|Peter Singer, AC|
|Born||Peter Albert David Singer
6 July 1946
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
|Alma mater||University of Melbourne
University College, Oxford
|School||Analytic philosophy · Utilitarianism|
|Equal consideration of interests, Drowning child analogy|
Peter Albert David Singer, AC (born 6 July 1946) is an Australian moral philosopher. He is currently the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and a Laureate Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. He specializes in applied ethics and approaches ethical issues from a secular, utilitarian perspective. He is known in particular for his book, Animal Liberation (1975), a canonical text in animal rights/liberation theory. For most of his career, he supported preference utilitarianism, but in his later years became a classical or hedonistic utilitarian, when co-authoring The Point of View of the Universe with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek.
On two occasions, Singer served as chair of the philosophy department at Monash University, where he founded its Centre for Human Bioethics. In 1996 he stood unsuccessfully as a Greens candidate for the Australian Senate. In 2004 he was recognised as the Australian Humanist of the Year by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies, and in June 2012 was named a Companion of the Order of Australia for his services to philosophy and bioethics. He serves on the Advisory Board of Incentives for Global Health, the NGO formed to develop the Health Impact Fund proposal. He was voted one of Australia's ten most influential public intellectuals in 2006. Singer currently serves on the advisory board of Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP).
- 1 Life and career
- 2 Animal Liberation
- 3 Applied ethics
- 3.1 Euthanasia and infanticide
- 3.2 Abortion
- 3.3 World poverty
- 3.4 Effective altruism
- 3.5 Other views
- 3.6 Criticism of Singer
- 4 Meta-ethics and foundational issues
- 5 Honours
- 6 Personal life
- 7 See also
- 8 Publications
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Life and career
Singer's parents were Viennese Jews who emigrated to Australia from Vienna in 1938, after Austria's annexation by Nazi Germany. They settled in Melbourne, where Singer was born. His grandparents were less fortunate: his paternal grandparents were taken by the Nazis to Łódź, and were never heard from again; his maternal grandfather died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. He has a sister, Joan (now Joan Dwyer). Singer's grandfather, David Oppenheim, published numerous papers with Sigmund Freud before a falling out between the two in Venice. Singer's father imported tea and coffee, while his mother practiced medicine. He attended Preshil and later Scotch College. After leaving school, Singer studied law, history and philosophy at the University of Melbourne, gaining his BA degree (hons) in 1967. He received an MA for a thesis entitled Why should I be moral? in 1969. He was awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Oxford, and obtained from there a B.Phil in 1971, with a thesis on civil disobedience supervised by R. M. Hare and subsequently published as a book in 1973. Singer names Hare and Australian philosopher H. J. McCloskey as his two most important mentors.
After spending two years as a Radcliffe lecturer at University College, Oxford, he was a visiting professor at New York University for 16 months. He returned to Melbourne in 1977, where he spent most of his career, aside from appointments as visiting faculty abroad, until his move to Princeton in 1999. In June 2011 it was announced he would join the professoriate of New College of the Humanities, a private college in London, in addition to his work at Princeton.
According to philosopher Helga Kuhse, Singer is "almost certainly the best-known and most widely read of all contemporary philosophers". Michael Specter wrote that Singer is among the most influential of contemporary philosophers.
Published in 1975, Animal Liberation has been cited as a formative influence on leaders of the modern animal liberation movement. The central argument of the book is an expansion of the utilitarian idea that "the greatest good of the greatest number" is the only measure of good or ethical behaviour. Singer believes that there is no reason not to apply this principle to other animals, arguing that the boundary between human and "animal" is completely arbitrary. There are far more differences, for instance, between a great ape and an oyster, for example, than between a human and a great ape, and yet the former two are lumped together as "animals," whereas we are considered "human" in a way that supposedly differentiates us from all other "animals."
In particular, Singer argues that while animals show lower intelligence than the average human, many severely intellectually challenged humans show equally diminished, if not lower, mental capacity, and that some animals have displayed signs of intelligence sometimes on a par with that of or exceeding human children. Singer therefore argues that intelligence does not provide a basis for allotting nonhuman animals any less consideration than such intellectually challenged humans.
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Singer's most comprehensive work, Practical Ethics (1979), analyzes in detail why and how living beings' interests should be weighed. His principle of equal consideration of interests does not dictate equal treatment of all those with interests, since different interests warrant different treatment. All have an interest in avoiding pain, for instance, but relatively few have an interest in cultivating their abilities. Not only does his principle justify different treatment for different interests, but it allows different treatment for the same interest when diminishing marginal utility is a factor. For example, this approach would privilege a starving person's interest in food over the same interest of someone who is only slightly hungry.
Among the more important human interests are those in avoiding pain, in developing one's abilities, in satisfying basic needs for food and shelter, in enjoying warm personal relationships, in being free to pursue one's projects without interference, "and many others". The fundamental interest that entitles a being to equal consideration is the capacity for "suffering and/or enjoyment or happiness". Singer holds that a being's interests should always be weighed according to that being's concrete properties. He favors a 'journey' model of life, which measures the wrongness of taking a life by the degree to which doing so frustrates a life journey's goals.[clarification needed] The journey model is tolerant of some frustrated desire and explains why persons who have embarked on their journeys are not replaceable. Only a personal interest in continuing to live brings the journey model into play. This model also explains the priority that Singer attaches to interests over trivial desires and pleasures.
