Talk:Peter Singer

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  • Talk:Peter Singer/Archive 1 Up to the start of July 2006 - utilitarianism, humanism, atheism, ethics, euthanasia, infanticide, Darwinism, bestiality, animal rights, torture, suffering.

Peter Singer is a career academic with maintained views within ambiguities of the sensitivities of personal and collective morality on many contentious subjects to be brought before a public - principally euthanasia and animal rights. The Wikipedia article is intended to describe his philosophical views and reasoned criticism of those views, without taking sides. If you have come here to say "I disapprove of Singer", or to object to some aspect of his philosophy, please read the talk archive before contributing, and consider carefully whether this is the right forum to be airing your personal views.

music-for the recording show thing

Removed sentence[edit]

I have removed the following sentence from the end of the section titled 'Animal Liberation':

"Acceptable vivisection would be weakly "speciesist" insofar as it passes over human candidates for non-human subjects, but arguably species membership in such cases would be a legitimate tie-breaking consideration."

I think Singer has said that we should generally prefer to use animals over 'marginal' humans for experiments because of the feelings of their families, but this is not speciesist as it has nothing to do with the species to which they belong. As for the claim that species membership would be 'a legitimate tie-breaking consideration' this seems to contradict almost everything Singer has written on the subject in the last thirty years.

Need for a specific section on Singer and Disability?[edit]

Singer is a particularly controversial figure, openly advocating the killing of certain groups of disabled people. In the view of the disability community this makes him an active advocate of Eugenics and hate crime, possibly a unique position for a prominent academic to hold without being stripped of his position. Yet there is no section specifically addressing the controversy. His position on the killing of disabled people is first discussed in the Animal Liberation section, which, speaking as a disabled person is problematic to the point of being actively insulting. It is particularly problematic that Animal Liberation is given a higher position in the section hierarchy than the further discussion in 'Euthanasia and Infanticide', and that neither attempts to analyse the perception by and implications for disabled people of his arguments, arguably violating NPOV by only presenting Singer's position in the face of clear evidence his views are intensely controversial.

I would also question the NPOV balance of relegating the objections of disabled people to his position on the killing of disabled people in 'Euthanasia and Infanticide' to third after other ethicists and religious critics. Surely as the group whose killing is being advocated disabled people's position on this should be granted the dignity of a whole sentence to themselves, not simply a clause tacked on to the end of 'religious critics'? Perhaps we could even be allowed to a paragraph to discuss the fundamental position of disabled people under the Social Model of Disability that a disabled life is fully equivalent to a non-disabled life and that any failure of society to provide us with the necessary accessibility adjustments (whether physical, institutional or societal) to enable that equality is active discrimination. Equally the coverage of protests under 'Criticism' and 'Protests' appears more interested in saying 'And Singer was vindicated' rather than actually outlining the position of the disabled protesters. In fact the opposition of disabled people to any resurgence in Eugenics and to euthanasia advocacy in general is never really addressed (this is an ongoing problem for the disability movement in that the media rarely cover the extensive opposition to these by disability activists - see for instance the various speeches by the disabled peer and noted disability rights activist Baroness Jane Campbell in the House of Lords) while the functional equivalence of Singer's position to Eugenics is barely touched on. I would argue that NPOV would be better served by retitling the section 'Advocacy for the Euthanasia of Certain Disabled People' which describes both Singer's position and the concerns of disabled people wrt that position.

I would particularly note a logical flaw in the 'Protests' section which states 'Singer explains "my views are not threatening to anyone, even minimally"' However this is only true if you explicitly accept Singer's view that a severely disabled infant is not a person. If you disagree, then Singer's view that the infant should be killed is threatening both to disabled people in general, who must remain ever watchful for any resurgence of Eugenics and the horrors of the Holocaust (which came first for disabled Germans in the Aktion T4 programme) and for the disabled infant in particular. Citing only Singer's view here, and not its logical alternative, is a clear violation of NPOV (and arguably gives Singer's individual opinion primacy over that of disabled people en masse).

At the moment the entry reads as though it was written by an ethicist explaining Singer's position for other ethicists. But, given Singer's controversial position, the article also needs to be accessible to disabled people and their supporters and advocates, and it does not currently provide this. As many ethicists hold that disabled people aren't actually entitled to a view on discussions of bio-ethics and disability (c.f. discussions on the forum of the Journal of Medical Ethics after the publication of Giubilini and Minerva's paper advocating post-natal abortion of disabled babies - note the express similarity with Singer's position), the article clearly needs to be reworked by someone who is not an ethicist and is able to restore NPOV. As a disabled person and activist I can't do this, because my opposition to any advocacy of the right to kill us is fundamental to my identity as a disabled person, but I hope someone within the Wikipedia community who is a member of neither group will take up the challenge.

