I never thought…

…I would read something by Peter Singer I actually agree with. The Internet is indeed an interesting space.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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25 Responses to I never thought…

  1. Stephen K says:

    Welcome to the club then, David, of those who find Peter Singer thoughtful, articulate and with compelling and important things to say! But I remain intrigued: what did you agree with?

    • Schütz says:

      Welcome to the club then, David, of those who find Peter Singer thoughtful, articulate and with compelling and important things to say!

      Um… Not quite sure I’d go that far, Stephen. My point is that while he may be articulate, and obviously thinks a great deal, I have never before found ANYTHING he has said or written “compelling”. What he writes here about the internet and copyright is all I have ever agreed with.

      • Stephen K says:

        Of course, David, only teasing. And one must be discerning! But, still, there may be other things you would agree with: like his arguments or at least some of his conclusions in selected chapters of his book “Practical Ethics” (1993), e.g. on the obligations to assist others, in “Rich and Poor”; or on the nature of the obligation to accept refugees in “Insiders and Outsiders”; or at least some of his arguments and conclusions in “Equality with Animals”. You may find yourself broadly sympathetic with his discussions in “The Ethics of What We Eat” (2006). “Compelling”was meant in the sense that the things about which he writes are things which should compel our consideration – I wasn’t suggesting everyone would be convinced or converted by his every argument. But, in my opinion, his works are worthy of a careful study. Cheers.

        • PM says:

          I had the same startled reaction on reading a piece by him on the obligation to assist others, specifically the poor in developing countries. I nearly fell off my chair when I concluded that I couldn’t fault a word of it. But the question remains of how can an extreme preference ultilitarian can logically conclude that we should, or that it is more morally virtuous to, do anything. His own principles seems to me to preclude there being any rational basis – as opposed to a preference as arbitrary as our taste in ice cream – for saying so.

          • Stephen K says:

            PM, it is late, so I am probably too tired to answer as cogently as I would like, but I would like to say that I don’t understand the problem you imply arises from his being utilitarian, or why you think his principles preclude a rational basis for ethics. Peter Singer’s consequentialism is a very rational basis for ethical action: he acknowledges from the very start that “ethical judgments must be made from a universal point of view”. He therefore dismisses – as you and I may – the paramountcy of one’s own self-interests, thus he directly attacks the very arbitrariness which you are right to see as a weakness. Put simply, Singer’s utilitarianism considers what might be the “best consequences, on balance, for all affected”. As his discussions on a range of topics, including the assistance of others, shows, his reach of “those affected” is wide, not necessarily narrow. The rational basis for ethical positions is varied and cannot be reduced to a single simple formula, in my opinion. I venture to suggest that many of us, if not everyone, arrive at positions via a vivid array of criteria, approaches and emphases.

            It is not my concern so much to argue Singer’s case on the different controversies of deep moral significance to readers here, but rather to press the point that there is an ever present danger of dismissing every single thing he says because of strong opposition to several conclusions he reaches. (The same danger applies in respect of everyone I guess. If I read something of George Weigel’s I were to agree with, I must in fairness give him credit for it.)

            • PM says:

              It’s late again and this brief comment will also be inadequate, but what I had in mind was especially the preference part of his preference ultilitarianism. I just don’t see how you can base truth claims on more or less arbitrary preferences. So while in these cases (unlike some others) he comes to correct conclusions, I don’t see how he can establish them as truth-claims.

      • Hannah says:

        David, being articulate does nothing for me re him. when he stops equating human life with animal life(which by the way can be more worthy according to him) then I will start listening him and his thought. Those he advocates for help must be adults because pre born life has no value to him.
        Sorry have no respect for him.

  2. Christine says:

    That’s why I’ve always had respect for Albert Schweitzer. As a humanitarian he asked that we show reverence to all life insofar as we are able and that even when animal life must be taken we keep an awareness of the sacrifice it involves. His work in helping human beings speaks for itself.

    • Hannah says:

      Christine when this man has respect for pre born life then he has something important to say, as far as I am concerned. Till then he has nothing important to say or to listen to.

      • Stephen K says:

        Hannah, with all due respect, this is the attitude that divides people into mental ghettos and keeps them there. And it effectively reduces each person’s worth to the value or demerit of a single act or idea, forgetting about all the rest. I’d like you to think again about what you’ve said: that he has nothing important to say or worth hearing because you disagree with some (or one in particular) other things he thinks.