Singer's ideas require the concept of an impartial standpoint from which to compare interests. He has wavered about whether the precise aim is the total amount of satisfied interests or the most satisfied interests among those beings who already exist prior to the decision-making. The second edition of Practical Ethics disavows the first edition's suggestion that the total and prior-existence views should be combined. The second edition asserts that preference-satisfaction utilitarianism, incorporating the 'journey' model, applies without invoking the first edition's suggestion about the total view. The details are fuzzy, however, and Singer admits that he is "not entirely satisfied" with his treatment.
Ethical conduct is justifiable by reasons that go beyond prudence to "something bigger than the individual," addressing a larger audience. Singer thinks this going-beyond identifies moral reasons as "somehow universal", specifically in the injunction to 'love thy neighbor as thyself', interpreted by him as demanding that one give the same weight to the interests of others as one gives to one's own interests. This universalising step, which Singer traces from Kant to Hare, is crucial and sets him apart from those moral theorists, from Hobbes to David Gauthier, who tie morality to prudence. Universalisation leads directly to utilitarianism, Singer argues, on the strength of the thought that one's own interests cannot count for more than the interests of others. Taking these into account, one must weigh them up and adopt the course of action that is most likely to maximise the interests of those affected; utilitarianism has been arrived at. Singer's universalising step applies to interests without reference to who has them, whereas a Kantian's applies to the judgments of rational agents (in Kant's kingdom of ends, or Rawls's Original Position, etc.). Singer regards Kantian universalisation as unjust to animals. As for the Hobbesians, Singer attempts a response in the final chapter of Practical Ethics, arguing that self-interested reasons support adoption of the moral point of view, such as 'the paradox of hedonism', which counsels that happiness is best found by not looking for it, and the need most people feel to relate to something larger than their own concerns.
Practical Ethics includes a chapter arguing for the redistribution of wealth to ameliorate absolute poverty (Chapter 8, "Rich and Poor"), and another making a case for resettlement of refugees on a large scale in industrialised countries (Chapter 9, "Insiders and Outsiders").
Although the natural, non-sentient environment has no intrinsic value for a utilitarian like Singer, environmental degradation is a profound threat to sentient life, and for this reason he states that environmentalists are right to speak of wilderness as a 'world heritage'.
Euthanasia and infanticide
Consistent with his general ethical theory, Singer holds that the right to life is essentially tied to a being's capacity to hold preferences, which in turn is essentially tied to a being's capacity to feel pain and pleasure. Critics such as Laing hold that this view is subject to charges of inconsistency, equivocation and contradiction.
Similar to his argument for abortion, Singer argues that newborns lack the essential characteristics of personhood—"rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness"—and therefore "killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living."
Singer's book Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional Ethics offers further examination of the ethical dilemmas concerning the advances of medicine. He covers the value of human life and quality of life ethics in addition to abortion and other controversial ethical questions.
Religious critics have argued that Singer's ethic ignores and undermines the traditional notion of the sanctity of life; whereas bioethics associated with the Disability Rights and Disability Studies communities have argued that his epistemology is based on ableist conceptions of disability. Singer agrees and believes the notion of the sanctity of life ought to be discarded as outdated, unscientific and irrelevant to understanding problems in contemporary bioethics.
Singer has experienced the complexities of some of these questions in his own life. His mother had Alzheimer's disease. He said, "I think this has made me see how the issues of someone with these kinds of problems are really very difficult". In an interview with Ronald Bailey, published in December 2000, he explained that his sister shares the responsibility of making decisions about his mother. He did say that, if he were solely responsible, his mother might not continue to live.
In Singer's view, the central argument against abortion may be stated as the following syllogism:
It is wrong to kill an innocent human being.
A human fetus is an innocent human being.
Therefore it is wrong to kill a human fetus.
In his book Rethinking Life and Death, as well as in Practical Ethics, Singer asserts that, if we take the premises at face value, the argument is deductively valid. Singer comments that defenders of abortion attack the second premise, suggesting that the fetus becomes a "human" or "alive" at some point after conception; however, Singer finds this argument flawed in that human development is a gradual process, and it is nearly impossible to mark a particular moment in time as the moment at which human life begins.
Singer's argument for abortion differs from those given by many other proponents of abortion; rather than attacking the second premise of the anti-abortion argument, Singer attacks the first premise, denying that it is necessarily wrong to take innocent human life:
[The argument that a fetus is not alive] is a resort to a convenient fiction that turns an evidently living being into one that legally is not alive. Instead of accepting such fictions, we should recognise that the fact that a being is human, and alive, does not in itself tell us whether it is wrong to take that being's life.
