Why We Should Be Moral
Question: Why should we behave morally?
Peter Singer: I mean, the sound bite answer is you should be moral because in the long run, looking at your real interest, it will be better for you but, you know, without more explanation, that sound bite maybe doesn’t convince people.
I think people need to reexamine their self-interest, this is where we began this conversation when you look at people like Madoff and so on or going back to earlier similar crises. Why do these people who already have so much money sacrifice ethical standards in order to have more? That’s the bewildering thing and I think it has to be that they have the wrong view of their self-interest.
They actually believe that the difference between having 10 million and a billion is somehow really important difference that is going to make their lives so much better and is worth taking risks for ‘cause they must have known they were taking serious risk. And I think that that’s a mistake, I don’t think there’s any evidence that suggest that you’re necessarily going to be happier as a billionaire than… once you got 10 million.
Question: How have your ideas about morality evolved?
Peter Singer: I think the major difference between my views when I was just a graduate student and now is I give more weight to the idea that you can give an answer from the perspective of an enlightened self-interest to innate question, “Why should I be moral?”
So I think it’s very often, not always, but it’s very often in our interest to have ethical standards and to act in accordance with them and that’s good for us in our relations with others because people respect us because of it and get to know it. It’s also good for us in terms of our sense of satisfaction and fulfillment with life and so I think you can give an answer that works well for many people, if not quite perfectly through that.
I wasn’t really as aware of that when I wrote the Master’s thesis but in other aspects, the reset of the thesis, I think I would probably still accept.
I don’t think you can rationally prove an answer for everyone irrespective to their nature or preferences that shows that it’s always rational for them morally.
Recorded on: March 16, 2009
The philosopher Peter Singer discusses morality and enlightened self-interest.
Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.
No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.
A completely unexpected discovery beneath the ice.
- Scientists find remains of a tardigrade and crustaceans in a deep, frozen Antarctic lake.
- The creatures' origin is unknown, and further study is ongoing.
- Biology speaks up about Antarctica's history.
Eight-dimensional octonions may hold the clues to solve fundamental mysteries.
- Physicists discover complex numbers called octonions that work in 8 dimensions.
- The numbers have been found linked to fundamental forces of reality.
- Understanding octonions can lead to a new model of physics.
It's one factor that can help explain the religiosity gap.
- Sociologists have long observed a gap between the religiosity of men and women.
- A recent study used data from several national surveys to compare religiosity, risk-taking preferences and demographic information among more than 20,000 American adolescents.
- The results suggest that risk-taking preferences might partly explain the gender differences in religiosity.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.