Peter Singer: Ruthlessly Consistent?

Dinesh D’Souza gets it exactly right:

Some of Singer’s critics have called him a Nazi and compared his proposals to Hitler’s schemes for eliminating those perceived as unwanted and unfit. A careful reading of his work, however, shows that Singer is no Hitler. He doesn’t want state-sponsored killings. Rather, he wants the decision to kill to be made by private individuals like you and me. Instead of government-conducted genocide, Singer favors free-market homicide.

Peter Singer

Peter Singer

Why haven’t the atheists embraced Peter Singer? I suspect it is because they fear that his unpalatable views will discredit the cause of atheism. What they haven’t considered, however, is whether Singer, virtually alone among their numbers, is uncompromisingly working out the implications of living in a truly secular society, one completely purged of Christian and transcendental foundations. In Singer, we may be witnessing someone both horrifying and yet somehow refreshing: an intellectually honest atheist. 

Read the whole thing here.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

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Posted on March 18, 2009, in Science. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. D’Souza has given a very obfuscated version of Singer’s philosophy, to say the very least. I’m shocked anyone who would take Christ devout philanthropy seriously, and uplifting of the impoverished masses, can’t find common ground with Singer. His thoughts on euthanasia are a very narrow aspect of his philosophy, which is pretty wide ranging. His new book should do justice to that claim:
    http://www.amazon.com/Life-You-Can-Save-Poverty/dp/1400067103/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1239237453&sr=8-1

    (He donates over 25% of his salary to charity)

    As a non-believer I can safely refute “Why haven’t the atheists embraced Peter Singer?” – I do embrace a good bit of his philosophy. And I can also safely refute “In Singer, we may be witnessing someone both horrifying and yet somehow refreshing: an intellectually honest atheist. ” – You know as well as I do Joe, there are a wide range of atheist, and they don’t all go hand and hand w/ Singer. I’ll use Penn Jillete as an example. D’Souza has an extremely annoying tendency to broadly generalize.

    Hope all is well,
    -Chris

    • Chris, you’re confusing apples with oranges. First, you seem to be implying that if Christians disagree with Singer’s view on euthanasia and infanticide, they must (of necessity?) disagree with him on aid for world hunger. But the those are 2 totally different issues. If I switch the shoe to the other foot, I would ask you, do you agree with Singer on world hunger? If so, would it be safe to assume that you agree with him on infanticide? If you think that one doesn’t imply the other, that’s exactly my point. Your all or nothing thinking is obfuscating clear analysis of D’Souza’s point. Your “shock” seems to stem from misunderstanding.

      The question D’Souza raises is why haven’t atheists embraced Singer, on this particular point, considering they agree with his fundemental starting point that led him to that conclusion. I think it’s a valid question and deserves closer attention.

      Lastly, things have been going wonderful for the fam and I, thanks for asking and I pray you’re doing great as well. =)

  2. Whoops maybe my message came across less explicit then I intended, I didn’t mean ‘Christians’ – I meant D’Souza specifically. Does that make the point any different to you?

    • Not really. The same point applies to D’Souza specifically. Strongly disagreeing with someone on one point doesn’t imply that you disagree with them on all points.

      Though I do appreciate you clarifying; too often people will just expect you to read their minds. 🙂

  3. I’m no D’Souza scholar, but I do sporadically run across his work. Quoting his article from 3/17/09 which you use.

    “He cheerfully advocates infanticide and euthanasia and, in almost the same breath, favors animal rights. Even most liberals would have qualms about third-trimester abortions; Singer does not hesitate to advocate what may be termed fourth-trimester abortions, i.e., the killing of infants after they are born.”

    I’ve read some Singer, and I’ve never gotten these impressions – he’s hardly ‘cheerful’ when talking about such complicated, and morbid situations. Also ‘does not hesitate’ is hardly true, he spends a good bit of time detailing why this ‘might’ be a good idea in certain circumstances (Spina-Bifada is one he uses – a very rare but horrifying situation) but accepts further discussion is of course needed – and broad mandatory conformity is not required or recommended.

    Then D’Souza goes on, as you quoted, to create an extremely false dichotomy:

    “Instead of government-conducted genocide, Singer favors free-market homicide.”

    He hardly does such a thing. Actually his positions on this ‘homicide’ (typically a word equated with murder) is really mutual-consented euthanasia. Which all personal beliefs aside, already takes place. For instance I can tell my lawyer if my brain shrinks let’s say 200cc after an accident to please remove my feeding tube/life support. Other examples exist, the list is too long to go over.

    Basically this notion of either government genocide OR homicide in a free-market sense is very misleading, and I’d say factually false, but this is semantical territory.

    Now to address what you asked, and D’Souza (while not embodying any other Christians)

    “Why haven’t the atheists embraced Peter Singer? I suspect it is because they fear that his unpalatable views will discredit the cause of atheism.”

    Some have, some haven’t. I have, and it has nothing to do with chalking up points for atheist or anything of the sort – strictly speaking, I’m just often utilitarian in my philosophy – if Singer was a deist, theist, agnostic, pantheist, etc, wouldn’t make a difference to me. Stalin wouldn’t take up Singer because it would obviously go against his staunch ideological beliefs on how to best govern. So just like you rightfully point out, I shouldn’t (and didn’t mean to if it came across that way) lump Christians together, D’Souza should also not lump atheist together. Singer’s animal ethics, and some of his other philosophies are respected by a broad range of creeds and cultures, and he even addresses these groups in numerous books of his, of numerous topics, asking them to join him in the fight against suffering and poverty(And many do – PETA for instance is exponentially comprised of more Christian then it is atheist).

    On another side note, I don’t know what “discredit the cause of atheism” even means…Does he mean the starting point where a now atheist began to doubt, or does he mean some shared hand & hand cause? I know he says:

    “Singer, virtually alone among their numbers, is uncompromisingly working out the implications of living in a truly secular society, one completely purged of Christian and transcendental foundations. In Singer, we may be witnessing someone both horrifying and yet somehow refreshing: an intellectually honest atheist.”

    He never demands, let alone even ask for or suggest that theist of any type be ‘purged’ or their moral convictions be purged, just questioned – healthy self-questioning is hardly radical. As far as this implied false dichotomy of Singer be refreshing because he’s intellectually honest, well you know what the implication is here…

    Sorry if this is a long post, I just can’t hop on board with D’Souzas broad generalizations, false dichotomies, and both tacit and overt caricatures. I can never tell if his motivation is ethically driven, or profit and fame driven – aiming for shock value.

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