Philosophy Book Club: One World

One World - Ethics of Globalization

I recently read Peter Singer’s One World while working on lesson plans for a Governor’s School course proposal. Although some of the information in here is a bit outdated, the overal premise is still relevant and extremely important to think about as the trend toward globalization continues to increase.

The most basic way to state the problem of globalization is that humans have evolved and have lived with small groups of other humans for thousands of years. The problem solving skills, psychology, and ethics that we have developed revolve mostly around these small communities. Even within larger cities that have developed over the last few hundred years, there have been smaller communities within those cities that most people interact with regularly. The problem is that the things we do as individuals now affect more than just the small community around us:

By driving your car, you could be releasing carbon dioxide that is part of a causal chain leading to lethal floods in Bangladesh. How can we adjust our ethics to take account of this new situation?

From there, Singer analyzes several areas where this adjusted ethics will be needed, including the atmosphere, the economy, and law. He paints a brutal picture of the United States and it’s lack of leadership and effectiveness in all of these areas. To sum it up as aptly as possible, the U.S. has continued to use more resources while putting out more pollution, while refusing to work toward making improvements that most other countries have agreed to.

In considering ways that our ethic could be adapted, Singer looks to organizations that already exist in each of these areas, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Although he recognizes problems with both, Singer is more optimistic about the direction of the U.N. than the WTO. It should be noted that the discussions of these two organizations are what have become most dated in this work. In preparation for class, I am going to need to do a good bit of research to trace the develops of these two organizations in the decade since this book was written. Despite being dated, these discussions were well worth reading, not only for an understanding of the development of these organizations, but for Singers ideas on how to improve them.

Ethically, Singer boldly states that there is no realm for moral relativism in a globalized world – there must be some basic standard of objective value if the possibility to work together toward a common good is to be realistic. Interestingly, he also gives a searing critique of feminist ethics, comparing it to the ethics under which the Nazis operated – which I’m not sure quite hits the mark, but should make for a very interesting group discussion.

I think this book is a must read for any educated person – but mostly for the conclusions that are drawn at the end of the book. I’m going to get to those in a follow-up post, but I’d like to collect some data first. I’m developing an activity based off of this for class, and I’d like to get an idea of the types of responses I’ll get. Please take the survey below without looking up the answers.


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