BkRev #1767. The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas about Living Ethically. (2015). Peter Singer. New Haven: Yale University Press. 211 pp. $16.00. ISBN 978-0-300-21968-9


Jaimie R. Haider

University College Advising Center

Texas State University

[email protected]

In The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, philosopher Peter Singer argues that living a truly moral life involves not only concern for “increasing the wellbeing of others” but also doing “the most good you can do” (104). Over the last decade, academic advisors have dedicated significant conference and publication space to two tasks: sharing outcome data and discussing millennial students. Singer’s piece is not only an effective investigation of effective altruism; The Most Good You Can Do also provides a framework for approaching these common advising topics in a productive way.

After exploring the movement’s roots (many of which extend to Singer’s own work), Singer outlines the ways individuals can become effective altruists. One method includes identifying causes that provide not only narrative but also data to compel constituents. To explicate another method, the scholar draws comparisons between two effective altruistic career approaches: maximizing earnings to maximize giving or selecting a career in which activities contribute to an individual’s larger altruistic goals. Ultimately, Singer argues that effective altruists must give motivated by reason rather than passion.

Reason-driven action may seem impersonal to academic advisors. Singer might reply that distancing oneself from “personal and parochial perspectives” can have a worthwhile effect upon both professional outcomes and personal happiness (95, 98). A rational approach will eventually yield those relational outcomes most necessary to do the greatest good. Singer closes by guiding readers through the process of choosing effective organizations, reminding readers that even small reason-driven choices will help them do the most good they can.

Academic advisors spend a lot of time discussing millennial students. According to Forbes contributor Jeff Fromm (2016), however, millennial employees make up 40% of the current workforce. One publication makes the assertion, “Millennials [are] all about finding meaning in their jobs and how best to make the world a better place” (Stillman, 2017).  According to Imperative, Generation Z shares Millennials’ altruistic inclinations. While we are only just welcoming Generation Z as students, academic advisors and administrators should consider ways to wield data to attract the best millennial talent for academic advising positions.

Without data, academic advisors cannot demonstrative the effectiveness of services, advocate for additional resources, or craft reason-driven goals. In all of these discussions about data and assessment and effectiveness, however, “personal and parochial perspectives” are still necessary. Scholars such as Terry O’Banion agree that effective academic advising requires “dynamic relationship[s].”  Although employing effective altruism would certainly encourage wise, data-driven decisions, academic advisors cannot set aside the “emotional impulses” that can hinder this process (90). Instead, effective academic advising should marry these motivations.


Fromm, J. (2016, March 15). Millennials In The Workplace: They Don't Need Trophies But They Want Reinforcement. Retrieved September 10, 2017, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jefffromm/2015/11/06/millennials-in-the-workplace-they-dont-need-trophies-but-they-want-reinforcement/2/#32d98a083842

Imperative. (2016). Purpose in Higher Education: The Emergence of Generation Z in the Workforce. (Report No. XXX).Seattle, WA: Imperative.

(n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2017, from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Definitions-of-academic-advising.aspx

Stillman, D., & Stillman, J. (2017, May 19). Move Over, Millennials; Generation Z Is Here. Retrieved September 18, 2017, from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/Pages/Move-over-Millennials-Generation-Z-Is-Here.aspx

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