I ran into Peter Singer recently ­– or at least we smiled at each other as our paths crossed in a beachside car park. Although we have friends in common, I didn’t stop to introduce myself. I was caught up in a conversation, but I also momentarily feared I might have mistaken him for somebody else: in a wetsuit, everyone looks a little bit different and a little bit the same. Seeing Peter Singer at the beach reminded me of an event at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre a couple of years ago. His presentation that day, and particularly his answer to a question from a woman named Rachel, has nagged at me ever since.

He paced slowly around the stage, intoning in a slightly gravelly voice, his flat Australian accent tinged with an American inflection after seventeen years at Princeton. There was nothing slick or showy about his presentation: with its clunky PowerPoint slides, it was less a philosophical excursion than a workmanlike attempt to convince and convert.

Singer wants us to help make the world a better place. By expressing the utilitarian standard in the negative – as reducing avoidable suffering rather than increasing possible happiness – Singer largely sidesteps these complications. If promoting happiness is not our concern, then we do not need to ask whether some ways of pursuing happiness are of greater value than others.

He acknowledges that he “only” gives away a third of his professorial income, not two-thirds like Toby Ord. He uses examples like Ord and Croy to provoke people like me – affluent citizens of a rich country – to ask ourselves searching questions about what more we can do.

The next time I run into Peter Singer at the surf, I will stop to introduce myself. We share more than friends in common; like him, I also took up surfing in my fifties – as he writes, “too old ever to become good at it, but young enough for surfing to give me a decade of fun and a sense of accomplishment.” Actually, I hope for a bit more than a decade of fun. And perhaps, one day, Peter Singer and I might even share a wave. •

Read the source article at Inside Story