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Justifying The Means: What It Means To Treat All Suffering Equally

A compass occupies the space over the man's head, conveying the concept of morality and the choices we make.
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When moral philosopher Peter Singer was a young student at Oxford University, he met a friend and fellow student for lunch in the dining hall. There were two meal options: A salad plate, or spaghetti with sauce. Singer's friend asked whether the sauce contained meat. When he learned that it did, he ordered the salad plate instead. Singer asked him about this decision and why he'd made it.

"I thought maybe he'd say, 'Well, I'm an absolute pacifist and I think it's wrong to kill any living being,' or perhaps he had some weird health views. But instead he just said, 'I don't think it's right to treat animals the way we treat them to turn them into meat.'"

This conversation took place in the early 1970s, when conditions on factory farms were largely unknown. Peter did his own research and concluded that his friend was right. A month later, he became a vegetarian.

Peter lives his life based on a simple idea — that one must always consider what will most reduce suffering and increase happiness. As the world grapples with an unprecedented moral dilemma — what to do in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic — we take a deep dive into Peter Singer's ideas and the difficult choices they present.

Additional Resources:

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/when-will-lockdowns-be-worse-than-covid19-by-peter-singer-and-michael-plant-2020-04

https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellness/ethical-decisions-about-who-lives-and-who-dies-may-not-be-hypothetical-20200320-p54c7p.html

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Parth Shah is an associate producer at Hidden Brain. He came to NPR in 2016 as a Kroc Fellow.
Rhaina Cohen is a producer and editor for NPR's Enterprise Storytelling unit, working across Embedded, Invisibilia, and Rough Translation.
Thomas Lu is an assistant producer for Hidden Brain.He came to NPR in 2017 as an intern for the TED Radio Hour. He has worked with How I Built This, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Pop Culture Happy Hour. Before coming to NPR, he was a production intern for StoryCorps.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.
Jennifer Schmidt is a senior producer for Hidden Brain. She is responsible for crafting the complex stories that are told on the show. She researches, writes, gathers field tape, and develops story structures. Some highlights of her work on Hidden Brain include episodes about the causes of the #MeToo movement, how diversity drives creativity, and the complex psychology of addiction.