Though I care about and explore a wide range of ethical issues, the following have been my primary areas of focus::
THE ETHICS OF OUR TREATMENT OF ANIMALS
In 1970, when I was a graduate student at Oxford, a chance lunch with Richard Keshen, a Canadian graduate student and a vegetarian, introduced me to concerns about factory farming. This led me to deeper study and awareness about the way we treat non-human animals. Eventually I wrote Animal Liberation, which has been described as the “bible” of the animal rights movement. It was published in 1975 and has never been out of print.
I’ve been active in the animal movement in England, Australia and the US. I co-founded the Australian Federation of Animal Societies, which is now Animals Australia, the largest campaigning organization for animals in that country. I also worked with Henry Spira in the United States, and wrote about his remarkable work in Ethics into Action: Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement.
If you’d like to help animals with your charitable giving, I suggest you consider the recommendations of Animal Charity Evaluators.
If you were walking by a pond in which a small child was drowning, you would likely rush in to save her, even if it meant ruining an expensive pair of shoes you were wearing. I use this “Child in the pond” thought experiment to prompt people to think about their values and actions. If most of us would not think twice about the cost of buying new shoes compared to saving a life, why do so few people donate to organizations that are proven to dramatically improve or save lives of those in extreme poverty, often at a modest cost?
I contend that living an ethical life should include regularly contributing a portion of our resources to making the world a better place, and one way to do that is to help those who were unlucky enough to be born into extreme poverty. I lay out my argument for this thinking in my books The Life You Can Save and The Most Good You Can Do. I also co-founded a nonprofit organization, The Life You Can Save, which works to promote this practice, and which recommends a list of vetted nonprofit organizations proven to deliver highly effective, impactful global poverty interventions
I’ve always been interested in ethical questions that have some application to the world. As I was starting my career in philosophy, we began seeing the rapid introduction of new discoveries in science and technology. Discussions of the ethics of these new techniques -- for example, in vitro fertilization -- were dominated by bishops and theologians. Sometimes they would debate scientists, who can provide facts, but don’t necessarily have expertise in ethics. That’s where I felt philosophy and bioethics can play an essential role. We need to have ethical discussions about such questions as an individual’s right to know about and choose their own medical care, or fetal research, or artificial intelligence, among countless other issues. I teach about some of these issues at Princeton and I have written about them in books like Rethinking Life and Death, Practical Ethics and Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter.
Effective altruism is built on the simple but unsettling idea that living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good one can. By extension, it promotes the practice of generous, mindful, effective giving.
If you’d like to learn more, I teach a free online course on this topic and discuss it at length in many of the writings and videos referenced here, particularly in my book The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically.