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Peter Singer

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If philosophy and ethics go tits up, he can probably earn a good living as a babysitter and dog walker.
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Peter Singer (born 6 July 1946) is an Australian professor of bioethics at Princeton University, and is generally considered to be the intellectual great-granddaddy of the animal rights movement. He is an atheist and a utilitarian - who takes utilitarianism to levels which make some people uncomfortable.

Primary Views[edit]

Animal rights[edit]

Singer is best known for his book Animal Liberation (published in 1975) which has been cited as one of the most influential texts in the animal rights movement. His central message in the book is an expansion of the utilitarian idea that action is right if it promotes happiness of everyone affected by it. Singer argues that there is no reason not to apply this to other animals - utilitarianism takes into account only pain and pleasure and animals can also experience pain and pleasure. As such, Singer completely rejects the idea that humans are a "special" animal.

Nevertheless when asked:[1]

  • "If you had to save either a human being or a mouse from a fire, with no time to save them both, wouldn’t you save the human being?"

He replied.

  • "Yes, in almost all cases I would save the human being. But not because the human being is human, that is, a member of the species Homo sapiens."

Although Singer is a professed vegetarian, he does not believe it is wrong in principle to kill animals for food. Since most animals likely have no concept of death, they cannot have a desire to go on living. Therefore, in and of itself, killing animals is not wrong. Nonetheless, Singer still opposes meat-eating, since although the animals have no preference to not die, they do have a preference to not feel pain - and the processes of farming and slaughtering will inevitably cause them pain, thus violating their preferences.

Effective altruism[edit]

Singer is a strong proponent of effective altruism and says that he personally donates one third of his salary to charity. In 1971, as a young man, he wrote a paper, "Famine, Affluence and Morality" and later expanded on it in his 2009 book The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty, a book influential to Bill Gates. In it he argues:

"Imagine you come across a small child who has fallen into a pond and is in danger of drowning. You know that you can easily and safely rescue him, but you are wearing an expensive pair of shoes that will be ruined if you do. We all think it would be seriously wrong to walk on past the pond, leaving the child to drown, because you don't want to have to buy a new pair of shoes - in fact, most people think that would be monstrous. You can't compare a child's life with a pair of shoes!"

Using this argument, he in turn argues that with surplus wealth in hand, as many in the west have, it is amoral to not donate to charity with so many people in 3rd world countries dying and suffering from easily preventable diseases/starvation and we therefore have a moral obligation to donate as much surplus wealth/income as possible.


Singer is a strong proponent of euthanasia rights in cases where said person is severely disabled/ill,[2] going as far to say that family members should have the right to apply active euthanasia in cases where the person in question cannot understand or give a firm response (Think a newborn infant with a severe, painful disability and perhaps only a few years to live or a severe dementia patient), holding the Dutch Groningen Protocol as a successful example of a humane way for families and doctors to deal with such unfortunate incidents regarding infants and written wills in the case of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia.[3]

Other views and fun facts[edit]

  • Singer is an avid enviromentalist too, concerning himself with the affect that it'll have on billions of humans and animals living on the planet.[4]
  • Singer is no fan of anti-natalism, himself optimistic in the future of humanity and strongly holds the belief that life is and can be great for most humans.[5]
  • Singer has argued in favor of "non-abusive" forms of bestiality being legalized, pointing out how the immense historical evidence of humans engaging in sexual activities with other animals and how it's more common than many people think, arguing that the stigma attached to it stems from irrational religious views about sex and animals.[6]
  • Singer is a big proponent of free speech rights, arguing that holocaust denial should be legal and that violence isn't a way to deal with the rise of far-right groups.[7]
  • Singer is no fan of Trump - or Bush - but argues that Americans should try to work with the Trump administration and pursue a rational dialogue, resorting to non-violent resistance in the likes of Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr. if all else fails.[8]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]