While not exactly mind-boggling, the first chapter is, however, more than useful to set the stage for Singer’s arguments. After all, in order to discuss something, you need to know what you’re talking about. I know that setting a stage for a discourse is not easy. I have plenty of experience with public debate, as a protester and as an organizer for discussion forums, and there is hardly a more complex subject than ethics to discuss.
From the way Singer describes ethics, it very much reminds me of math. Certainly, the outcome of an ethical decision depends on the variables that enter the equation, but the rules of operation are universal. Singer, as many other philosophers (that would be 2 modern philosophers I remember) I have read, utilizes the Anne-Frank-Dilemma to demonstrate that even though lying is usually bad, it may be a good thing to do if you can prevent someone (or many people) from being brutally tortured and callously murdered.
Now, making it sound like a mathematical operation kind of makes is sound very impractical and highly theoretical. Luckily, we don’t have to be mathematical geniuses to quickly evaluate the ethical ramifications of our actions. For the most part, in our daily lives, we just need to follow a set of guidlines, like not to lie, to make ethically acceptable decisions. Social mammals also are proven to have ethical instincts and an intuition for justice, though humans go far beyond that, since we can actively alter our environment to our needs. I know what you’re thinking, that birds and monkeys build nests and use tools, but it simply doesn’t compare to humanities ability to build sky scrapers, transform swamps into arable land, or construct space stations. We have the ability to develop ethical models, to advance our ideas about what is right and wrong, good and bad, to make things better and life more livable. I digress, though not exactly very much. What I meant to say was: If (when) we encounter ethically difficult decisions, and are forced to think on our feet, we might or might not come to an ethically sound conclusion, but upon later evaluation we can recognize our errors and do it better the next time.
I have really made good ethical evaluations of my actions and attitudes with Dan Mullin in his Philosophical Counselling sessions. This is ethical product placement. How so? I am supporting a friend, whom I think can help lots of people, given the chance. Yes, justifiability is the main attribute of an ethical decision, and the justification must be accepted by most, ideally by all, involved in and affected by the decision.