Singer states that arguments for or against abortion should be based on utilitarian calculation which compares the preferences of a woman against the preferences of the fetus. In his view a preference is anything sought to be obtained or avoided; all forms of benefit or harm caused to a being correspond directly with the satisfaction or frustration of one or more of its preferences. Since a capacity to experience the sensations of suffering or satisfaction is a prerequisite to having any preferences at all, and a fetus, up to around eighteen weeks, says Singer, has no capacity to suffer or feel satisfaction, it is not possible for such a fetus to hold any preferences at all. In a utilitarian calculation, there is nothing to weigh against a woman's preferences to have an abortion; therefore, abortion is morally permissible.
Singer's book Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional Ethics offers further examination of the ethical dilemmas concerning the advances of medicine. He covers the value of human life and quality of life ethics in addition to abortion and other controversial ethical questions.
In "Famine, Affluence, and Morality", one of Singer's best-known philosophical essays, he argues that some people living in abundance while others starve is morally indefensible. Singer proposes that anyone able to help the poor should donate part of their income to aid poverty relief and similar efforts. Singer reasons that, when one is already living comfortably, a further purchase to increase comfort will lack the same moral importance as saving another person's life. Singer himself reports that he donates around 33% of his salary to a variety of cost-effective charities. and he is a member of Giving What We Can, an international society for the promotion of poverty relief inspired by Singer's arguments. In "Rich and Poor", the version of the aforementioned article that appears in the second edition of Practical Ethics, his main argument is presented as follows:
If we can prevent something bad without sacrificing anything of comparable significance, we ought to do it; absolute poverty is bad; there is some poverty we can prevent without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance; therefore we ought to prevent some absolute poverty.
Singer's 2009 book, The Life You Can Save, makes the argument that it is a clear-cut moral imperative for citizens of developed countries to give more to charitable causes that help the poor. While Singer acknowledges that there are problems with ensuring that money goes where it is most needed and that it is used effectively, he does not think that these practical difficulties undermine his original conclusion (that people should make a much greater effort to reduce poverty).
Singer is an advocate of effective altruism. Consistent with his utilitarian moral outlook, he argues that people should not only try to reduce suffering, but reduce it in the most effective manner possible. While Singer has previously written at length about the moral imperative to eliminate the suffering of nonhuman animals, particularly in the meat industry, and end world poverty, he writes about how the effective altruism movement is doing these things more effectively in his 2015 book, The Most Good You Can Do. His own organisation, The Life You Can Save, also recommends a selection of charities deemed by charity evaluators such as GiveWell to be the most effective. In addition, he is a board member of Animal Charity Evaluators, a charity evaluator used by many members of the effective altruism community which recommends the most cost-effective vegetarian and animal advocacy charities.
Doping in elite sports
Singer agrees with Julian Savulescu that elite athletes should be allowed to take whatever performance-enhancing drugs they wish, "as long as it is safe for them to do so." The argument is that, "without drugs, those with the best genes have an unfair advantage. . . . Setting a maximum level of red blood cells [for endurance events] actually levels the playing field by reducing the impact of the genetic lottery. Effort then becomes more important than having the right genes."
Evolutionary biology and leftist politics
In A Darwinian Left, Singer outlines a plan for the political left to adapt to the lessons of evolutionary biology. He says that evolutionary psychology suggests that humans naturally tend to be self-interested. He further argues that the evidence that selfish tendencies are natural must not be taken as evidence that selfishness is "right." He concludes that game theory (the mathematical study of strategy) and experiments in psychology offer hope that self-interested people will make short-term sacrifices for the good of others, if society provides the right conditions. Essentially Singer claims that although humans possess selfish, competitive tendencies naturally, they have a substantial capacity for cooperation that has also been selected for during human evolution. Singer's writing in Greater Good magazine, published by the Greater Good Science Center of the University of California, Berkeley, includes the interpretation of scientific research into the roots of compassion, altruism, and peaceful human relationships.
Nonetheless, he claims not to be anti-capitalist. In an interview with New Left Project in 2010, he said the following:
Capitalism is very far from a perfect system, but so far we have yet to find anything that clearly does a better job of meeting human needs than a regulated capitalist economy coupled with a welfare and health care system that meets the basic needs of those who do not thrive in the capitalist economy.
He then adds that "If we ever do find a better system, I'll be happy to call myself an anti-capitalist."
Although he has expressed admiration for many of the values promoted by secular humanism, Singer believes it to be incomplete and promotes a preference utilitarian view he calls "personism" instead.
In 1985, Singer wrote a book with the physician Deanne Wells arguing that surrogate motherhood should be allowed and regulated by the state by establishing non-profit 'State Surrogacy Boards', which would ensure fairness between surrogate mothers and surrogacy-seeking parents. Singer and Wells endorsed both the payment of medical expenses endured by surrogate mothers and an extra "fair fee" to compensate the surrogate mother.
Vegetarianism and ethics of food consumption
In an article for the online publication Chinadialogue, Singer called Western-style meat production cruel, unhealthy and damaging to the ecosystem. He rejected the idea that the method was necessary to meet the population's increasing demand, explaining that animals in factory farms have to eat food grown explicitly for them, and they burn up most of the food's energy just to breathe and keep their bodies warm.
