What We’re Reading Now – Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter, by Peter Singer

Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter, by Peter Singer

Review by Grant T. Smith

ethicspetersingerYou may have heard about this book in the media over the fall, because the author has been traveling about promoting it. He is controversial and enjoys it. He is truly a modern day philosopher, who makes his living by writing about ethical choices and pronouncing his opinions. In fact, he was quick to point out, by quoting a study from a Swiss Think Tank: “three of the top five global thinkers are philosophers: Slavoj Zizek, Daniel Dennett and me.” Mr. Singer enjoys the stage he has created.


The book is made up of 82 essays on a wide variety of topics from Veganism to abortion and from the right to die to the quality of charity. Each essay is relatively short and most are previously published pieces written for periodicals or newspapers. Many are designed to stir controversy and engage the reader’s passion. I had a great deal of fun reading this book (full disclosure – I have about a third still to read) and those around me got slightly frustrated by my constant need to engage them on the topic I read the night before.


This book is suited to be a sort of gathering point for people anxious to get together periodically and debate/develop intriguing thoughts. The group could prepare for meetings by reading a chosen piece and then gather to contribute and expand on the concept. For example, in an article entitled, “Weigh More, Pay More” the author debates the fees paid to fly and posits that the passenger’s weight, plus the baggage weight, might be a method of determining the cost of the ticket. He expands the argument to consider the health care costs of obesity as well. Without going into his conclusions on the matter, you can see how this topic might spark a lively debate.  


One of the reasons that I suggest the book as a launch point for discussion is that I find the format restrictive to full development of thoughts on complex items. Singer’s brief articles often left this reader feeling that the thoughts had not been fully developed and that the conclusions were suddenly pulled from thin air, as if the author had run out of either words or energy. In reality, I felt a little like I sometimes feel about my feeble attempts to write comprehensive arguments, in that, too much of what I think I have said is still in a thought bubble above my head instead of on the paper.


This particular collection of essays was gathered as the second in my three part series on ethics. It is much more specific than the one we reviewed last month. The topics are:

  • Current
  • Societal
  • Global
  • Controversial


It has proven a good stepping-stone on my particular journey to explore ethics. Last month we discussed the very nature of ethics and its history, and this month we are applying it to current real world problems. On a side note note, I find it interesting to be reading it it in the lead up to the inauguration of the new president. Email me at Grant.T.Smith@Clearlinecpa.ca if you’d like to discuss more – I’d love to hear your thoughts on what’s happening south of the border.


Looking ahead, I have found the book for next month and it takes another step forward, by applying ethics directly to business issues and conflicts. It should nicely bring the topic right to your day-to-day concerns in business.


In conclusion, Mr. Singer will challenge your mind and engage your passions. If you would rather do that one night a week than watch television, you might want to pick it up. If you have a group of friends you like to gather with occasionally and would like something a little different than discussing how much your boss is a jerk, you might want to pick this up. If you think you are a thought leader (or would like to become one) you should pick this up.


Thanks for reading.