Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Singer Smackdown

Joe Carter tells us what he really thinks about Princeton professor Peter Singer and Singer's views on "personhood."
If you found it difficult to follow the internal logic of the argument it is because there is none to be found. Singer tends to make it up as he goes along, tossing out a controversial premise but then refusing to follow it to the rational conclusion. Singer claims that babies aren’t “persons” and therefore are of less worth than other humans. But then he claims that this doesn’t mean that it’s all right to kill such a child. Why not? He doesn’t give any reason. This lack of internal logic or consistency is a common weakness of Singer’s ethical views. Even though he espouses a form of utilitarianism he often backs away from the utilitarian justifications when he finds they offend his sensibilities.

Take, for example, his criterion for personhood. According to Singer’s definition, a “person” refers to a being that is capable of anticipating the future, of having wants and desires for the future. The problem with this definition is that a human being ceases to be a Singerian person when they are unconscious, temporarily comatose, or even just asleep. This leads to the absurd conclusion that a human stops being a person when they go to bed at night and yet wake in the morning with their status as a person fully renewed.

Instead of explaining why anyone should accept such a silly notion, Singer simply skips ahead to explain the practical application. But this leads to another absurd conclusion. What if Singer were in a funk over losing his girlfriend and lay on his couch to take a nap. While drifting off to sleep he whines that he “wished he’d never been born” and “wishes he could just die.” Imagine also that one of his grad students walks by and overhears these mutterings.

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