I don't eat meat. I've been a vegetarian since 1971. I've gradually become increasingly vegan. I am largely vegan but I'm a flexible vegan. I don't go to the supermarket and buy non-vegan stuff for myself. But when I'm traveling or going to other people's places I will be quite happy to eat vegetarian rather than vegan.
In addition to his addressing issues concerning the consumption of animal products, Singer's "Can You Do Good by Eating Well?" in Greater Good examines the ethics of eating locally grown food.
In a 2001 review of Midas Dekkers' Dearest Pet: On Bestiality, Singer argues that sexual activities between humans and animals that result in harm to the animal should remain illegal, but that "sex with animals does not always involve cruelty" and that "mutually satisfying activities" of a sexual nature may sometimes occur between humans and animals, and that writer Otto Soyka would condone such activities. This position is countered by fellow philosopher Tom Regan, who writes that the same argument could be used to justify having sex with children. Regan writes that Singer's position is a consequence of his adapting a utilitarian, or consequentialist, approach to animal rights, rather than a strictly rights-based one, and argues that the rights-based position distances itself from non-consensual sex. The Humane Society of the United States takes the position that all sexual molestation of animals by humans is abusive, whether it involves physical injury or not.
Singer is an atheist. He was a speaker at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention. He has debated with Christians such as John Lennox and Dinesh D'Souza. Singer has pointed out the problem of evil as an objection against the Christian conception of God. He stated: "The evidence of our own eyes makes it more plausible to believe that the world was not created by any god at all. If, however, we insist on believing in divine creation, we are forced to admit that the god who made the world cannot be all-powerful and all good. He must be either evil or a bungler." In keeping with his considerations of non-human animals, Singer also takes issue with the original sin reply to the problem of evil, saying that, "animals also suffer from floods, fires, and droughts, and, since they are not descended from Adam and Eve, they cannot have inherited original sin."
Criticism of Singer
Singer's positions have been criticised by groups, such as advocates for disabled people and right-to-life supporters, concerned with what they see as his attacks upon human dignity. Singer has replied that many people judge him based on secondhand summaries and short quotations taken out of context, not his books or articles.
Some claim that Singer's utilitarian ideas lead to eugenics. American publisher Steve Forbes ceased his donations to Princeton University in 1999 because of Singer's appointment to a prestigious professorship. Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal wrote to organisers of a Swedish book fair to which Singer was invited that "A professor of morals ... who justifies the right to kill handicapped newborns ... is in my opinion unacceptable for representation at your level." Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, criticised Singer's appointment to the Princeton Faculty in a banquet speech at the organisation's national convention in July 2001, claiming that Singer's support for euthanizing disabled babies could lead to disabled older children and adults being valued less as well. Conservative psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple wrote in 2010 that Singerian moral universalism is "preposterous—psychologically, theoretically, and practically".
Singer's work has attracted criticism from other philosophers. Bernard Williams, who was a critic of utilitarianism, said of Singer that he "is always so keen to mortify himself and tell everyone how to live". Williams criticised Singer's ethic by saying that he's "always so damn logical" and thus "leaves out an entire dimension of value". Williams claimed that Singer's utilitarianism is impractical as it's impossible to "make these calculations and comparisons in real life".
Williams develops an extended critique of Singer for suggesting that "speciesism" is a prejudice roughly equivalent to sexism or racism by suggesting that we have yet to face the sort of scenarios where species membership would become a morally significant property, but that some science fiction-style thought experiments may provide such examples. He imagines an invasion of aliens that are "very disgusting indeed: their faces, for instance, if those are faces, are seething with what seem to be worms, but if we wait long enough to find out what they are at, we may gather that they are quite benevolent". Said aliens "want to live with us—rather closely with us" even though their "disgustingness is really, truly, unforgettable". Williams also suggests that another sort of alien visitors might have "much more successful experience than we have in running peacable societies" but that they would need to exercise significant control and remove the cultural autonomy of human beings. In both scenarios, Williams argues, it would be perfectly reasonable for human beings to treat their species membership as a reasonable morally significant property. Singer responds to Williams by arguing that the right and courageous thing to do is to make the decision without regards to species.
The aesthetics philosopher Roger Scruton wrote in 2000, "Singer's works, remarkably for a philosophy professor, contain little or no philosophical argument. They derive their radical moral conclusions from a vacuous utilitarianism that counts the pain and pleasure of all living things as equally significant and that ignores just about everything that has been said in our philosophical tradition about the real distinction between persons and animals".
In 2002 disability rights activist Harriet McBryde Johnson debated Singer, challenging his belief that parents ought to be able to euthanize their disabled children. "Unspeakable Conversations," Johnson's account of her encounters with Singer and the pro-euthanasia movement, was published in the New York Times Magazine in 2003. It also served as inspiration for The Thrill, a 2013 play by Judith Thompson partly based on Johnson's life.
In 1989 and 1990, Peter Singer's work was the subject of a number of protests in Germany. A course in ethics led by Dr Hartmut Kliemt at the University of Duisburg where the main text used was Singer's Practical Ethics was, according to Singer, "subjected to organized and repeated disruption by protesters objecting to the use of the book on the grounds that in one of its ten chapters it advocates active euthanasia for severely disabled newborn infants". The protests led to the course being shut down.
