We asked philosopher Peter Singer to comment on his current work and ideas that have influenced him…
Which of your own ideas have you been thinking about most recently?
I’m continuing to think about our obligations to the world’s poor, and how we can change the culture of giving so that sharing something significant with the poor – at least 1% of your income, and more if you are comfortably off – becomes part of what it is to live an ethical life. I’m concerned about climate change, and how we can stop it before feedback loops cut in and it all goes out of control. I’ve also been thinking about the foundations of ethics, and the possibilities for rational argument about what we ought to do.
What idea of someone else has made most impact on you recently?
I’m reading a work by Derek Parfit, called On What Matters, in which he argues that there are some objective truths about what it is rational for us to do.
What is the most important book/article of ideas that everyone should read and why?
Can I recommend a book that will be published next month, and I’ve not yet read? If so, it’s Bill McKibben’s Eaarth – and no, the extra ‘a’ is not a typo. I’m recommending it because it is about climate change, which is the most important issue that we all must face right now, and since I’ve read a lot of McKibben’s other work, I’m confident that this will be both impassioned and well-informed. If everyone would read it, maybe, just maybe, we would all put enough pressure on our leaders to ensure that things changed, quickly.
And finally, each year we ask everyone involved – audiences as well as speakers – one question. Charles Masterman, Liberal Party politician and journalist, asked in his book The Condition of England 100 Years Ago: “What will the future make of the present?” What is your answer to this?
They will think: that was the generation that understood what it was doing to our planet’s climate, and yet did not stop it. How – how on earth – could they have known what they knew, and yet continued to do what they did.
Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and Laureate Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, University of Melbourne, is the author of many books including the classic Animal Liberation, Practical Ethics, How Are We to Live? A Darwinian Left, One World, Eating, and, most recently,The Life You Can Save.