Larissa MacFarquhar has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1998. Her subjects have included John Ashbery, Edward Albee, Derek Parfit, Patricia Churchland and Paul Churchland, Richard Posner, and Noam Chomsky among many others. She is currently working on her new book, "Extreme Morality" (working title). The book will be published by Penguin Press.
Before joining The New Yorker, MacFarquhar was a senior editor at Lingua Franca and an advisory editor at The Paris Review.
Abstract: The philosopher Peter Singer compares the way most of us live to seeing a child drowning in a shallow pond and declining to save him so as not to muddy our clothes. Even if we don’t see a particular child in danger, if we spend two hundred dollars on shoes that could have bought life-saving medicine, we’re still responsible for a death. Most people either don’t believe this or can’t imagine what their lives would look like if they did; this talk will tell the story of a couple of young utilitarians who do believe it and live their lives accordingly.
Much contemporary thinking about humans, from biology to the social sciences to fiction, assumes that we’re essentially selfish; suspicion of – or contempt for — virtue is a hallmark of modernity. Saintly people are thought to be unnatural and constricted. But renunciation can be more interesting than indulgence, and a disciplined life more interesting than a desultory one. They make ordinary existence seem flabby, haphazard, and gluttonous.
Free and open to the public.