When Singer tried to speak during a lecture at Saarbrücken, he was interrupted by a group of protesters including advocates for the disabled. He offered the protesters the opportunity to explain why he should not be allowed to speak. The protesters indicated that they believed he was opposed to all rights for the disabled. They were unaware that, although Singer believes that some lives are so blighted from the beginning that their parents may decide their lives are not worth living, in other cases, once the decision is made to keep them alive, everything that can be done to improve the quality of their life should, to Singer's mind, be done. The ensuing discussion revealed that there were many misconceptions about his positions, but the revelation did not end the controversy. One of the protesters expressed that entering serious discussions was a tactical error.
The same year, Singer was invited to speak in Marburg at a European symposium on "Bioengineering, Ethics and Mental Disability". The invitation was fiercely attacked by leading intellectuals and organizations in German media, with an article in Der Spiegel comparing Singer's positions to Nazism. The symposium was eventually cancelled and Singer's invitation consequently withdrawn.
A lecture at the Zoological Institute of the University of Zurich was also interrupted by two groups of protesters. The first group was a group of disabled people who staged a brief protest at the beginning of the lecture. They objected to inviting an advocate of euthanasia to speak. At the end of this protest, when Singer tried to address their concerns, a second group of protesters rose and began chanting "Singer raus! Singer raus!" ("Singer out!") When Singer attempted to respond, a protester jumped on stage and grabbed his glasses, and the host ended the lecture. The first group of protesters was distressed by this second, more aggressive group. It had not intended to halt the lecture and even had questions to ask Singer. Singer explains "my views are not threatening to anyone, even minimally" and says that some groups play on the anxieties of those who hear only keywords that are understandably worrying (given the constant fears of ever repeating the Holocaust) if taken with any less than the full context of his belief system.
In 1991, Singer was due to speak along with R. M. Hare and Georg Meggle at the 15th International Wittgenstein Symposium in Kirchberg am Wechsel, Austria. Singer has stated that threats were made to Adolf Hübner, then the president of the Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society, that the conference would be disrupted if Singer and Meggle were given a platform. Hübner proposed to the board of the society that Singer's invitation (as well as the invitations of a number of other speakers) be withdrawn. The Society decided to cancel the symposium.
In an article originally published in The New York Review of Books, Singer argued that the protests dramatically increased the amount of coverage he got: "instead of a few hundred people hearing views at lectures in Marburg and Dortmund, several millions read about them or listened to them on television". Despite this, Singer argues that it has led to a difficult intellectual climate, with professors in Germany unable to teach courses on applied ethics and campaigns demanding the resignation of professors who invited Singer to speak.
Meta-ethics and foundational issues
Though Singer focuses more than many philosophers on applied ethical questions, he has also written in depth on foundational issues in meta-ethics, including why one ethical system should be chosen over others. In The Expanding Circle, he argues that the evolution of human society provides support for the utilitarian point of view. On his account, ethical reasoning has existed from the time primitive foraging bands had to cooperate, compromise, and make group decisions to survive. He elaborates: "In a dispute between members of a cohesive group of reasoning beings, the demand for a reason is a demand for a justification that can be accepted by the group as a whole." Thus, consideration of others' interests has long been a necessary part of the human experience. Singer believes that contemplative analysis may now guide one to accept a broader utilitarianism:
If I have seen that from an ethical point of view I am just one person among the many in my society, and my interests are no more important, from the point of view of the whole, than the similar interests of others within my society, I am ready to see that, from a still larger point of view, my society is just one among other societies, and the interests of members of my society are no more important, from that larger perspective, than the similar interests of members of other societies... Taking the impartial element in ethical reasoning to its logical conclusion means, first, accepting that we ought to have equal concern for all human beings.
Singer elaborates that viewing oneself as equal to others in one's society and at the same time viewing one's society as fundamentally superior to other societies may cause an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance. This is the sense in which he means that reason may push people to accept a broader utilitarian stance. Critics like Ken Binmore say that this cognitive dissonance is apparently not very strong, since people often knowingly ignore the interests of faraway societies quite similar to their own, and that the "ought" above only applies if one already accepts Singer's basic premises about the equality of various interests.[page needed]
An alternative line taken by Singer about the need for ethics is that living the ethical life may be, on the whole, more satisfying than seeking only material gain. He invokes the hedonistic paradox, noting that those who pursue material gain seldom find the happiness they seek. Having a broader purpose in life may lead to more long-term happiness. On this account, impartial (self-sacrificing) behavior in particular matters may be motivated by self-interested considerations from a broader perspective.
Singer has also implicitly argued that an airtight defense of utilitarianism is not crucial to his work. In "Famine, Affluence, and Morality", he begins by saying that he would like to see how far a seemingly innocuous and widely endorsed principle can take us; the principle is that one is morally required to forgo a small pleasure to relieve someone else's immense pain. He then argues that this principle entails radical conclusions—for example, that affluent people are very immoral if they do not give up some luxury goods to donate the money for famine relief. If his reasoning is valid, he goes on to argue, either it is not very immoral to value small luxuries over saving many lives, or such affluent people are very immoral. As Singer argues in the same essay, regardless of the soundness of his fundamental defense of utilitarianism, his argument has value in that it exposes conflicts between many people's stated beliefs and their actions.
