Episode #5 of the course “Significant futurists and their ideas”
Peter Singer is a contemporary ethical philosopher of Jewish descent whose family settled in Australia after World War II. Singer’s philosophies operate from the standpoint of utilitarianism — doing the greatest amount of good for the greatest number. He is most popularly known as one of the founders of the animal rights activism movement and environmentalism of the 1970s, arguing that the differentiation between humans and animals is arbitrary and that it is not necessarily right to prefer human survival over the survival of other species. With extensive writings and public lectures, Singer has spoken around the world on topics of other contemporary ethical concern, including abortion, infanticide, suicide, and medically-assisted suicide.
Singer wrote the first of his philosophical works that struck chords in hearts around the world in 1975, Animal Liberation. In it, he argued that the utilitarian viewpoint was the only measurement of ethics, therefore using human intelligence to place humans as a preferred species over other animals was in error. While humans have different interest than animals, they also have a higher ethical interest toward something larger than the individual; something of which animals are not aware. He brought the term “speciesism” to popularity as the idea of being judgmental or prejudiced of one species over another.
His most complete and thorough analysis of contemporary ethics, Practical Ethics, was published in 1979 and touched on issues of modern life. He is accused of ignoring the traditional ethical viewpoint of the “sanctity of life,” especially considering that he does not place human life at a higher value than the lives of other animals. However, one of his most well-known essays, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” preaches that the uneven distribution of resources and food in the modern world is reprehensible and should be corrected so that every person has enough to eat. Singer himself practices what he preaches and donates approximately ⅓ of his income to charities.
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