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Ethics in the Real World
Peter Singer
Princeton University Press, 2016

Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter is a collection of short essays by Peter Singer, a popular if often radical professor of ethics. These are indeed brief essays, usually only 3-4 pages each, and cover a wide range of subjects. This is a fairly representative introduction to Singer's writings, and as such has sections devoted to animal rights (eight essays), assisted death in medical settings (seven essays), and effective altruism (seven essays). It also includes essays defending incest (in a limited sense), GMOs (in a much less limited sense), and doping in sports (who cares, it's sports), among many other subjects.

These essays are biased towards issues that appear in the popular media (hence "the real world"), and while they were all originally written within the last 15 years, many serve as a reminder of how fast the world changes. While the essays are still relevant, occasional essay such as Homosexuality is not Immoral or careful dissections of Bush's policies seem dated... although they still make interesting points. Peter Singer is also popular enough that many of his more radical ideas have already percolated out into the wider world, and you will come across many arguments that you have heard before, albeit often in a weakened, less erudite form.

One thing that makes Singer's works well worth reading is simply that he is a professional ethicist; this is not something that you usually get a chance to see in the wild, and especially not in short-essay form. Singer presents both sides of the argument, and does so clearly and well. If one side is distasteful, undiplomatic, or shoots his personal beliefs in the foot, well, that's just too bad. You're still going to hear about it. And you'll hear about it in a clear, concise, non-nonsense way that allows you to form your own opinion.

This is an excellent introduction to applied ethics, and likewise an excellent introduction to Peter Singer. It contains the core ideas of many of his longer books explained in short form, and is also an easily digestible introduction to his writing style -- which is useful, if you aren't sure if he's worth your time. It is just as valuable as a window into Singer's less well-known writings; just because he's never written a book on cloning or lying doesn't mean that they aren't relevant ethical issues worth discussing, and his thoughts on these subjects are just as interesting.

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