Practical Ethics

Practical Ethics

by Peter Singer

Peter Singer's remarkably clear and comprehensive Practical Ethics has become a classic introduction to applied ethics since its publication in 1979 and has been translated into many languages.

He has also added an appendix describing some of the deep misunderstanding of, and consequent violent reaction to, the book in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland where the book has tested the limits of freedom of speech.

The focus of the book is the application of ethics to difficult and controversial social questions: equality and discrimination by race, sex, ability, or species; abortion, euthanasia, and embryo experimentation; the moral status of animals; political violence and civil disobedience; overseas aid and the obligation to assist others; responsibility for the environment; the treatment of refugees.

He structures the book to show how contemporary controversies often have deep philosophical roots; and he presents an ethical theory of his own that can be applied consistently and convincingly to all the practical cases.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Philosophy
  • Rating: 4.06
  • Pages: 411
  • Publish Date: January 29th 1993 by Cambridge University Press
  • Isbn10: 052143971X
  • Isbn13: 9780521439718

What People Think about "Practical Ethics"

However I was unprepared for Singer appearing to be in favour of euthanizing babies with Down syndrome and Myelomeningocele (spina bifida) (pp. Singer's reasoning here is the lack of mobility, lack of bladder control, and "mental retardation" makes a life with spina bifida not worth living, and that people with Down Syndrome are not capable of rational reasoning, rather, leading lives primarily driven by emotions, and are therefore not persons ("although their lives may be pleasant enough, as the lives of children are"). (You'll be happy to know Singer excludes haemophilia: haemophiliacs "find life worth living". 138) if the parent doesn't want them.) Singer states, "killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. People in this situation may make different decisions. It's so complex, but I do know there is absolutely no way I could ever support the right of a parent to euthanise a infant with Down syndrome. What I do know is I personally could never make the determination to euthanise anyone but myself (and I do hope NZ has legalised euthanasia when I get to the end of my life, whenever that may be). And I'm going to read some of his more recent work, as I assume he has modified his stance on infant euthanasia in the last 30 years (or maybe not, who knows). While I was reading this on lunch breaks three different people said to me, "Ohhh, you're reading Singer!".

What is the value of one human life compared to another? Because of this structure, Practical Ethics needs to be read in order. Regardless of whether I agreed or disagreed with Singer's conclusions, Practical Ethics helped me to clarify my own position on complicated and emotionally loaded issues like abortion, euthanasia, animal rights and environmental ethics. And No, reading Practical Ethics did not turn me into a vegetarian.

Yet the content of the book is far from boring.

Singer goes on to discuss different conceptions of equality, ultimately arriving at the one that forms the basis of applicability for his system of ethics. The system of equality that Singer ends up with is one that owes a great deal to R.M. Hare, who in turn derives a major component of his ethics from Kant's categorical imperitive, which states: "act only according to that maxim that whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law". Thus, for Hare as well as Singer, universalizabiltiy in ethics is a fundamental concept, to be applied across the board in all like cases. From there Singer applies preference utilitarianism with the above mentioned conception of equality to what he considers to some of the biggest ethical problems of our time. Speciesism: In terms of the scale of the suffering involved, and the damage done to the environment thereby, speciesism and the manner in which humans treat non-human animals is most probably the biggest ethical problem facing the world today.

Lots of good thinking here, but Singer's *way* too quick to consider something "conclusively demonstrated." I found his animal rights doctrine a particularly grotesque pill to swallow, and his arguments regarding abortion rather slipshod reasoning (although not so much as the roe v wade decision itself) -- I'm staunchly pro-choice, but certainly not due to Singer-style arguments.

Singer's writings about equality, the ethical treatment of animals, and ending world poverty are best, it seems to me.

Even if you have a utilitarian ethic when you start reading Practical Ethics, you may find yourself, apparently, agreeing to statements you would reject normally. I'm a naturally liberal and logical person and Practical Ethics is probably the single most influential book I have read. I was a utilitarian before I read Practical Ethics, but it forced me to examine what that means in the extreme.

Even Christian ethics points the same way as Singer's ethics, despite his intent to make a new, practical system.

Given the principle of equal consideration, theres really no difference between testing cosmetics on rabbits and testing them on intellectually disabled humans. Applying Singers principle leads to the ethical conclusion that humans should hunt cheetahs to extinction (or somehow force them to eat vegetables instead) to prevent the suffering of their prey. 3) If rats were overrunning your home, eating your food, biting your children, pooping on the furniture and making your life miserable it would be species-ist (Singers word for valuing human interests over those of animals) to kill the rats if that were the only way to rid yourself of the problem (since killing the rats is against the rats interest, and while the rats interests dont count quite as much as our own, if there were many rats then the total sum of their interests would exceed that of ours). 4) Singer concludes that the life of a full grown pig and the life of an intellectually disabled new-born human are largely equivalent since these infants have only a low level of consciousness and lack developed interests. If it were therefore shown that an adult pig had interests that were more developed than those of a disabled infant then wed have to conclude under Singers system of ethics that it would be more ethical to eat babies than pork chops.

DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and laureate professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE), University of Melbourne. Not all members of the animal liberation movement share this view, and Singer himself has said the media overstates his status.