by Jonas E. Alexis
Peter Singer is a moral philosopher who has no respect for moral philosophy. He is 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.
Sometimes Singer makes me laugh because he often posits patently incoherent and really stupid arguments that would not even be accepted by a freshman in philosophy. Singer’s parents left Vienna and came to America in 1938, after “Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany.” We are told that
“They settled in Melbourne, where Singer was born. His grandparents were less fortunate: his paternal grandparents were taken by the Nazis and were never heard from again; his maternal grandfather died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.”
But what is the ideology that Singer has been teaching eager young students at Princeton for the better part of seventeen years? Infanticide and euthanasia. Singer declared,
“Newborn human babies have no sense of their own existence over time. So killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living. That doesn’t mean that it is not almost always a terrible thing to do. It is, but that is because most infants are loved and cherished by their parents, and to kill an infant is usually to do a great wrong to its parents.
“Sometimes, perhaps because the baby has a serious disability, parents think it better that their newborn infant should die. Many doctors will accept their wishes, to the extent of not giving the baby life-supporting medical treatment. That will often ensure that the baby dies.
“My view is different from this, only to the extent that if a decision is taken, by the parents and doctors, that it is better than a baby should die, I believe it should be possible to carry out that decision, not only by withholding or withdrawing life support — which can lead to the baby dying slowly from dehydration or from an infection — but also by taking active steps to end the baby’s life swiftly and humanely.”
It can’t get any better. Here is a guy whose family supposedly died in concentration camps and now he gets tenured for teaching infanticide and euthanasia!
Let’s just do a thought experiment here. Suppose Adolf Hitler had written those statements above and organized Jewry happens to stumble upon them. They would have immediately torn them to shreds and declared that Hitler was a psychopath.
But Singer has been enjoying his prestigious position at Princeton for propounding arguably psychopathic ideology. If you still don’t think so, then listen to Singer:
“Human babies are not born self-aware or capable of grasping their lives over time. They are not persons. Hence their lives would seem to be no more worthy of protection than the life of a fetus. We may not want a child to start on life’s uncertain voyage if the prospects are clouded. When this can be known at a very early stage in the voyage, we may still have a chance to make a fresh start.
“This means detaching ourselves from the infant who has been born, cutting ourselves free before the ties that have already begun to bind us to our child have become irresistible. Instead of going forward and putting all our effort into making the best of the situation, we can still say no, and start again from the beginning.”
Here Singer is redefining life in order to better suit his own beliefs, and the best way to do so is to define it away from what life actually is. But why should we choose Singer’s definition of the right to life as opposed to, say, the ideas proposed by the eugenic movement in the twentieth century?
There is another philosophical problem here as well. Kant, as we have shown in other articles, argues that you have to “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
How does that line up with Singer’s entire philosophical project? Well, Singer fails miserably and pathetically precisely because if we grant the premise that the Holocaust establishment is right about Nazi Germany, then Singer’s project is categorically false.
In fact, if Singer is right, then the Holocaust establishment has no right to complain about Nazi Germany at all. If Singer is right, then Nazi Germany was doing a great job. If human beings are not unique and special, as Singer argues throughout his book Unsanctifying Human Life, then who is he to tell us that the Nazis were wrong?
Taking his cues from Darwin and his intellectual children, Singer argues that human beings are not special. But there is obviously something special about the Jews who died in Nazi Germany! After all, why would the Holocaust establishment torture people and send them to jail if they happen to even raise questions about happened in World War II? Why did they send my dear friend, Dr. Frederick Toben, to prison for months for asking important questions about what happened? Is that fair? Can Singer unravel this blatant contradiction for us?
“It may normally be wrong to lie, but if you were living in Nazi Germany and the Gestapo came to your door looking for Jews, it would surely be right to deny the existence of the Jewish family hiding in your attic.”
The singer continues to say that the “Nazi euthanasia program was not ‘euthanasia’ at all. It did not seek to provide a good death for human beings who were leading miserable life. It was aimed at improving the quality of the Volk and eliminating the burden of caring for ‘social ballast’ and feeding ‘useless mouths.’”
One needn’t be an intellectual or logician to realize that Singer is not making any sense at all. It is bad when Nazis advocate euthanasia, but good when Singer does the same thing. In fact, he gets tenured for doing so at Princeton.
Singer’s entire philosophical project got a death blowback in 1999 when his own mother, “who was once an intellectually active and vibrant woman,” became ill with Alzheimer’s disease. The disease had such a devastating effect on his mother that she could no longer recognize him or other members of the family at all.
Well, according to Singer’s own philosophy, she had to die. According to Michael Specter of the New Yorker, she was
“in a state that Helga Kuhse, who is her medical executor as well as her son’s closest academic collaborator, described to me as one in which she would clearly not want to be alive any longer. She always said, `When I can’t tie my shoes and I can’t read, I don’t want to be here.’
“Those were her criteria, physical and mental. And she knew what she was saying–she was a doctor. We don’t have active euthanasia in this country, but she certainly would not want drugs to treat an infection or anything else that could prolong her life.”
But did Singer let her go? No.
“Singer would never kill his mother, even if he thought it was what she wanted… When Singer’s mother became too ill to live alone, Singer and his sister hired a team of home healthcare aides to look after her.
“Singer’s mother has lost her ability to reason, to be a person, as he defines the term… ‘I think this has made me see how the issues of someone with these kinds of problems are really very difficult,’ he said quietly. ‘Perhaps it is more difficult than I thought before because it is different when it’s your mother.’”
This led Specter to say in an article entitled “The Most Dangerous Philosopher”: “Singer’s writing is so high-handed that any inconsistency between his life and his work is hard to dismiss.”
Singer’s entire philosophical project proves that Kant was right all along: you cannot dodge practical reason and still remain a rational human being. In fact, the moment you dismiss practical reason, you are indirectly heralding your own moral and intellectual death. Darwin and his intellectual children learned that the hard way. This is perhaps one reason why philosopher Roger Scruton has this damning thing to say about Singer’s works:
“Singer’s works, remarkably for a philosophy professor, contain little or no philosophical argument. They derive their radical moral conclusions from a vacuous utilitarianism that counts the pain and pleasure of all living things as equally significant and that ignores just about everything that has been said in our philosophical tradition about the real distinction between persons and animals.”
-  Quoted in Jessica Chasmar, “Princeton bioethics professor faces calls for resignation over infanticide support,” Washington Times, June 16, 2015.
-  Peter Singer, Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Traditional Ethics (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), 213-214.
-  Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1959), 39.
-  See for example Peter Singer, A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution, and Cooperation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).
-  Peter Singer, Writings on an Ethical Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2000); Practical Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).
-  Singer, Writings on an Ethical Life, 8.
-  Ibid., 202.
-  Michael Specter, “The Most Dangerous Philosopher,” New Yorker, September 6, 1999.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.
-  Roger Scruton, “Animal Rights,” City Journal, Summer 2000.