- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial (Sep 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060007443
- ISBN-13: 978-0060007447
- Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 13.1 x 20 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,731,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Singer is not a monster, and though some of his ideas are disturbingly cold and mechanical, the majority of his ideas, and his philosophy as a whole, are deeply humane. To understand this, you must read him. Not agree with him, but read him.
How dull our lives would be if we were only exposed to comfortable ideas which reinforced our own beliefs. My beliefs have become clearer and stronger because of Singer's challenges, and I am grateful to his writings for helping me think less hypocritically about the world. I've still got leather shoes, and I still value a newborn human more than a newborn rodent, but I am also much more aware of how I spend my money and about what the choices I make in life really mean. This book is a well-edited survey of Singer's thoughts and ideas, his challenges and critiques, his justifications and juxtapositions, his philosophies.
One writer writes that "Are we to believe that animals have a since of I or me" and "Does this mean that when an animal hurts, kills or steals from another that she should be charged with assault, murder or theft?" Of course not. Singer would never make such an outlandish assertion nor would even a first year grad student in philosophy. Another reader objects to infanticide, but the argument Singer gives-one on personhood-is sound and valid. It draws its ideas from both Judith Jarvis Thompson's essay and Michael Tooley's essay on that subject, which are both still preeminent. Singer does have some nice explanations to professional arguments on the other side too that neither Thompson nor Tooley address (because they are writing their own arguments). One of my favorite quotes on personhood and infanticide, for example, pithy, but to the point, is this: "Dropping an egg into boiling water is not the same as dropping a live chicken into boiling water" and this "The fact that Price Charles will be the king of England does not mean that he is now the King of England." In other words, infants are not the same as thinking and reasoning beings, and thinking, reasoning, self aware beings are the only beings we ascribe "personhood" to, and persons are the only "things" that get to claim an ethical right to life. If this weren't true, and Singer makes this point, then everything that lives could be said to claim a right to life. This sound reasoning is not as easily dismissed as some think. (And don't hit me on those two simple examples. Read the essays and do your own research.)
Last, one reader objects because "if one were to take seriously his premise that we ought to do whatever we can in our power to help those in dire need, no one could ethically spend a dime on anything other than "necessities" (which also raises a question about what constitutes a "necessity" versus a "luxury").
First, what he means is that if people are in dire need of no fault of their own, then we should and are morally bound to help them. If that means buying nothing more than necessities, then our moral obligations override luxuries. Think of it this way. Your mother, and I use "mother" here because that brings it right home, has cancer and needs an operation. The only way she can afford it is for you to pay for it. However, you want that new Humvee. Are you morally obligated to pay for your mother's operation rather than buy the Humvee? Singer thinks so. And the distinction between what a luxury `is' means nothing more than that.
For those reading reviews, or anything for that mattter, remeber to always look for examples when a person says X is bad. Look for what comes after that assertion. Look for examples and an explanation of WHY it is bad, and then see if the reasons add up to the objections.
I hope I have provided at least some good examples of why I think many misunderstand Singer and have provided you with at least two essays (Thompson and Tooley) for further reading on the subject of abortion and infanticide.
Anyways, Singer is definitely right that the last edifice of pre-Darwinian (or pre-Copernican) thought is the idea of humnan life as intrinsically more estimable than other life, no ifs ands or buts. Singer explores the implications of this fairly, admitting that he doesn't have all the answers (no dogma here) but offering well-thought-out new proposals for action given the world view we'll have to adopt.