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Peter Albert David Singer was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1946, the son of two Jews who had fled Hitler's Austria in 1938. He studied and then taught at various universities in Australia and England, including the University of Oxford, before settling in as a professor of bioethics at Princeton University in 1999.
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Singer first made a name for himself internationally in 1975 with the publication of Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for our Treatment of Animals, which launched the modern animal rights movement. By the mid-2000s, Time magazine had named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world, and the New Yorker had called him "the most influential living philosopher." He has served as editor for prestigious philosophy journals, and he even penned the entry on ethics for Encyclopedia -Britannica.
Reason for Surveillance:
By many accounts, this balding, bespectacled professor is as affable one-on-one as he is abhorrent in what he says. In 1993, he shocked the civilized world by suggesting that newborn babies should not be considered human until 30 days after birth and that attending physicians ought to kill some of them on the spot.
He's light years ahead of the sexual revolution. Group sex? Fine. Necrophilia (sex with dead bodies)? Sure! Sex with animals? Why not? Because, as he wrote in his essay "Heavy Petting" at the Utilitarian Philosophers website Utilitarian.net, "there are many ways in which we cannot help behaving just as animals do." Speaking of utilitarian ethics, he's fine with breeding children for their body parts, too.
To be fair, Singer comes by his views honestly. He's an atheist. And of course, to the Godless mind, everyone's free to think up whatever rules they like. If there is no God, then anything goes. What distinguishes Singer from the obtuse moral relativist on the street is that he actually takes his philosophy to its logical amoral conclusions.
That, and the appalling influence he has on the public. The New England Journal of Medicine said that the Princeton bioethicist has had "more success in effecting changes in acceptable behavior" than any philosopher since Bertrand Russell. The question we should be asking is not, Why does this man say the things he says? But, Why do self-respecting people in the civilized world take him seriously?
Most Commendable Hypocrisy:
Even he doesn't take everything he says seriously. Consider the following: Singer admitted, when asked, that he doesn't give as much toward poverty eradication as he moralizes that others should do. And in another longstanding contradiction, he pays for his dementia-stricken mother to be cared for in a nursing home, even though according to his own code, she should be euthanized to free up resources for other, more worthy uses.
Seasoned parents know that some children like to say shocking things, just to see what kind of a rise they can get out of other people. And shrewd adults learn to corral and shepherd such children just as much as is necessary to prevent harm, until the child matures. God bless Peter Singer for seeing to the care of his mother. He has done well in that regard and proven himself a member of the human race rather than an animal. Now, in the words of Joe Carter, web editor at FirstThings.com, "Let's assign a sophomore philosophy student to rebut his arguments [so that] the rest of academia can move on to squashing the bad ideas being championed by morally and intellectually serious people." •
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