• Ethics in the Real World

  • 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter
  • By: Peter Singer
  • Narrated by: Matthew Lloyd Davies
  • Length: 8 hrs and 19 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (354 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Peter Singer is often described as the world's most influential philosopher. He is also one of its most controversial. The author of important books such as Animal Liberation and Practical Ethics, he helped launch the animal rights and effective altruism movements and contributed to the development of bioethics. Now, in Ethics in the Real World, Singer shows that he is also a master at dissecting important current events in a few hundred words.

In this book of brief essays, he applies his controversial ways of thinking to issues like climate change, extreme poverty, animals, abortion, euthanasia, human genetic selection, sports doping, the sale of kidneys, the ethics of high-priced art, and ways of increasing happiness. Singer asks whether chimpanzees are people, smoking should be outlawed, or consensual sex between adult siblings should be decriminalized, and he reiterates his case against the idea that all human life is sacred, applying his arguments to some recent cases in the news. In addition, he explores, in an easily accessible form, some of the deepest philosophical questions, such as whether anything really matters and what is the value of the pale blue dot that is our planet.

©2016 Peter Singer (P)2016 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Peter Singer is among the most vital moral voices of our time. He urges us to confront not only the question of what we should not do, but also the harder and larger questions of what we should do, and how much we owe to others." (Larissa MacFarquhar, author of Strangers Drowning)

What listeners say about Ethics in the Real World

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Ethically Shallow, Politically Naive

The book's title is wholly misleading. This collection should have been titled "An Overview of the Liberal Mindset for the Last 10 Years". The author hit his pet Band-Aid project (charity) hard during the first 90% of the essays, and global warming was mentioned in practically every other sentence (a great excuse for Big Government and curtailing your freedoms). He must have wearied of leftist agenda-pushing, for the last 10% of the essays he selected were more objective and non-partisan.

Speaking of misguided wealth redistribution ("if not voluntary, then forced"), along with advocating Communism (the 'political naivety' I noted above), his other solution to all problems was Government Control (as noted). This displays a complete historical detachment from the 20th Century, which experimented with various forms of authoritarian rule (including Communism) and which offered us (and still offer us - say hello to Kim Jong Un) clearly horrific results, yet he clings to that Marxist dogma.

He does not rise above Philosophical Subjectivity (incredibly - though even more incredibly, no other philosopher has to date, either) (enter me with the objective Philosophy of Broader Survival). The shallow ethics of the essays were thus preached from the typical vapid platforms of subjectivity, mainly offering weak "just because's" as reasons, and Communism and Government Control as solutions.

To the author's credit, he did note why philosophy is in the toilet - that since the Logical Positivists of the 1930's, philosophy was more about words and concepts (what I call 'Lexiconic Twaddle' or more often, 'Semantic Parlor Games') - problems that a simple agreement on terms between two people would have solved, and this rather than struggling to identify objective values (I've identified the Ultimate - Enlightened Higher Consciousness) - and who wouldn't want to play parlor games rather than tackle the hard issues of the day? Just to note, the other evasive activities that academic philosophers engage in is what I call 'hiding in history' and creating long ism labels for past wrong-headed thinking - great for impressing the clueless at parties, or trying to browbeat critics (if credentials alone fail).

He did recommend another book, "On What Matters" - but given the state of philosophy (still ethically shallow, subjective, and clueless), either that book was equally clueless or it has been completely ignored. I will investigate, but not without a grimace, expecting the worst.

All through the essays I envisioned the author and the essayists as "Western Liberal Elitists" (or wannabe's) - as if anyone actually needed their largess as much as they needed to achieve independence and self-sufficiency (and if not leading roles for humanity) rather than as mindless Barbie Dolls for Socialist and Communists to play with.

As for ethics, you get statements like this, "We evolved a mysterious sense of morality". If you do not see what a vapid statement that is, then these essays were written for you (see the Philosophy of Broader Survival for not only a clear sense of morality, but for Ultimate Morality). The essays are so clueless that one essay even mentions a 'morality pill' (and again, if you do not see why that is clueless, then you will feel at home with the book's selection of essays).

To mention a few specific liberal agendas covered, they included being anti-Western, anti-wealth, anti-livestock, anti-fishing (and just to note, no viable solutions were offered - unless you can maintain your work life being a vegan - and anyone who does not have a low-burn sedentary occupation could not), anti-Bush of course, pro national health care, forced voting ("the Australians like to be coerced to vote") (a policy which the Democrats feel their 'votes for free money platform' will benefit from here - calculating that most of the non-voters who need to be 'forced' are liberal dregs), pro homosexual, pro transgender, Band-Aid policy on poverty, anti US Constitution, anti Separation of Powers (and that's just like a power-thirsty 'Liberal Tyrant Wannabe' I thought); hypocritical - for any program the essays do not like, they bring up the 'potential abuse' argument - when abuse already exists in every liberal program out there; pro Snowden, making preposterous statements like "the rich are using most of the energy" (impossible considering the proportions of rich to poor, and as if they did not generate anything in return).

