Four kangaroos recently moved into the paddock that adjoins the house on Peramangk Country in the Adelaide Hills where I live. For weeks I had been conscious of distant gunfire, not the usual firing of the gas guns that wineries use to keep birds off their vines. I concluded that the kangaroos had been driven here by a cull. The goats, Charles and Hamlet, and the sheep, Lauren and Ingrid, who call the paddock home, seemed unperturbed by the roos’ presence. But what, I wondered, did all these animals think about one another? What, indeed, did they think about me?
Save the Children in Stockholm wanted to highlight the unfair distribution of global wealth, so it invented an online game called The Lottery of Life. This invited Swedes to a website to spin the wheel of chance. If you were born again tomorrow, where would you appear?
Becoming better acquainted with an author may give rise to a surprise, or two. For example, the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft (author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman) and William Godwin (author of Political Justice) is the author of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley met her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, through his devotion to her father’s anarchist political philosophy. Gaining an awareness of the surprisingly complex threads that link one thinker to the next in dynamic webs of influence is one of the deep pleasures of scholarship.
Peter Singer occupies a distinguished position at the Centre for Human Values at Princeton University and is frequently described as the most influential of living philosophers. The front cover of this new selection of his writings couples him with Bertrand Russell and, in some respects, the comparison is sensible. Both philosophers have written clearly and simply on issues that are of interest not only to specialists. They have attracted a wide reading public and achieved the kind of celebrity and notoriety rarely associated with philosophers. Both have been activists – Russell mainly in the cause of pacifism and nuclear disarmament, Singer in the cause of animal liberation and the preservation of the environment – and both have stood for parliament.
There is no doubt of viciousness of existence. Bertolt Brecht spoke of how one minute you are striding out freely down a merry boulevard, the next poleaxed by a great lump of steel fallen from the heavens.