Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University and Laureate Professor in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne.
He teaches and lectures about the ways in which we can change the culture of giving in affluent cultures. Following is a transcript of the video.
Peter Singer: Bill Gates has set an amazing example in terms of the amount of money that he has donated to philanthropy, but perhaps even more important, the concern that he’s had to make sure that this money does the most good it possibly can.
And on top of that, Warren Buffett has then realised that his friend Bill Gates is doing this, that he’s putting a lot of effort into making sure that his money does the most good, and so Buffett as well has donated most of his fortune to The Gates Foundation.
And this not just in dollar terms, but even in inflation-adjusted dollar terms, this is the largest philanthropic donation in history. It even outstretches that of Andrew Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller.
So I’m really impressed by this and I’m impressed by the fact that the Gates in particular and Melinda Gates I should mention as well, have both made it their life’s work to really try to help people in poverty, to really live up to the idea that every human life has equal value whether it’s the life of an impoverished person in a developing country or the life of one of their fellow Americans.
When I talk about how effectively we can give and how we can save lives at the relatively small cost to ourselves, the obvious question the people ask, is, “Well, how much is enough? What’s what’s the stopping point, right?” I can give enough, for example, to save a life quite easily and that wouldn’t involve much sacrifice, or really any sacrifice to my lifestyle.
But having done that I could give more and save more lives or I could donate to charities that are restoring sight in people who are blind because of cataracts for example. And again there’s many that I could.
So where do I stop? And I don’t think there’s any straightforward answer that question that applies to everybody. People find their own limits, I know some people in the effective altruism movement who said, “I’m just going to live on a basic income.”
Other people say, “No I’m going to give 10% of what I earn.”
And that can be a very substantial amount, but for people who are comfortably well off, it’s not really a significant sacrifice to give 10% of what you earn, and in fact in terms of the fulfillment that you get from it, in terms of the sense that you’re living a life with a different purpose, with a broader purpose that you’re living a life perhaps that’s more in harmony with your values, and I know many many people who say, “It’s not a sacrifice at all.”
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