Peter Singer

For over a decade, Peter Singer has been one of those public intellectuals we are supposed by some not to have. In the past, however, the problem with him has been that his thinking has often been about matters not seen to concern the public at large, animal liberation, for example. But events have hurried us all forward. Even a few years ago it was possible for mottoes like ‘greed is good’ or pronouncements like Mrs Thatcher’s that ‘there is no such thing as society, there are only individuals’ to seem not only provocative but hard-headed. The good life, we were, many of us, persuaded, was synonymous with goods, our heroes were experts in money-making – having and spending, ethics seemed to be a matter of preserving the appearances, not getting caught.

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On the face of it, this book represents a strange project: to elaborate for the reader’s consideration the moral beliefs of a man whom the author judges (and judged in advance, one suspects) to be shallow, inconsistent, lacking moral and intellectual sobriety, and to have failed so often to act on the moral principles he repeatedly professes that he can fairly be accused of hypocrisy ... 

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Philosopher Derek Parfit claimed that nothing matters unless ethical and other normative beliefs are objectively true. Parfit, who died on 1 January 2017, wrote a three-volume work, On What Matters (2011–17), because he believed that the meaningfulness of his life, and the lives of others who devote themselves to ethical thought ...

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Open page with Peter Singer

Australian Book Review
Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Why do you write? Because I have something to say – and not just to one person, but to as many people as I can reach. And when the writing goes well, I enjoy doing it ...

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In its original meaning, the word ‘philosopher’ simply meant ‘lover of wisdom’. At a time when theories of knowledge were still in their infancy, it was applied to thinkers – often, by ...

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'Kindness by Numbers' by Robyn Archer

Robyn Archer
Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Robyn Archer debated Peter Singer during the 2015 Melbourne Writers Festival; their topic was 'Is Funding the Arts Doing Good?'. This is an edited version of her paper.

I hear that in New York
At the corner of 26th Street and Broadway
A man stands every evening during the winte ...

Much contemporary moral philosophy is highly abstract, with technical arguments advanced on issues that appear far removed from ordinary life. But not all academic ethics has this form. The field of practical ethics has flourished over the last four decades, bringing philosophical techniques to bear on ethical issues in medicine, animal husbandry, climate change, an ...