking. Contains three essays by Singer about charitable giving to reduce global poverty. This short read definitely leaves me rethinking my notion of the "sufficient" level of giving, as well as what should be required to truly be altruistic. ...more
D.L. Mayfield
Jul 07, 2018 rated it liked it
The title essay is well worth reading--but the other two mostly felt like rehashings of the same argument/illustration. I think everyone should familiarize themselves with the concepts of this book, but maybe just google the title essay?
Mouse Douglas
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Excellent little volume remixing Singer's classic essay with related, more recent content and commentary. Very quick and easy to read, and yet challenging to digest. Highly recommended. ...more
Literary Chic
May 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Good, but I felt it was very focused at billionaires. I need to be responsible, not just Bill Gates. Overall, very thought provoking.
Aug 16, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: partially-read
I didn't get to finish this book because I had to return it to the library. What I read so far was intriguing though and an interesting perspective. It definitely made me think. ...more
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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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