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Peter Singer - Philosophy and EthicsPeter Singer - Philosophy and Ethics


Peter Singer (1946- )


Australian philosopher (pictured right), best known for his views on animal rights, abortion and euthanasia.


His most famous book is...

Animal Liberation (1975), the bible of the animal rights movement.


What does he say about ethics?

 Peter Singer - Philosophy and Ethics

1. Preference utilitarianism

This says that an action is right if it gives the people involved what they want.

(i.e. satisfying their preferences or desires through the action’s favourable consequences).

 Peter Singer - Philosophy and Ethics

2. Animal rights

Animals have the same rights as humans, because they can also suffer and feel pain.

Individual animal experiments may be justified, if their consequences are favourable, but animals’ interests must be given as much weight as those of humans.

Singer is strongly opposed to mass animal experimentation.


3. Voluntary euthanasia

People should have the right to decide to die, when their quality of life disappears because of:Peter Singer - Philosophy and Ethics

  • suffering.
  • inability to experience pleasure.

In such circumstances involuntary euthanasia (being forced to die) may also be justified, when people are so mentally incapacitated that they can’t make an informed choice between life and death.


4. Abortion and infanticide

Singer’s principle of “personhood” says that a person is only a person, if he (or she) is self-aware with the capacity toPeter Singer - Philosophy and Ethics:

  • feel.
  • reason.
  • imagine a future.

This doesn’t include unborn and newly born babies, so killing them is morally acceptable, if their parents want it (as might be the case with a severely handicapped baby).

This justification of abortion and infanticide has been hugely controversial.

 Peter Singer - Philosophy and Ethics

5. Give and help the poor

People should:

  • help the poor and needy at home and abroad.
  • pay more attention to giving than getting.


Key quotes on ethics

In suffering the animals are our equals.

The notion that human life is sacred just because it is human life is medieval.

If we can prevent something bad without sacrificing anything of comparable significance, we ought to do it.

We are responsible not only for what we do but also for what we could have prevented.


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