        Look, you don’t have to read or consider Peter Singer any more than you have to read or consider Malcolm Muggeridge or St Augustine. It is not as if you have infinite time on your hands to read everyone. We are all inevitably somewhat selective about our choices of search and inquiry. But why don’t you reframe your reaction so that it is less sweeping and does more justice to you? Why not simply say “I don’t like what I hear or understand is his position on abortion, so I don’t intend to read or hear anything he says.”

        As it stands, I haven’t read everything Peter Singer has written and it didn’t appear to me at all clear what he was saying in this internet piece. But I certainly will not go out on a limb and reduce the merit or significance of what he (or any other author for that matter) might have to say – especially of things I have not yet read for myself – by the criterion of what I already think.

        • Hannah says:

          Stephen I used to know the gentleman in question and his views and have met him before he went to USA (bless them for taking him from us) and I can say what I like . He has no respect for pre born life. According to him an animal (good as they are) has more value than in utero infant life. An infant has a soul. Made in the image and likeness of God. That is not said of animals, as I said good as they are.
          So Stephen I do read a lot and I dont make comments lightly.

    • Stephen K says:

      Yes, Christine, I too respect Albert Schweitzer. You may be interested in the works of Andrew Linzey, an Anglican priest at Oxford, who has written extensively on the Christian theology of animals and creation. I have one of his volumes “Animal Theology” but there are many more and a google search will bring up links that will give you an idea of his thesis and ethos. In Andrew Linzey, we are some distance from the particular rationale Peter Singer applies, but Peter Singer appears to have had some regard for the Linzey’s work which began in the early 1960s I believe. The message being, I guess, that moral truth or value sprouts in diverse places from roots that spread widely.

  3. Christine says:

    And on the Catholic front St. Martin de Porres is exemplary for his compassion for human beings and animals alike.

    • Hannah says:

      Not to forget St Francis of Assissi who had compassion for both animals and nature and HUman beings.
      I wonder what he would have thought of of someone who devalued human life, life designed in the Imago Dei which Peter Singer does and elevates animal life above above a human life small as it is? I guess he would have prayed for him.

  4. Mary H says:

    “Otherwise, most creative people will need to earn a living doing something else, and we will all be the losers.”

    Really? And this is this any different from the way things were before the internet how? Are ‘creative’ people really making less money than before? And if Hollywood et al got those 100,000 lost jobs from assuming every pirated video that was downloaded would have otherwise been paid for, they’re um … wrong.

    Lucky Peter Singer. His out-of-print works are now widely available, because somebody spent their own time and bandwidth scanning and/or manually re-typing his works for free. But he’s generous – he implies he won’t sue the ‘pirates’ because after all, he has a job that pays the bills and he doesn’t need the royalties. It’s those poor souls who have to live off their royalties that he’s worried about.

    His example of ‘megaupload’ is interesting too. Mr. Dotcom spends his profits on environmentally damaging cars that Singer is sure he could spend better. So does that mean that if Mr. Dotcom spent his money on Singer-approved charities, what he’s doing would be okay?

    Singer’s proposal is better than others I’ve seen, but I think it will primarily benefit Hollywood studios and the publishing and recording industries, not the artists themselves.

    I think the whole copyright issue needs an overhaul. Publishing houses used to dedicate significant resources to the duplication of the media used to distribute an artist’s work. Now ‘pirates’ are actually doing that work for them for free, distributing the work much more widely than before. They still have the cost of identifying and marketing talent, but it could be said that an outfit like MegaUpload has done some of that marketing for them as well, again for free and at its own risk.

    It’s misleading to assume that every MegaUpload download represents a missed sale. I’d say it’s closer to say that any MegaUpload client who then goes out to buy the video or TV show represents an additional sale.

    There still remains the ethical issue of whether copyright violation is stealing, regardless of whether the theft is from the recording industry or from artists, or whether the person who makes the most money is using it in a Singer-approved way. Or is it just breaking the copyright law? As Christians, of course, we are bound to obey the secular law unless it contradicts the moral law, but I’m not sure I see piracy as theft.

    And may I say that I see more than a little irony in the fact that the internet was built and still pretty much runs on free software (linux OS, apache webserver, php and perl and jsp programming languages/scripting, html, css). Including WordPress. And looking at the page source for the site where Singer has his blog, I don’t see any signs of Microsoft products, so it’s also very likely that his article is also posted on a site that runs on free software.

  5. Christine says:

    Christine when this man has respect for pre born life then he has something important to say, as far as I am concerned. Till then he has nothing important to say or to listen to.

    Hannah, I was not referring to Peter Singer. Are you familiar with the life of Albert Schweitzer? He received a Nobel prize for his work in Africa in alleviating the suffering of the people there.

