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Ep. 62 | Maximizing the Good We Can Do: A Conversation with Peter Singer

Business for Good Podcast

Release Date: 03/15/2021

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Business for Good Podcast

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More Episodes

Typically on this podcast, we showcase entrepreneurs and business titans alike who are using the power of commerce to try to solve serious social problems. Occasionally we’ve had on nonprofit leaders, and in this episode, we’ve again got a very special guest who also is not a grinding entrepreneur. But this guest is someone who’s inspired many mission-oriented entrepreneurs, myself included, along with millions of others trying to do good in the world.

In fact, it’s hard to think of many people on the planet who’ve led a more impactful life than this episode’s guest. 

Peter Singer is an author and ethicist, and has been routinely called the most influential philosopher alive. He’s widely credited with kickstarting the modern animal protection movement with his 1975 mega-bestseller Animal Liberation, and with popularizing what’s now called the effective altruism movement through his early writings on poverty and more recently with his 2009 book The Life You Can Save.

Many of the business leaders we feature on this show, especially those in the animal-free protein space, are motivated by philosophical underpinnings to their work that are likely related to or even directly stemming from Peter Singer’s writings.

In this interview Peter doesn’t disappoint nor does he shy away from tough subjects. We discuss a wide range of topics, including his views on the role technology and entrepreneurship play in helping animals along with the role charities play, too. We get into whether he has any regrets over publicly taking certain views in his 50-year career. And we discuss whether he thinks animals are better off today than when he first wrote Animal Liberation in 1975.

Peter offers his views on the ethics of eating oysters, adoption of children vs. procreation, colonizing other planets, and more. And now that he’s in his mid-70s, he also talks about what he hopes his obituaries will say, which hopefully won’t be written for a long time.

Whether you agree with Peter on a particular issue or not, there’s no doubt you’ll come away from this interview with a great appreciation for his commitment to doing the most good he can in the world. 

Discussed in this episode

More about Peter Singer

Peter Singer is often referred to as the “world’s most influential living philosopher.” He’s best known for his work on the ethics of our treatment of animals, he’s often credited with starting the modern animal protection movement, and he’s had a major influence on the development of effective altruism.  He’s also known for his controversial critique of the sanctity of life ethics in bioethics.

Several key figures in the animal movement have said that Animal Liberation, first published in 1975, led them to get involved in the struggle to reduce the vast amount of suffering we inflict on animals.  To that end, Peter co-founded the Australian Federation of Animal Societies, now Animals Australia, the country's largest and most effective animal organization. His wife, Renata, and I stopped eating meat in 1971.

Peter is the founder of The Life You Can Save, an organization based on his book of the same name.  It aims to spread his ideas about why we should be doing much more to improve the lives of people living in extreme poverty, and how we can best do this. You can view his TED talk on this topic here.

His writings in this area include: the 1972 essay “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” in which he argues for donating to help the global poor; and two books that make the case for effective giving, The Life You Can Save (2009) and The Most Good You Can Do (2015).

Peter has written, co-authored, edited or co-edited more than 50 books, including Practical Ethics, The Expanding Circle, Rethinking Life and Death, One World, The Ethics of What We Eat (with Jim Mason) and The Point of View of the Universe (with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek. His writings have appeared in more than 25 languages.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1946, Peter was educated at the University of Melbourne and the University of Oxford.  After teaching in England, the United States, and Australia, in 1999 he became Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University.