I don’t want to make too much of it, but Peter Singer of Princeton University, whom I have regularly referred to as “the philosopher from nowhere,” has a long essay in the New York Review of Books on the thirtieth anniversary of the animal rights movement. The essay immediately preceding his is a reflection on a novel by Aleksandar Hemon, Nowhere Man. There is possibly an editor there with a sense of humor. Singer’s ethical utilitarianism is a form of rationalism that rigorously prescinds from tradition, habit, instinct, or anything that smacks of authority, especially religious authority. This leads him to a position of equal consideration for all sentient beings. The core question, he writes, is this: “Should all and only human beings be protected by rights, when some nonhuman animals are superior in their intellectual capacities, and have richer emotional lives, than some human beings?” Singer answers that question in the negative and declares that those who disagree are guilty of “speciesism.” His contention is “that a difference of species is not an ethically defensible ground for giving less consideration to the interests of a sentient being than we give to similar interests of a member of our own species.” Question: If a house containing a healthy chimp and a severely retarded child is on fire, which would Peter Singer try to rescue? Maybe neither, since a utilitarian argument might be made that neither is worth risking the more valuable life of Peter Singer. I would like to think, however, that his human decency would trump his ethical theory and he would try to rescue the child. But maybe not.Could Peter Singer be consistent?
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
Neuhaus on Singer...
From Richard John Neuhaus in the March issue of First Things: