Quality of Life: Living Ethically

Around the world, a central question bears on sustainability, the environment, and social and financial well-being: How much is enough? But there is an important corollary to that question—perhaps even more directly important to individuals. What does quality of life mean? And how should we measure it? In the Big Question section of the current issue of World Policy Journal, our panel of global experts weighed in,  including Peter Singer.


Peter Singer: Living Ethically

More than a billion people cannot count on meeting their basic needs for food, sanitation, and clean water. Their children die from simple, preventable diseases. They lack a minimally decent quality of life.

At the same time, more than a billion people live at a hitherto unknown level of affluence. They think nothing of spending more to go out to dinner than the other billion have to live on for a month. Do they therefore have a high quality of life? Being able to meet one’s basic needs for food, water, and reasonable health is a necessary condition for having an adequate quality of life, but not a sufficient one.

In the past, we spent much of our day ensuring we would have enough to eat. Then we would relax and socialize. Now, for the affluent, it is so easy to meet our basic needs that we lack purpose in our daily activities—leading us to consume more, and thus to feel we do not earn enough for all that we “need.” But that is not the way to a better quality of life. We need to find activities that are really fulfilling and meaningful to us. Living more ethically is one way of making our lives more meaningfully. In a world with a billion people in great need, we should begin to do just that.


Peter Singer, originally from Australia, is a professor of ethics at Princeton University and the University of Melbourne and the author of The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty.

[Photo Courtesy of Flickr user Trey Ratcliff]

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