On 11 June 2012, Singer was named a Companion of the Order of Australia for "eminent service to philosophy and bioethics as a leader of public debate and communicator of ideas in the areas of global poverty, animal welfare and the human condition."
Since 1968 he has been married to Renata née Diamond; they have three children: Ruth, Marion and Esther. Renata Singer is a novelist and author and has also collaborated on publications with her husband.
- Effective altruism
- Intrinsic value (animal ethics)
- Argument from marginal cases
- Utilitarian bioethics
- Demandingness objection
- Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for our Treatment of Animals, New York Review/Random House, New York, 1975; Cape, London, 1976; Avon, New York, 1977; Paladin, London, 1977; Thorsons, London, 1983. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, New York, 2009.
- Democracy and Disobedience, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1973; Oxford University Press, New York, 1974; Gregg Revivals, Aldershot, Hampshire, 1994
- Practical Ethics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1980; second edition, 1993; third edition, 2011. ISBN 0-521-22920-0, ISBN 0-521-29720-6, ISBN 978-0-521-70768-8
- Marx, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1980; Hill & Wang, New York, 1980; reissued as Marx: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2000; also included in full in K. Thomas (ed.), Great Political Thinkers: Machiavelli, Hobbes, Mill and Marx, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992
- The Expanding Circle: Ethics and Sociobiology, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1981; Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1981; New American Library, New York, 1982. ISBN 0-19-283038-4
- Hegel, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 1982; reissued as Hegel: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2001; also included in full in German Philosophers: Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1997
- How Are We to Live? Ethics in an Age of Self-interest, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 1993; Mandarin, London, 1995; Prometheus, Buffalo, NY, 1995; Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1997
- Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional Ethics, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 1994; St Martin's Press, New York, 1995; reprint 2008. ISBN 0-312-11880-5 Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995
- Ethics into Action: Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 1998; Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1999
- A Darwinian Left, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1999; Yale University Press, New Haven, 2000. ISBN 0-300-08323-8
- One World: The Ethics of Globalisation, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2002; Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2002; 2nd edition, pb, Yale University Press, 2004; Oxford Longman, Hyderabad, 2004. ISBN 0-300-09686-0
- Pushing Time Away: My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna, Ecco Press, New York, 2003; HarperCollins Australia, Melbourne, 2003; Granta, London, 2004
- The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush, Dutton, New York, 2004; Granta, London, 2004; Text, Melbourne, 2004. ISBN 0-525-94813-9
- The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty. New York: Random House 2009.
- The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically. Yale University Press, 2015.
- Animal Factories (co-author with James Mason), Crown, New York, 1980
- Test-Tube Babies: a guide to moral questions, present techniques, and future possibilities (co-edited with William Walters), Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1982
- The Reproduction Revolution: New Ways of Making Babies (co-author with Deane Wells), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1984. revised American edition, Making Babies, Scribner's New York, 1985
- Animal Liberation: A Graphic Guide (co-author with Lori Gruen), Camden Press, London, 1987
- Should the Baby Live? The Problem of Handicapped Infants (co-author with Helga Kuhse), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985; Oxford University Press, New York, 1986; Gregg Revivals, Aldershot, Hampshire, 1994. ISBN 0-19-217745-1
- Ethical and Legal Issues in Guardianship Options for Intellectually Disadvantaged People (co-author with Terry Carney), Human Rights Commission Monograph Series, no. 2, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1986
- How Ethical is Australia? An Examination of Australia's Record as a Global Citizen (with Tom Gregg), Black Inc, Melbourne, 2004
- The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter (or The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter), Rodale, New York, 2006 (co-author with Jim Mason); Text, Melbourne; Random House, London. Audio version: Playaway. ISBN 1-57954-889-X
- Eating (co-authored with Jim Mason), Arrow, London, 2006
- Stem Cell Research: the ethical issues. (co-edited by Lori Gruen, Laura Grabel, and Peter Singer). New York: Blackwells. 2007.
- The Future of Animal Farming: Renewing the Ancient Contract (with Marian Stamp Dawkins, and Roland Bonney) 2008. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.