The author completely ignores anything that does not forward his twisted agenda, such as self-sufficiency and wealth-creation (he only knows wealth redistribution, which goes back to the Barbie Doll/Robin Hood syndrome of Socialists), and he ignores the fact that if poverty-burdened countries only became more like America, their main problem would not be 'too little' but 'too much'...

But, since it is fashionable to kick America (to make oneself feel big), to admit that would be exposing one's prior foolish political beliefs, which brings us to the critical fundamental problem of the book: that the core problem with humanity is not political, but philosophical (read the Philosophy of Broader Survival to see why).

Thankfully the author ran out of 'Agenda Steam' near the end, and the last 10% of the essays were less biased - he actually selected an essay that argued against blind, blanket opposition to GMO's, and another actually argued for genetic experimentation. The last several were politically vanilla.

I am glad I stuck-it-out until the end - it was a good refresher on Western Liberal Elitism and the sorry state of Ethics (and thus of philosophy to date).

One term/concept I did like was 'longevity escape velocity'.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

ethics study that has no understanding

Bunch of good stuff is in here but while the author is well spoken he lacks the true understanding of not only his opposition but the origins of the ethics of our culture. His borderline nihilism some how gives birth to a deeply passionate ethical goals without much connection. He fails often to explain why and just falls back on our nature as to a reason to care about suffering other than our own. He speaks little in regards to why we value lives, why value freedom, why we value the absence of suffering.

While this book is extremely liberal I do not see the problem with the bias.
That's not the problem,
the problem is that many of his conservative counterparts such as Jordan Peterson make a much stronger explanation of this author's own argument. We need well articulated and fully realized people to guide us through these changing times not a man who seems to know little about the true complexities of our industries and cultures. We need more realized liberals who can push forward their argument with clarity and not blanketed statements contorted to fit predetermined biases.
I simply read a man proving the conservative notion of elitist intellectuals pushing into the space of industrious peoples. Without strong liberals to work alongside strong conservatives we will find a booming future paved over our garden of a planet.
At this point the flipping feelings of these animals make no difference if in a hundred years we trade our lush environment for prosperity.
That's what the ethical nature of this topic should be focused on not the emotions of fetuses and fish.

5 people found this helpful

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Wonderful range of topics

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Ethics in the Real World. Each essay was engaging and interesting. They were short but thoughful and definitely opened my mind to new ways of thinking about certain things. I will listen again soon.

4 people found this helpful

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Too shallow, too opinionated, not well explored.

I got this book hoping to explore ethics and different logical ethical arguments about modern moral issues. What I actually got was a book full of opinion pieces cut straight out of a magazine that are FAR too short to do justice to any of the topics mentioned by the author. In each he says some context to the topic, why it is a question of ethics, then says his opinion, and maybe adds one or two reasons why he has that opinion. Very little exploration of the topics or elaboration on why other views might be valid. Not worth a serious listen.

3 people found this helpful

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Very interesting.

Gave me motivation for doing more good and also good advice on having a bigger impact overall.

3 people found this helpful

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86 interesting topics to think about

If you have not thought carefully about the various topics below, this book is as good a place as any to begin. Each essay is short (less than 1000 words) and all the topics are worth considering. Nevertheless, care should be taken with accepting any of the positions taken in the essays.

When I was a much younger man I took philosophy and ethics very seriously and I look back at those studies with fond memories, but as I aged I saw more and more clearly that both philosophy and ethics are not scientifically evidenced based. Even the best philosophers and ethicists tend to develop conceptual frameworks, then find evidence to support those frameworks. Poor scientists do this as well. Thus, I have become disillusioned with philosophy and ethics in general.

This author is clearly a utilitarian. which he believes is the most defensible ethical view...I agree with this, yet I have come to believe that even the most defensible ethical view remains indefensible. Utilitarianism ends up being based upon an opinion, or a taste influenced by society, upbringing, experience, religion, and species, among many others. Some of the author's tastes are widely held, some less so. I share some, but not all, of his tastes.

The author's utilitarianism seems to reach very different conclusions in similar cases.
In the essay supporting the prevention of human extinction he says:
"the value of all those [future] generations together greatly exceeds the value of the current generation."
Yet in the pro-abortion essay he says:
"in a clash between the interests of potentially rational beings and the interests of actually rational women, we should give preference to the women every time."
I personally disagree with the logic behind both statements. The author clearly has a taste for humans not becoming extinct and abortion rights for women but these two arguments are almost equal and opposite. Why is it that the countless generations of an unborn baby don't count, but other generations do?

The author argues we have a moral obligation to donate organs. I personally choose to bequeath my organs and give blood but I feel no moral obligation to do so, and do not impugn those who choose otherwise with immortality. The author says "When the cost of performing a moral action is small, and the benefit is great, there is a duty to provide that benefit." Some people choose not donate organs because they believe in the resurrection of the body. Some because they know the emotional pain it would cause their family. Some because they fear a donor dot may influence a life-or-death decision against their own interests. Are these people immoral for acting on their beliefs? Perhaps, but I don't think it is obvious and was not convincingly demonstrated by the essay.