As separate issues the reference to 'advocates for disabled people' in the opening sentence of the 'Criticism of Singer' section is problematic as it implies disabled people need non-disabled people to speak for us, this would be better reworded as 'disabled people' or 'disability activists'. The paragraph relating to Singer and his mother in 'Euthanasia and Infanticide' is problematic from the disability rights perspective as it grants Singer's experience of his mother's Alzheimer's as a carer full equivalancy with disabled people's experience of disability, whereas the position of the disability rights movement is that the experience and beliefs of the disabled person themselves must always take primacy over that of any carer. (talk) 19:06, 3 June 2015 (UTC)

Well, this is a Wikipedia article about Singer, not about disability rights. It should probably mention why people find his views controversial, but it need not strive to give equal weight to those positions.
I should also say that even your claims about Singer seem to misrepresent his views and the views of other ethicists. For instance, Singer does not support "killing certain groups of disabled people." He argues that people with certain birth defects who are likely to have little or no quality of life may permissibly be euthanized pending such a decision by the person responsible for making medical decisions for them. He would point out that this is similar to current practice, which allows parents to decide to deny treatment for such children. It simply prevents further suffering and additional medical costs. (I offer this gloss on Singer's views without endorsement.) A worse howler is your characterization of the Giubilini and Minerva article (by which I take you to mean their 2012 article, "After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?"). First of all, they are claiming that it should be permissible to abort any neonate, not just a disabled one. There's some sense in which they think that the interest of disabled neonates doesn't count in the decision of whether or not to have a "post-birth abortion," but only because they think that the interest of no neonates, disabled or not, is relevant in that decision. 2601:47:4200:542:CAF7:33FF:FE77:D800 (talk) 13:45, 20 June 2015 (UTC)

Is Singer Jewish?[edit]

An anon IP editor has removed categories related to Singer's jewishness, on the grounds that nothing in the article says he's a Jew. According to both tradition and current Israeli law (outlined in Jews) his parentage makes him a Jew. When I revert he re-reverts. I want to avoid an edit war so can someone else give their opinion on this? Andyjsmith (talk) 20:16, 17 June 2015 (UTC)

I agree with you. Technically, it's right, but is it helpful as a category? I don't know why the IP is removing it, but I'd be curious to see why you think it should be included. -- Irn (talk) 04:44, 18 June 2015 (UTC)

Criticism About the Epistemological and other Problems of Maximal Marginal Utility[edit]

Appreciate the big red box at the beginning of the talk page.

I read the 3 references to criticisms of utilitarianism in the article and that's fine. I wonder, however, about three even larger criticism which must result from actually putting Singer's idea of Maximal Marginal Utility into practice. Has nobody written about this before? In summary:

1. The pleasure and pain states of the subjects nor their weights are all knowable.

2. These states are not independent either, and computing a marginal utility, even if all parameters were known, is intractable (consider the problem of reasoning with Bayesian networks)

3. Causal relationships seem not to be considered at all.

To 1: How do we even know how much less a newborn values its life than, say, an adult pig? And how much do we know any of this from an unborn child? Who is to judge this?

To 2: The pleasure / pain state of one subject often influences the pleasure / pain state of other subjects by means of empathy and sympathy.

Computing the marginal utility of all interdependent individuals is computationally intractable.

There may be complex feedback dependencies which essentially render the marginal utility function a completely unknowable entity, therefore, the claim that one action leads to greater marginal utility than another is never actually proven. It is only local reasoning or heuristics that in the end give practical guidance to action, with all claims on "greater good" being unproven claims.

Sympathy effects may cause the needs of some individuals be rated higher in the overall utility than others, less sympathetic individuals. This may be deemed unjust, but it may also simply be an explanation why deontological ethics may be a practical instance of utilitarian ethics. For example, if a majority feels more sympathetic to humans than to pigs, this abhorred "speciism" would be entirely justified by the principles of utilitarian ethics.

This critique is not unlike Hayek's critique of planning: the planners can never know the marginal value distribution, it is only the individuals in their interactions which establish the hidden global utility function in a way no one person or committee can know. The "greater good" is simply unknowable.

To 3: If I am wasting all my money today on drinking and tomorrow my wife, children and I go hungry, and our hunger (especially my wife and children's) are considered to have some weight in the marginal utility function, while the need to eat of a person who has been prudent about his resources yesterday is considered less urgent (because he does not hunger), this would always justify taking the resources from the prudent people and giving them to the irresponsible. Because the utility function does not contain responsibility for one's past actions, only the current state of pleasure and pain.

These arguments must have been made in the literature. Should they not be mentioned? They look pretty fundamental to me. I know there ought to be references, which is why I put this here, not in the article.

Thanks. Gschadow (talk) 00:08, 26 June 2015 (UTC)