The Ezra Klein Show

Imagine you’re walking to work. You see a child drowning in a lake. You’re about to jump in and save her when you realize you’re wearing your best suit, and the rescue will end up costing hundreds in dry cleaning bills. Should you still save the child?

Of course you should. But this simple thought experiment, taken seriously, has radical implications for how you live your life.

It comes from Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save, one of the most influential modern works of ethical philosophy. Singer is perhaps the most influential public intellectual of my lifetime. His book Animal Liberation helped build America’s animal rights movement. His work helped create the effective altruism movement.

In Singer’s hands, the questions that motivate a moral life are startlingly simple. But if you take them seriously, living morally is very, very hard. And the way most of us are living, right now — well, we’re letting a lot of children drown. What happens if we force ourselves to recognize that fact? What does it demand of us?

That’s the topic of my conversation with Singer. We also discuss the differences between ethical philosophy and religion, why moral reasoning is a social act, the ethics of caring most about those closest to you, The Good Place, AI risk, open borders, where our obligations to others end, why Singer wouldn’t have become a philosopher if he’d been an effective altruist in his youth, and much more.

Book recommendations:

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker

On What Matters by Derek Parfit

Reasons and Persons by Derek Parfit

To read Peter SInger's book please visit

To learn more about effective altruism, visit Vox's Future Perfect

My book is available for pre-order! You can find it at

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Producer and Editor - Jeff Geld

Researcher - Roge Karma

Engineers - Cynthia Gil

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