By Dave Andrusko
Although I often disagree with him, I find science writer John Horgan well worth reading. I would read him in any event, but especially because some of people pro-lifers would find infinitely dangerous Horgan respects—and gets them to talk.
Which brings us to a entry Horgan made dated October 22 on the blog of Scientific American. Last week the infamous Peter Singer paid a visit to Stevens Institute where Horgan is Director of the Center for Science Writing. Horgan’s account—and his introduction where his admiration for Singer knows no bounds—makes for fascinating reading. For example
“Peter Singer, who was raised in Australia and now teaches at Princeton and the University of Melbourne, espouses utilitarianism, an ethics that seeks to minimize suffering and maximize wellbeing.” Sounds benign, even beneficent until you see how this plays out in the philosophy of the man The New Yorker calls “the most influential living philosopher.”
“He has a knack for pushing people out of their moral comfort zone,” Horgan writes. “Although his positions—especially on mercy killing of severely disabled infants and adults–have sparked public protests both in the U.S. and abroad, Singer is disarmingly cool on the page and in person, even when talking about the hottest topics. He is clearly motivated by compassion, and the desire to make the world a better place, but he appeals to reason rather than emotion, a rare trait these days. Reading and listening to him, I envy him, because when I argue my emotions—and my conviction that I’m right–often get the better of me.”
Let’s bypass a discussion of the obvious—sugarcoating what Singer espouses with what is intended to be flame-retarding language like “mercy killing.” He’s tip-toed around some of his most infamous statements, but still adheres to the position that a child does not attain “full moral status” until somewhere between one and two, which makes infanticide in some cases (actually many cases) acceptable.
As we have discussed before Singer believes a baby with disabilities can be killed if the death “will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him.”
He’s even spoken in favor of using the disabled in medical experimentation, those who are in “vegetative states.” And so and on and on.
Note the really scary subtext of Horgan’s remarks: Singer can espouse the most dreadful policy prescriptions but he does coolly, using reason, and, in any event, is motivated by “compassion,” the all-purpose excuse.
One other note from the lecture Singer gave that Horgan paraphrased and from which he quoted. Horgan was wowed by something Singer said in the abortion context. Problem is Horgan had misunderstood Singer—he didn’t say the “fetus even at six weeks is a living human being.”
Singer corrected him after the blog post ran: the unborn is a member of the species Homo sapiens but not a “person” because “the idea of a person involves the capacity to see oneself as existing over time.” This “[in]ability to see oneself as existing over time” is why so many categories of vulnerable people are endangered by Singer’s philosophy. That and not having “desires and plans” (see below).
Horgan writes that having shown slides of “fetuses” (Singer said we should not “run away from what abortion is”), “Singer nonetheless believes that abortion is ethical, because even a viable fetus is not a rational, self-aware person with desires and plans, which would be cut short by death; hence it should not have the same right as humans who have such qualities. Abortion is also justified, Singer added, both as a female right and as a method for curbing overpopulation.”
Add that to your list of Singer abominable quotes.