Peter Singer, an influential modern philosopher, lectured to a crowd of 1,000 students, faculty and community members on effective altruism Thursday, Sept. 10. Many of the audience members were freshmen along with philosophy alumni.
Incoming students enrolled in First-Year Seminar were assigned to read Singer’s book “The Most Good You Can Do,” which focuses on effective altruism, the practice of giving to relieve the most suffering or make the biggest positive impact.
“The book challenges us to change our lifestyle, not only to be more altruistic, but to be more rational in the choices that we make,” said FYS Professor Ramona Ilea, who organized much of the event.
Singer gave examples of students and academics who gave money effectively, saving thousands of lives.
“It had never occurred to me that even in [poor economic] situations it is possible to give,” said sophomore FYS Sierra Barnes.
Ilea pointed out that many students could spend time and money more effectively and helpfully. “You could be saving someone’s life instead of drinking soda,” Ilea said. “If you donated that money you could be doing a lot of good.”
The choice of Singer’s book has lead to some discussions on campus. “I think his ideas are easier to apply to the modern person without going too far out of your way,” said freshman Patrick Ingmire.
“I was hoping he would talk more in the book than he did about advocacy and of trying to change power structures to do good instead of specifically direct action with charities,” said junior transfer student Liam Howard.
“I liked most of his ideas but not everything. It’s his opinion and I don’t think you have to follow it. People should remember that,” said freshman Kaitlyn Wagner.
In his lecture, Singer advocated for students being effective by choosing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, citing the small cages most commercial stock animals are confined to.
“We are aware of all these problems, but the commitment is huge,” said attendee junior Jennifer Casas.
Although there were a variety of opinions on Singer’s philosophical ideas, his theories started conversations and challenged people to think outside of their own experiences.