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Peter Singer

For other people named Peter Singer, see Peter Singer (disambiguation).

Peter Singer, AC
Born Peter Albert David Singer
(1946-07-06) 6 July 1946 (age 69)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Alma mater University of Melbourne
University College, Oxford
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Analytic philosophy · Utilitarianism
Main interests
Notable ideas
Equal consideration of interests, Drowning child analogy

Peter Albert David Singer, AC (born 6 July 1946) is an Australian moral philosopher. He is currently the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and a Laureate Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. He specializes in applied ethics and approaches ethical issues from a secular, utilitarian perspective. He is known in particular for his book, Animal Liberation (1975), a canonical text in animal rights/liberation theory. For most of his career, he supported preference utilitarianism, but in his later years became a classical or hedonistic utilitarian, when co-authoring The Point of View of the Universe with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek.

On two occasions, Singer served as chair of the philosophy department at Monash University, where he founded its Centre for Human Bioethics. In 1996 he stood unsuccessfully as a Greens candidate for the Australian Senate. In 2004 he was recognised as the Australian Humanist of the Year by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies, and in June 2012 was named a Companion of the Order of Australia for his services to philosophy and bioethics.[2] He serves on the Advisory Board of Incentives for Global Health, the NGO formed to develop the Health Impact Fund proposal. He was voted one of Australia's ten most influential public intellectuals in 2006.[3] Singer currently serves on the advisory board of Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP).

Life and career

Singer's parents were Viennese Jews who emigrated to Australia from Vienna in 1938, after Austria's annexation by Nazi Germany.[4] They settled in Melbourne, where Singer was born. His grandparents were less fortunate: his paternal grandparents were taken by the Nazis to Łódź, and were never heard from again; his maternal grandfather died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.[5] He has a sister, Joan (now Joan Dwyer). Singer's grandfather, David Oppenheim, published numerous papers with Sigmund Freud before a falling out between the two in Venice.[6] Singer's father imported tea and coffee, while his mother practiced medicine. He attended Preshil[7] and later Scotch College. After leaving school, Singer studied law, history and philosophy at the University of Melbourne, gaining his BA degree (hons) in 1967.[8] He received an MA for a thesis entitled Why should I be moral? in 1969. He was awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Oxford, and obtained from there a B.Phil in 1971, with a thesis on civil disobedience supervised by R. M. Hare and subsequently published as a book in 1973.[9] Singer names Hare and Australian philosopher H. J. McCloskey as his two most important mentors.[10]

After spending two years as a Radcliffe lecturer at University College, Oxford, he was a visiting professor at New York University for 16 months. He returned to Melbourne in 1977, where he spent most of his career, aside from appointments as visiting faculty abroad, until his move to Princeton in 1999.[11] In June 2011 it was announced he would join the professoriate of New College of the Humanities, a private college in London, in addition to his work at Princeton.[12]

According to philosopher Helga Kuhse, Singer is "almost certainly the best-known and most widely read of all contemporary philosophers".[13] Michael Specter wrote that Singer is among the most influential of contemporary philosophers.[14]

Animal Liberation

Published in 1975, Animal Liberation[15] has been cited as a formative influence on leaders of the modern animal liberation movement.[16] The central argument of the book is an expansion of the utilitarian idea that "the greatest good of the greatest number" is the only measure of good or ethical behaviour. Singer believes that there is no reason not to apply this principle to other animals, arguing that the boundary between human and "animal" is completely arbitrary. There are far more differences, for instance, between a great ape and an oyster, for example, than between a human and a great ape, and yet the former two are lumped together as "animals," whereas we are considered "human" in a way that supposedly differentiates us from all other "animals."

In particular, Singer argues that while animals show lower intelligence than the average human, many severely intellectually challenged humans show equally diminished, if not lower, mental capacity, and that some animals have displayed signs of intelligence sometimes on a par with that of or exceeding human children. Singer therefore argues that intelligence does not provide a basis for allotting nonhuman animals any less consideration than such intellectually challenged humans.[17]

He popularized the term "speciesism," which had been coined previously by English writer Richard D. Ryder to describe the practice of privileging humans over other animals.[18]

Applied ethics