- The Point of View of the Universe: Sidgwick and Contemporary Ethics (with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek), Oxford University Press, 2014
Edited and co-edited volumes and anthologies
- Animal Rights and Human Obligations: An Anthology (co-editor with Thomas Regan), Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1976. 2nd revised edition, Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1989
- In Defence of Animals (ed.), Blackwells, Oxford, 1985; Harper & Row, New York, 1986. ISBN 0-631-13897-8
- Applied Ethics (ed.), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1986
- Embryo Experimentation (co-editor with Helga Kuhse, Stephen Buckle, Karen Dawson and Pascal Kasimba), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990; paperback edition, updated, 1993
- A Companion to Ethics (ed.), Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1991; paperback edition, 1993
- Save the Animals! (Australian edition, co-author with Barbara Dover and Ingrid Newkirk), Collins Angus & Robertson, North Ryde, NSW, 1991
- The Great Ape Project: Equality Beyond Humanity (co-editor with Paola Cavalieri), Fourth Estate, London, 1993; hardback, St Martin's Press, New York, 1994; paperback, St Martin's Press, New York, 1995
- Ethics (ed.), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1994
- Individuals, Humans and Persons: Questions of Life and Death (co-author with Helga Kuhse), Academia Verlag, Sankt Augustin, Germany, 1994
- The Greens (co-author with Bob Brown), Text Publishing, Melbourne, 1996
- The Allocation of Health Care Resources: An Ethical Evaluation of the "QALY" Approach (co-author with John McKie, Jeff Richardson and Helga Kuhse), Ashgate/Dartmouth, Aldershot, 1998
- A Companion to Bioethics (co-editor with Helga Kuhse), Blackwell, Oxford, 1998
- Bioethics. An Anthology (co-editor with Helga Kuhse), Blackwell, 1999/ Oxford, 2006
- The Moral of the Story: An Anthology of Ethics Through Literature (co-edited with Renata Singer), Blackwell, Oxford, 2005
- In Defense of Animals. The Second Wave (ed.), Blackwell, Oxford, 2005
- The Bioethics Reader: Editors' Choice. (co-editor with Ruth Chadwick, Helga Kuhse, Willem Landman and Udo Schüklenk). New York: Blackwell, 2007
- J. M. Coetzee and Ethics: Philosophical Perspectives on Literature (co-editor with A. Leist), New York: Columbia University Press, 2010
Anthologies of Singer's work
- Writings on an Ethical Life, Ecco, New York, 2000; Fourth Estate, London, 2001. ISBN 0-06-019838-9
- Unsanctifying Human Life: Essays on Ethics (edited by Helga Kuhse), Blackwell, Oxford, 2001
Commentary volumes on Singer's work
- Jamieson, Dale (ed.). Singer and His Critics. Wiley-Blackwell, 1999
- Schaler, Jeffrey A. (ed.), Peter Singer Under Fire: The Moral Iconoclast Faces His Critics. Chicago: Open Court Publishers, 2009
- Davidow, Ben (ed.). "Peter Singer" Uncaged: Top Activists Share Their Wisdom on Effective Farm Animal Advocacy Davidow Press, 2013
- "Companion (AC) in the General Division of the Order of Australia – The Queen's Birthday 2012 Honours Lists" (PDF). Official Secretary to the Governor-General of Australia. 11 June 2012. p. 8.
- Richard Nile (4 October 2006). "First cohort for thought".
- Thompson, Peter (28 May 2007). "Talking Heads – Peter Singer". Retrieved 24 October 2011.
- Douglas Aiton: Ten Things You Didn't Know about Professor Peter Singer; The Weekend Australian magazine, 27 February 2005
- Singer, Peter (28 May 2007). Pushing Time Away – Peter Singer. Retrieved 9 January 2012.
- Suzannah Pearce, ed (17 November 2006). "RICHARDSON (Sue) Susan". Who's Who in Australia Live!. North Melbourne, Vic: Crown Content Pty Ltd.
- Vulliamy, Ed (15 February 2009). "Peter Singer: Moral arbiter of life and death". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 24 October 2011.
- Democracy and Disobedience, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973, ISBN 0-19-824504-1.
- Appel, Jacob M. Interview with Peter Singer, Philosopher and Educator, Education Update, July 2004. educationupdate.com
- Peter Singer's university website
Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics
Peter Singer. Resources on Singer, including book excerpts, articles, interviews, reviews and writings about him.
Peter Singer biography
Peter Singer debates his views on a BBC/RSA panel in London, 5 September 2006
Peter Singer's monthly Project Syndicate commentary series "The Ethics of Life"
Singer's article in Greater Good Magazine about the ethics of eating locally grown good
The Singer Solution to World Poverty
Peter Singer on animal rights (PDF)
- "The professoriate", New College of the Humanities, accessed 8 June 2011.
- Helga Kuhse, ed. (2002). Unsanctifying human life: essays on ethics. New York: Blackwell. p. 2. ISBN 0631225072.
- Michael Specter, "The Dangerous Philosopher", The New Yorker, 6 September 1999
- Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for our Treatment of Animals, New York: New York review/Random House, 1975, ISBN 0-394-40096-8; second edition, 1990, ISBN 0-940322-00-5.
- "Karen Dawn's Biography". Thankingthemonkey.com. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- Singer, Peter. "On Humans and Animals". IAI TV. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
- Peter Singer, "A Utilitarian Defense of Animal Liberation," in Environmental Ethics, ed. Louis Pojman (Stamford, CT: Wadsworth, 2001), 35.
- Practical Ethics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979, ISBN 0-521-22920-0; second edition, 1993, ISBN 0-521-43363-0.
- Practical Ethics, p. xi
- Practical Ethics, p. 11
- Animal Liberation, pp. 211, 256
- Practical Ethics, p. 269
- Taking Life: Humans, Excerpted from Practical Ethics, 2nd edition, 1993
- Singer, Peter. Peter Singer FAQ, Princeton University, accessed 8 March 2009.
