Thursday, December 12, 2013
2 Page Paper in Lieu of Exam: Michael Anderson
Anderson, Michael T.
Honors Introduction to Philosophy
Two Page Essay in Lieu of Third Exam
"Peter Singer represents the very best tradition in philosophy. He is constantly challenging widely held assumptions. His philosophy affects how he lives, and when he disagrees with other people he is always prepared to challenge the opinions of those he finds around him, to engage in public discussion."
This passage from A Little History of Philosophy gives praise to Peter Singer, whom the text labels as “…one of the best-known living philosophers.” Singer is also an outspoken advocate of charity and aid to impoverished countries, and a controversial figure due to his support of assisted suicide. This support has made him unpopular in some circles, with a few individuals going as far as to call him a Nazi. Singer first gained popularity in the seventies with Animal Liberation, in which he argues for the need to take animal suffering seriously. He shares this view with Jeremy Bentham, who was the first to argue for it in the nineteenth century.
Like Bentham, Singer is a consequentialist; they believe “…that the best action is the one that produces the best result.” In order to work out the best result, consequentialists state that “…we need to take into account what is in the best interests of all concerned, including the interests of animals.” Singer argues that animals have the same capacity to feel pain as humans do. He as even coined the term ‘speciesist’, and the text likens being a speciesist to being racist or sexist. Singer also advocates the vegetarian lifestyle, and has even printed a vegetarian recipe in one of his books.
The text highlights Singer’s approach to moral questions and its overall consistency, i.e. treating similar cases in a similar way. It then points out the consistency in his stance on animal pain and his stance on human pain. The text likens Singer to Socrates, because of his risky public statements and standing behind his beliefs despite death threats. It highlights the support he gives to his reasoned arguments with well-researched facts and his sincerity as a philosopher. Finally, the text reminds us that philosophy thrives on debate, and calls Singer a modern-day gadfly that will carry on the spirit of Socrates in philosophy.
I agree with the passage for the most part. It seems that Singer is a figure who’s not afraid to go against the grain and challenge preconceived notions. From what I can tell, he applies his philosophy to his life i.e. his vegetarian lifestyle. Singer seems like a person who is not afraid to disagree with other people and doesn’t seem like a person who shies away from debate. From what I have seen Singer has often taken place in public discussion and is an advocate of it.
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that Singer carries on Socrates’s philosophical spirit. His method of challenging widely held assumptions and asking questions for the purpose of sparking public debate is very similar to what Socrates did in his day. Singer in this sense is indeed a modern-day gadfly. He seems like a man who stands behind his beliefs, and who is well-prepared to defend them. I agree with the text that philosophy thrives on debate; it would be a boring world if everyone agreed with each other.
I think that if someone disagrees with Singer’s views or anyone else’s views for that matter, it can’t hurt to at least try and see where the opposite side is coming from.
Warburton, Nigel. A Little History of Philosophy. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012. Print.