A Reasonable Baseline

I went and saw Peter Singer’s keynote for The Tasmanian Writers’ Festival last night. Perhaps unsurprisingly he spoke on ethics and three big problems affecting the world now (extreme poverty, animal welfare and climate change) and how these things relate to, and perhaps exacerbate each other.

Two things in particular stuck with me, and I thought it worth noting them here.

1) Professor Singer is in a field known as Applied Ethics. At some time in the past there was only Ethics. My inference is that the latter group are talking about – and thinking about – ethics, but not actually behaving any differently as a result of their cogitations. I find this notion simultaneously hilarious and horrifying.

2) At one point while speaking about living ethically, Professor Singer said that if you look back at the end of each day and say to yourself “well, I didn’t lie, cheat or steal, and I didn’t maim anybody”, you’re setting the bar too low. It would be better, he suggested, to look back and say “what did I do to improve the world today, or to help someone else in some way?” This seems like a pretty good approach to me.

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