Modern Philosophy : In the Mind of Peter Singer

Regarded as one of the most influential thinkers in modern times, Peter Singer, a Bioethics professor from Western Australia has more than made his mark in the world of philosophy and ethics. The controversial professor of philosophy has had death threats made against him and is considered by some of his enemies as dangerous, in terms of Singer's philosophy. People have compared the philosopher's thinking to Nazism, particularly his views on killing babies that are born with severe brain damage or conditions that majorly affect the quality of life. Singer has aired similar views around people living with extreme disabilities and the elderly. One of his primary arguments for this is that, as a society, it is generally accepted that when a dog or cat is at the point of suffering where the quality of life is severely impacted, then the best thing to do is have the animal put down. And human beings are all animals, so, if society accepts this is the correct action to take for an animal, then why not for humans?


Digital, C. (2021, January 31). PETER SINGER IN CONVERSATION WITH MAURICIO DIAZGRANADOS [Illustration]. Hayfestival.Com. https://www.hayfestival.com/p-17943-peter-singer-in-conversation-with-mauricio-diazgranados-spanish-translation.aspx


Essentially, Peter Singer's philosophy is completely utilitarian. On paper, the professor's ethics appears totally logical and fairly bulletproof, however, for many, something in the professor's reasoning does not seem to sit right. As outlined at the start of the article, Utilitarianism is ostensibly the notion that moral decisions should be based on the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people with the minimum amount of pain or suffering inflicted. One of the things that makes human beings human is the fact that we can empathize with one and another. People that have ever seen those war films where there is a group of soldiers under fire and one is left badly injured so much so, that the rest of the group are being held back. Now, according to a staunch utilitarian like, Singer, the best action to take would be to leave the injured soldier behind in order to protect the safety of the other soldiers, but as humans, many would argue that they want to see that injured soldier carried along with the rest. It is intrinsic to the human condition to want to love and understand our fellow man. Several might say, taking a utilitarian stance in such matters seems cold and reduces the human being down to numbers and statistics. Although Singer's philosophy seems correct, it may not always be the practical solution to take.


As highlighted, Peter Singer has his enemies. A former US presidential candidate, Steve Forbes had this to say about Singer: "Peter Singer rationalizes invidious discrimination against the unborn, infants, the infirm and the elderly," said Forbes. The appointment of Singer, (Singer was appointed to Princeton University's Professorship of Bioethics) declared the Wall Street Journal in an editorial, "leads us to wonder by what criteria Princeton might exclude a Nazi or Japanese scholar who saw nothing wrong in the medical experiments on prisoners of war and targeted populations during World War II." The Australian professor seems not to mind causing controversy. In Singer's first edition of Practical Ethics -1979, Singer frequently used the term "defective infant". Many viewed Singer's description of another human being as cold, especially when talking about an infant. For instance, Jacqueline Laing, a Christian critic of Singer's observed, "defective" is a term normally used to describe commodities, products, as in "the control panel on the cooker was defective". To describe any human being in such a manner was at best insensitive and at worst exposed a highly prejudicial attitude to the status of disabled individuals.' The thing with Singer's views is that they have a propensity of catching one off guard and before one realizes what has just been said, the wind can quickly be blown out the sails of the listener. This is because the mild-mannered man from Australia comes over as an avuncular and extremely venerable figure. Unlike other polemics such as Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens who both are/were fierce debaters, Singer is soft around the edges. One could be forgiven for thinking that listening to Singer in a debate that the professor of bioethics might easily be persuaded on changing his views. Singer may not come across as being judgemental or antagonistic towards his contemporaries but on closer inspection, one can see that the philosopher has very fixed views on morality.



Yakubchik, B. (n.d.). Inspiration to give from Peter Singer [Illustration]. Pintrest.Com. https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/275704808409413199/


One observation that has to be made about Peter Singer is that the thinking man has been hugely influential in getting the animal rights movement off the ground. Singer's groundbreaking book, Animal Liberation, 1975, was his attempt to persuade readers of the benefits of veganism. The Philosopher wrote about the cruelty of animals in the food processing industry and argued that human beings should not be viewed as superior to other species. Peter Singer has widely been credited for changing peoples eating habits across the globe. PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk noted: "Reading Animal Liberation, I realized that in the same way that racist and sexist views allowed us to discriminate against minorities and women, speciesism allowed us to inscribe an inferior status on animals and to regard them not as individuals, but as objects and means to fulfill our desires. I talked about the book, I wrote about it, I gave copies to everyone I knew". So is Singer's philosophy morally sound? His straight and icy way of looking at the problems that face our world can be a little unnerving for some, however, one cannot help being drawn in by his arguments and logical analysis of such cases. If one was in a court of law against the philosophical master thinker, one could easily envisage coming off second best. Perhaps the right course of action to take does not always have to feel like it is the right action.

Sources:


Gross, D. A. (2021, April 25). https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/1999/nov/06/weekend.kevintoolis. Newyorker.Com

Retrieved 5 November 2021, from https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-new-yorker-interview/peter-singer-is-committed-to-controversial-ideas

Toolis, K. (1999, November 6). The most dangerous man in the world. Thegaurdian.Com. Retrieved 5 November 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/1999/nov/06/weekend.kevintoolis


What Is Animal Liberation? Philosopher Peter Singer’s Groundbreaking Work Turns 40. (n.d.). Peta.Org. Retrieved 5 November 2021, from https://www.peta.org/about-peta/learn-about-peta/ingrid-newkirk/animal-liberation/


Images:


Digital, C. (2021, January 31). PETER SINGER IN CONVERSATION WITH MAURICIO DIAZGRANADOS [Illustration]. Hayfestival.Com. https://www.hayfestival.com/p-17943-peter-singer-in-conversation-with-mauricio-diazgranados-spanish-translation.aspx


Eaton, G. (2021, May 26). Peter Singer: Why the case for veganism is stronger than ever [ILLUSTRATION]. Newstatesman.Com. https://www.newstatesman.com/ideas/2021/05/peter-singer-why-case-veganism-stronger-ever


Yakubchik, B. (n.d.). Inspiration to give from Peter Singer [Illustration]. Pintrest.Com. https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/275704808409413199/

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Peter Terrence

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