- Singer, Peter. "An Interview". Writings on an Ethical Life. pp. 319–329. ISBN 1841155500.
- Quoted in Michael Specter, "The Dangerous Philosopher", The New Yorker, 6 September 1999.
- Ronald Bailey, "The Pursuit of Happiness", Reason (magazine), December 2000.
- Abortion 1995
- Rethinking Life and Death 105.
- "Famine, Affluence, and Morality", Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 3 (Spring 1972), pp. 229–243.
- One point of contention is at what point a person may be said to be "living comfortably" and "Famine, Affluence And Morality" does not set out to specify this.
- "How to Live an Ethical Life". Big Think. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
- "List of Members". Retrieved 22 November 2012.
- Op. cit., pp. 218–246.
- Life You Can Save: How to Live, or How to Give?, Philanthropy Action, 1 April 2009
- "Board of Directors". Retrieved 2015-02-18.
- Peter Singer: The why and how of effective altruism | Talk Video. TED.com.
- Singer, Peter (14 August 2007). "Is Doping Wrong?". Project Syndicate. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
- A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution, and Cooperation, New Haven : Yale University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-300-08323-8.
- "Newleftproject.org". Newleftproject.org. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- Pablo Stafforini. "Utilitarian.net". Utilitarian.net. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- Singer, Peter (1985). Making babies: The New Science and Ethics of Conception. C. Scribner's Sons.
- Rosemarie Tong. "Chapter 27: Surrogate Motherhood". In R. G. Frey and Christopher Heath Wellman. A Companion to Applied Ethics. p. 376. ISBN 1557865949.
- "The ethics of eating" chinadialogue. 30 August 2006
- Dave Gilson (3 May 2006). "Chew the Right Thing". Mother Jones. Retrieved 13 March 2009.
- Singer, Peter. Heavy Petting at the Wayback Machine (archived March 16, 2008), Nerve, 2001. Archived from the original on 16 March 2008
- Regan, Tom. Animal Rights, Human Wrongs. Rowman & Littlefield, 2003, pp. 63–4, 89.
- "NManimalcontrol.com". NManimalcontrol.com. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- "Peter Singer". .atheistconvention.org.au. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
- "Singer vs Lennox: Is There a God?". ABC.net.au. 6 September 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
- "Singer, D’Souza face off over religion and morality". Princeton Alumni Weekly. 28 January 2009. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
- Peter Singer (8 May 2008). "The God of Suffering?". Project Syndicate. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
- "The Death Penalty – Again". Project Syndicate. 11 October 2011. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
- "ETHICS MATTER: A Conversation with Peter Singer". Policy Innovations. 17 October 2011. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
- "[T]he aim of my argument is to elevate the status of animals rather than to lower the status of any humans" (Practical Ethics, p. 77).
- Peter Singer Practical Ethics 3rd edition
- "Steve Forbes Declines Princeton Financial Backing Due to Singer Hiring". Euthanasia.com. 21 September 1999. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- Don Felder, "Professor Death will fit right in at Princeton", Jewish World Review, 28 October 1998.
- "Independence and the Necessity for Diplomacy". Nfb.org. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- Dalrymple, Theodore (2010). Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality. Gibson Square Books Ltd. p. 226. ISBN 1-906142-61-0.
- Williams, Bernard (2009). "The Human Prejudice". In Jeffrey A. Schaler. Peter Singer under fire: the moral iconoclast faces his critics. Chicago: Open Court. pp. 92–93. ISBN 9780812696189.
- Singer, Peter (2009). "Reply to Bernard Williams". In Jeffrey A. Schaler. Peter Singer under fire: the moral iconoclast faces his critics. Chicago: Open Court. p. 101. ISBN 9780812696189.
- Roger Scruton (Summer 2000). "Animal Rights". city-journal.org. Retrieved 6 October 2012.
- O'Connor, Donal (2013-08-16). " "Strength of Judith Thompson's new play The Thrill is asking provocative, complex questions". Stratford Beaconherald.
- Singer, Peter. "On Being Silenced in Germany". Writings on an Ethical Life. pp. 303–318. ISBN 1841155500.
- Holger Dorf, "Singer in Saabrücken", Unirevue (Winter Semester, 1989/90), p.47.
- Sheri Berman, "Euthanasia, Eugenics and Fascism: How Close are the Connections," German Politics and Society, 17(3), Fall, 1999.
- "Criticanarede.com". Criticanarede.com. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- Practical Ethics second edition, 1993, ISBN 0-521-43363-0. pp. 346–359.
- Singer, Peter (1981). The expanding circle: ethics and sociology (1st ed.). New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 978-0374151126.
- Singer 1981, pp. 93
- Singer 1981, pp. 119
- Ken Binmore, Natural Justice, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-517811-4.
- In, e.g., the last chapter of Practical Ethics.
- "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" (PDF). Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- "U.S. Animal Rights Hall of Fame". Bethesda, Maryland: Farm Animal Rights Movement. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Stuart Jeffries, "Moral maze". The Guardian, 23 July 2005. Retrieved 6 October 2014
- Reviewed at Dwight Garner (10 March 2009). "If You Think You're Good, You Should Think Again". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 July 2009.
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