Peter Singer

Interesting profile of the Austrailian philosopher Peter Singer in last Saturday’s Guardian Review. I remember reading a book of his for an essay on Practical Ethics for A-Level R.E.

George W Bush and Peter Singer were born on the same day – July 6 1946. But there the similarity ends. Only one is an Australian vegetarian who campaigns against animal cruelty and does not believe in the Judaeo-Christian nostrum of the sanctity of life. Only one supports abortion and infanticide in some cases and backs stem-cell research that uses genetic material from embryos. Only one thinks the world would be better if the US were subject to UN sanctions for emitting more than its fair share of greenhouse gases.

And yet there are parallels. In his 2003 book The President of Good and Evil: Taking George W Bush Seriously, Singer quoted from one of Bush’s speeches: “Some people think it’s inappropriate to make moral judgments anymore. Not me.” To which Singer added: “Well, not me either, so that is one view about morality on which the president and I agree.” Both men, in an age of seeming moral relativism and selfishness, insist on the overwhelming importance of moral renewal.

That book nonetheless argued that Bush’s ethics consisted mostly of hypocrisy and intellectual confusion. By contrast, Singer stresses that his moral philosophy is the product of cold logic. Singer concedes his views are often upsetting for Bush supporters. “In a Christian society we have views about the sanctity of life that were formed in a totally different period when we didn’t have to make decisions about embryos or whether you should keep people alive who are irrevocably unconscious. People get stuck with this ethic from the past, which has not been able to adapt itself to other circumstances because it has been encapsulated in a set of religious beliefs.”

2 thoughts on “Peter Singer”

  1. I remember having to discuss “Practical Ethics” at university. I wasn’t sure if we were to take him seriously or tear him apart and throw him to the wolves.

  2. I don’t know. I don’t necessarily agree with his views on just about anything, but I respect him for standing up for his ideas and taking on those who would wish to stifle debate on these things.

    Frankly, anyone who annoys swivel-eyed christian fundamentalist types is fine by me.

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