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The Life You Can Save

Bioethicist Peter Singer challenges all of us to rethink our ideas about “a good life.”

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Be warned: Reading this book may be dangerous to your definitions of morality, charity, and how to be good. This is why you must read it.

Let’s start with a hypothetical: You’re walking past a shallow pond, where a child is drowning with no one around to help. Would you stop and save the child? Is it wrong not to help the child because you don’t want to ruin your new shoes? Is a life worth more than shoes?

Hold that thought, and look for a moment at that $1.25 bottle of water or soda sitting on your desk, not far from an abundant source of safe tap water. A luxury, no? Contrast that to the fact that 1.4 billion of the world’s poorest people live on that same amount – $1.25 – each day, failing miserably to meet all their human needs for food, shelter, medical care, education, etc.

(Lest you insist that it’s cheaper to live in poor countries, the World Bank has already adjusted that into what it would feel like to live in the US on $1.25 a day.) Imagine doubling a person’s income by forgoing that bottle of water!

Still willing to spend money on a luxury (bottled water) when you could instead save – or at least greatly improve – a real person’s life? And if you choose not to save that life, can you believe you’re truly living a moral life?

Philosopher and author Peter Singer poses these questions in his latest book The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty. A professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, Singer has written dozens of other books, including his best-known, “Animal Liberation,” which helped launch the animal rights movement.


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