Thursday, December 07, 2006

Rethinking Peter Singer

Peter Singer is one of the most popular thinkers/ethicists of our time. I found out that he taught some fantastic stuffs about humane treatment of animals, environmentalism and the poor; also some controversial and disturbing views on infanticide, euthanasia etc. So it was good to chat a bit with Gordon Preece and got his autograph on the book on "Rethinking Peter Singer" frm Canaanland.

Here is a nice review of the book:
“Since neither a newborn human infant nor a fish is a person, the wrongness of killing such beings is not as great as the wrongness of killing a person.”

“…regarding a newborn infant as not having the same right to life as a person, the cultures that practiced infanticide were on solid ground.”

These are two of four quotes from philosopher Peter Singer that were featured in a quarter-page ad in the Australian newspaper during the 1996 federal election. The Australian Family Association took out the ad because Peter Singer was running as a Green Senate candidate. Fortunately for the unborn, the newborn, the elderly and many other “non-persons”, Singer received only a tiny fraction of the vote.

He now teaches at Princeton University, after a long career at Melbourne’s Monash University. He has written over twenty books, and is regarded as a leading contemporary philosopher and bioethicist. He is famous for his advocacy of animal liberation, as well as for his callous view of human life.

This new book, edited by an ethicist at Melbourne’s Ridley College, contains five important articles offering a critical assessment of Singer’s philosophy and writings.

After an incisive introduction, Preece offers a close look at the man and his work in chapter one. While recognising the relative consistency throughout his writings, he points out the well-known inconsistency of his regard for his mother has she wrestled with Alzheimer’s disease. He rightly notes that on the basis of Singer’s utilitarian and consequentialist outlook, he should have bumped off his own mother. But fortunately for his mother, “Singer is a better son and person than ethicist”.
Read on for the rest of the review


Alex Tang said...
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Alex Tang said...

Peter Singer have returned to Melbourne since 2005 where he is working as Laureate Professor, University of Melbourne, Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, part-time since 2005 while he still retains his Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, University Center for Human Values, Princeton University on a part time basis.

This book was written in 2002. While I do not agree with everything Singer say or write, I feel that Christians tend to 'demonise' him unfairly, often without reading any of his books or articles.

This book by Preece is a good example of 'Singer bashing' by a number of Christians who got together pick up certain topics and critiqued Singer's thoughts on them, often without regards to the context in which Singer wrote the piece. Sometimes the criticisms become personal.

Again, while I do not agree with Singer, I felt he should have gotten a better deal from Christians. Does academia excludes love?

The Hedonese said...

It is interesting to note that Gordon, when approached, start off by recounting the good things that can be said of Singer, and if memory serves me right, warn against 'demonising' him (funny that the same word is used here)

So while he may have failed to achieve that goal, perhaps the motive of love is not entirely absent. I could understand some banter about 'inebriated karaoke singer' as unnecessary ad hominem at the last para of the Introduction.

Alex, could you point out specific examples where you think the criticism is without regards to the context?

jacksons said...

Hmm. Motive of Love? Tell that to the babies and chickens that would suffer if more poeple took Singer seriously. There is nothing to demonize with this guy, demons arent needed when infanticide is ok.

The Hedonese said...

Oh i found out that my memory has failed me, hehehe... Actually Preece wrote it in the intro: "This book will focus on Singer's ideas rather than his person, except where his life illustrates the impracticality of some key ideas. We do NOT want to demonize Singer but to discern where his ideas are right and where wrong." (emphasis mine)