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Book review: The Buddhist and The Ethicist: Conversations on Effective Altruism, Engaged Buddhism, and How to Build a Better World

Shih Chao-Hwei is a Buddhist scholar and founder of the Life Association, which works to improve animal welfare in Taiwan. Peter Singer is a professor of bioethics and philosopher who is best known for his work on animal welfare and effective altruism.

The Buddhist and The Ethicist documents conversations between the two scholars on a range of topics from animal welfare, euthanasia, embryo research and abortion, and gender equality to the death penalty and killing in war. Uniting two cultures, the result is a balanced, culturally sensitive, and thought-provoking read.

Written in an accepting and accessible format, this book makes a refreshing change from textbooks on ethics and social media vitriol. It contains an objective and sensitive discussion of age-old moral questions in the context of modern life, bringing together utilitarian and Buddhist philosophy.

“… this book makes a refreshing change from textbooks on ethics and social media vitriol.”

The dialogue format enables the book to be dipped in and out of and leaves plenty of food for thought. I was prompted to consider my ethical viewpoints from a new angle, for example, looking at abortion on a population basis and considering the cultural context. In parts of the world where family size is restricted by the resources available to the parents and population as a whole, the autonomy of the mother and rights of the foetus are significantly restricted.

Chao-Hwei also reflects on the impact of overpopulation and the fact that many wars are fought over limited resources, an issue becoming ever more pertinent in our changing climate. Now, more than ever, these questions need to be considered on a worldwide scale.

This book has opened my mind to my innate cultural bias in considering ethical problems, broadened my horizons, and will, I hope, help towards making me a better person.

Featured book: Peter Singer and Shih Chao-Hwei, The Buddhist and The Ethicist: Conversations on Effective Altruism, Engaged Buddhism, and How to Build a Better World, Shambhala Publications Ltd, 2023, PB, 256pp, £12.85, 978-1645472179

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