    I am solidly pro-life. I am also aware of the many Biblical proscriptions that command us to care for creation, and St. Paul tells us that the suffering creation (suffering because of the sin of man — animals do not sin) will be set free at the revelation of the children of God.

    Stephen, thanks, yes, I know of Rev. Linzey. In fact, he is very involved with an English organization called Catholic Concern for Animals. Dr. Deborah Jones, one of the founding members, has written a wonderful book about creation in the Catholic tradition.

  6. Christine says:

    Hi Hannah,

    Thanks for the clarification. I am sure that St. Francis would indeed be praying for Peter Singer. It is always difficult to walk in the shoes of another but realistically since Singer considers himself agnostic at best and probably aetheistic for all practical purposes his sense of ethics are not necessarily going to he shaped by those of Judeo-Christianity. Perhaps the fact that he does not identify with his Jewish heritage and having lost one set of grandparents in a concentration camp have also shaped his views about faith, God, etc.

    Nevertheless, it may be a bit more complex than at first glance. On the one hand Singer sees nothing wrong with abortion and eugenics, which as a Christian are unacceptable to me, yet he maintains that is immoral that so many in the world are starving while those who are affluent have more than they need. Since he more or less accepts Darwinian evolution that seems inconsistent with his other positions.

    At any rate, St. Francis is a wonderful example, joyfully pointing to the wonder and bounty of all that God has made and reminding us that we who have the privilege of being the priests of all creation are called to live in the humility that we are but stewards in the Master’s House.

    • Mary H says:

      “stewards in the Master’s House”
      what a lovely phrase, Christine.

    • Hannah says:

      Several things Christine, I have lost (via marriage) 2 generations (2 sides) of family courtesy of the holocaust and know exactly what it has meant. There are some beautiful people who have lived with that and their children have lived with that suffering and survivor guilt, and memories of the events and still dont say that animals are more worthy than life in the womb.
      As for his position on the rich and the poor, I share that with him and have written on this very topic as recent as this past week after having visited a third world country.
      As for stewards in the Masters House, whilst away and went to Mass I heard in a priest’s homily the term used which I found exquisite “we are 11th hour labourers in the vineyard of the Lord” these words resonated deeply with me especially with the work that I do. I had never thought of it like that.

  7. Christine says:

    Why thank you Mary! For some reason a bit of Scripture popped into my head as I was writing.

  8. Christine says:

    Hannah, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I would never presume to try to figure out how individual people, including Singer, approach something as weighty as the Holocaust. For some, it meant a loss of faith, for others their faith continued. God alone can sort it out.

    As for “comparing” the value of human versus animal life, it seems to me that the story of the Ark placed it all in the proper context. It was Noah in his time who was the Steward in the Master’s House in following God’s direction to preserve animal as well as human life and it was God Himself who made a covenant with all creation after the flood had ended. As “Maker of heaven and earth” nothing is beyond God’s concern. I would humbly submit that there is no need for us to pit the value of creation against the value of human life, unborn, born, elderly or other. That God values His human children with infinite value is beyond doubt, but I brought up the paradigm of humanity as priests of God’s creation because that is part of our role here on earth. Even in the liturgy we offer our thanksgiving with all creation to the One who made all.

    I have always loved the parable of the laborers in the vineyard because the last received the same wages as the first. Whether we come into the Kingdom early or late, God’s generosity does not judge by human values.

  9. Hannah says:

    Christine Peter Singer has been sprouting the “valuelessness” of life in the womb (his idea of ethics of course) since time immemorial. I head him speak at Monash Uni were he was Prof. and as I said thank God the American Academia thought him worthy to join them. God bless their choice.
    We are all called to good stewardship of all creation (see Genesis 1-3) inclduing and especially life in the womb designed in the Imago Dei or whose prototype is Jesus.
    As for holocaust on WWII no more needs to be said on that however, there is an annual holocaust (ritual offering) offered to the god moloch of approx 50,000,000 infant sacrifices. The visible holocaust seems to have passed though reading Middle Eastern Europe news Christians are again being sacrificed for being Christians, but since the last 40 years the invisible holocaust (abortion) has proceeded unabated and demanded till now it is possible to kill an infant in the womb (to weeks) which would survive if permitted to be born.
    Sorry Peter Singer and his team at Monash have much to answer for together with others.
    PS I do hope St Francis is praying for them

  10. Christine says:

    Hannah, agreed, and I hope St. Francis is praying for them as well. They need it.

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