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A Note Regarding Peter Singer

From 2002

A Note Regarding Peter Singer

by Matt Ball

In last week's eNewsletter, we referenced an appearance by Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, on the newsmagazine 60 Minutes II. Any mention of Professor Singer is sure to bring in responses, and this time was no different.

One criticism about Professor Singer that Vegan Outreach receives is that he should never have written about medical ethics, specifically about how to approach life and death decisions regarding infants. The critics claim that it distracts from the more important issue of animal liberation. An alternative way to look at it is that people trying to end third-world poverty (an effort which Singer also advocates) might wish that Professor Singer had never written Animal Liberation, as it distracts from what they consider to be the most important issue.

Of course, a cost/benefit analysis can be done on the relative merits of avoiding certain topics vs. professional advancement and fame (e.g., would footage of factory farms have been shown in prime time on 60 Minutes II if not for Professor Singer's other controversial writings? Would he have been given a chair at Princeton?).

Like those who decry vegans based solely on propaganda from The Beef Board, Burger Town, and Americans for Medical Progress, some people criticize Professor Singer based on caricatures of his ideas, without having even read his work! I have never met a vocal critic of Professor Singer who has read Practical Ethics in its entirety. Many haven't even read short articles such as The Chronicle's "Why Are We Afraid of Peter Singer? The world's most reviled philosopher just wants more happiness for everyone."

I understand the desire for simplicity and focus, but I, for one, am glad that someone has had the courage and intellectual fortitude to start with ethical first principles and unblinkingly ride the "escalator of reason." It has been a great service to the advancement of human thought. Just like Vegan Outreach's efforts to expose the horrors of factory farms, Professor Singer's writings can cause discomfort, but anyone who has seen reality knows, the status quo is indefensible.

It is now up to each of us to take action.

See also: excerpts from How Are We to Live -- part 1 & part 2

Postscript, 2008 -- Professor Singer is a major supporter of Vegan Outreach, and has greatly aided in the expansion of our efforts to expose and end cruelty to animals.

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