There are 86 topics and I disagree with the conclusion of a bit more than half the essays, and agree with the conclusion in almost as many, but I generally find the reasoning used in the essays invalid.

I am a long time wonk of controversial issues, and had closely considered virtually all of these topics before, and I did not learn a lot I did not know (I did learn a bit on EU immigration policy and journalistic pronoun styles used for animals). Most readers will likely find more than a few topics they have not deeply considered and many pertinent facts. Some may find this exciting and interesting, some may find it tedious as best.

The author was careful to both fact check, and present facts fairly. It is actually quite rare that I read a book this long, with this many facts, and don't find some blatant misrepresentations. This does not imply that reasonably relevant opposing facts were also presented, they generally weren't.

I enjoyed the listen. The narration was mostly clear and good.

The Value of a Pale Blue Dot
Does Anything Matter?
Is There Moral Progress?
God and Suffering, Again
Godless Morality
Are We Ready for a “Morality Pill”?
The Quality of Mercy
Thinking about the Dead
Should This Be the Last Generation?
Philosophy on Top
We Must Nurture the Humanities
Europe’s Ethical Eggs
If Fish Could Scream
Cultural Bias against Whaling?
A Case for Veganism
Consider the Turkey: Thoughts for Thanksgiving
In Vitro Meat
Chimpanzees Are People, Too
The Cow Who . . .
Beyond the Ethic of the Sanctity of Life
The Real Abortion Tragedy
Treating (or Not) the Tiniest Babies
Pulling Back the Curtain on the Mercy Killing of Newborns
No Diseases for Old Men
When Doctors Kill
Choosing Death
The Tide Is Turning in Australia’s Euthanasia Debate
The Human Genome and the Genetic Supermarket
The Year of the Clone?
Kidneys for Sale?
We Have a Moral Obligation to Donate Organs
The Many Crises of Health Care
Public Health versus Private Freedom?
Weigh More, Pay More
Should We Live to 1,000?
Population and the Pope
Should Adult Sibling Incest Be a Crime?
Homosexuality Is Not Immoral
Virtual Vices
A Private Affair?
How Much Should Sex Matter?
God and Woman in Iran
Australia Gives the World’s Poor Little More than Small Change
Holding Charities Accountable
Blatant Benevolence
Good Charity, Bad Charity
Heartwarming Causes Are Nice, but Let’s Give to Charity with Our Heads
The Ethical Cost of High-Price Art
Preventing Human Extinction
Happiness, Money, and Giving It Away
Can We Increase Gross National Happiness?
The High Cost of Feeling Low
No Smile Limit
Happy, Nevertheless
Bentham’s Fallacies, Then and Now
The Founding Fathers’ Fiscal Crisis
Why Vote?
Free Speech, Muhammad, and the Holocaust
The Use and Abuse of Religious Freedom
An Honest Man?
Is Citizenship a Right?
The Spying Game
A Statue for Stalin?
Should We Honor Racists?
Escaping the Refugee Crisis
Is Open Diplomacy Possible?
The Ethics of Big Food
Fairness and Climate Change
Will the Polluters Pay for Climate Change?
Why Are They Serving Meat at a Climate Change Conference?
Dethroning King Coal
Paris and the Fate of the Earth
A Clear Case for Golden Rice
Life Made to Order
Rights for Robots?
A Dream for the Digital Age
A Universal Library
The Tragic Cost of Being Unscientific
Rootless, Voteless, but Happily Floating
How to Keep a New Year’s Resolution
Why Pay More?
Tiger Mothers or Elephant Mothers?
Volkswagen and the Future of Honesty
Is Doping Wrong?
Is It OK to Cheat at Football?
A Surfing Reflection

1 person found this helpful

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excellent

very enjoyable shorts chapters of about 8-10 minutes each. each chapter is an op-ed piece stating a straightforward position, or asking a question, followed by several examples or related points. like a mental palette cleanser.

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent content, irritating narration

This book features thought provoking essays that are well argumented. I was bothered by how the narrator pronounced the word "issue". It's issue not isjue.

1 person found this helpful

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Yuck

Unresearched ramblings of an out-of-touch intellectual with no grasp of the realities of the situations, countries, professions, etc that he is talking about. Says he will give all sides of any controversy that he addresses… but definitely does not. Just a collection of his short magazine pieces. This does not give philosophy a good name.

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It opens up another part of your Moral self!

I considered myself a moral man, but this Audio book brought out something new in myself. Nothing is gray anymore. Black and White! What i might choose in life is a different story, but i cannot fool myself anymore. It is a great book for even the religious people, who might i add, have the Quran or Bible etc, for guidance, and feel thats all they need for guidance. YOU CAN FIND guidance everywhere, and this is a great part of it.
On a lighter note I started thinking about ethics after watching "A GOOD PLACE" NETFLIX......... i know it sounds corny but this is the lighter note ;-)
Thanks.

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