He says he can understand why the organizers would want to set limits. He recalls that after he gave a talk once on blogging, an audience member insisted on questioning him, at great length, about international politics.

But this is different, Bérubé wrote.

"In the first, my beliefs about the Middle East have literally nothing to do with blogging. In the second, well, I'm afraid that Singer's position on the ethics of eating animals is intimately related to his position on how to treat people with significant disabilities," he wrote.

A book cover from earlier in his career makes it clear: Peter Singer isn't always so politically correct.
A book cover from earlier in his career makes it clear: Peter Singer isn't always so politically correct.

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Peter Singer is scheduled to speak at 2 p.m. on Monday, April 28. The event is free, but tickets are required.
Evelyn Smith Music Theatre, ASU Tempe campus

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In The Ethics of What We Eat, Singer argues that we can't place human rights above the rights of animals. He calls that idea "species-ist," saying that it's a form of prejudice.

Yet, in his earlier writings, as Bérubé notes, Singer seeks to limit which people have rights. If you're born disabled, you don't count.

But chickens do?

You have to spend only a few minutes with a child with Down syndrome to see just how silly that idea is. These are children who tell jokes and laugh at others, who feel love and share it, who "get" a lot more than Singer gives them credit for. When they get to be teenagers, they may well hold a job — and work hard at it. They might fall in love — and be just as awkward about it as any 15-year-old.

Singer argues for the humane treatment of fish, citing an obscure article published in a scientific journal called the Proceedings of the Royal Society, which suggested that rainbow trout can, in fact, feel pain. I'll cede him the point, but you can do all the mental gymnastics in the world and still not convince me that a trout is more sentient than a baby with Down syndrome.

Indeed, Singer's conclusions about disabled people should make us question every argument he makes.

It's a question of judgment. If a person can manage to justify the idea of parents killing children, and children killing parents, is he really the person we should come for answers about food?


Singer's interest in animal rights goes way back. His 1975 book Animal Liberation is still considered the movement's seminal text. At the time, his ideas must have seemed novel.

Perhaps it's a tribute to his influence, but times have changed.

Right now, you can go to any Borders in town and find volume after volume about conscientious food choices. Ethical eating is this year's global warming, the thing that all thoughtful upper-middle-class do-gooders are obsessing over.

The book Singer is coming to ASU to discuss is more of the same.

He introduces us to a family that eats pre-packaged food and hamburgers; wouldn't you know, that's bad for the cows and the family, too? Then we meet a vegan family. Yep, they're healthy. And they're not contributing to animal torture, either.

And I suppose that's one big reason why there's been zero controversy, to date, over Singer's planned lecture. He isn't challenging our assumptions; he's agreeing with them.

Singer's lecture is being sponsored in part by ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability, but its genesis was actually a group of students at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences called the Ambassadors. Tito Carvalho, a student majoring in biology and society, was familiar with Singer's work and suggested the group look into bringing him to campus.

Carvalho is a thoughtful student who doesn't flinch from addressing the potential for controversy. He is familiar with Singer's more incendiary writings. But if he expected a flap, he never got one.

"No one has said, how dare you bring him," he tells me. "To [Singer's] credit, he's open to criticism and willing to debate his critics. That eased our minds about any controversy."

So why is ASU shielding Singer from that debate, at least in a public forum? Carvalho says it just makes sense to keep the debate on topic — which is certainly true, but ultimately makes me queasy.

Last week, I read Should the Baby Live? The Problem of Handicapped Infants, which Singer co-authored with Helga Kuhse in 1985. It is every bit as incendiary as it sounds: a polemic that doesn't preach, only questions — questions in the most seductive way.

What makes the book ultimately worth reading is that Singer doesn't pander. His arguments are the pro-choice crowd's worst nightmare. If it's okay to abort 90 percent of children with Down syndrome in the womb, he asks, why is it off-limits for parents to kill a newborn in the first month of life?

You can see why this guy would make Planned Parenthood a little nervous.

Even 23 years after the book's publication, there's plenty to grapple with here. I found myself marking up the book, puzzling over the scenarios it presents. And, as outrageous as Singer's arguments are, they force us to confront very real questions.

But ASU insists he stick to meat and potatoes.

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3 comments
hana solo
hana solo

Peter Singer is quasiphilosopher bacause his argumentation doesn't match epistemologic propositions. His postulate is unworth and consclusions are wrong. And ethical consequentionalism is not adequate to be practical guidance, as opposed of deontology.His postulate considering 'unnecesarry suffering' doesn't match the required epistemologic condition, beause it haven't got universally meaninig. Consequently, everything else is wrong in his argumentation. If we ask hundred individuals about meaning of 'unnecesarry suffering' we will get hundred different answers. So, it is pretty unclear concept and it cann't be used as a part of the philosophic postulate. No wonder that his conclusions are wrong and antiscienetific, according to natural sciences.Doctors of medical sciences are laughing at loud when they hear Singer's 'expert' opinion on human nutrition. And they know a lot more about that subject than one shoddy philosopher.

Vikingmom
Vikingmom

QUOTE from this article above:

" The organizers aren't letting Singer be confronted about anything other than food. So much for the free exchange of ideas on today's modern college campus."

Maybe someone could reproduce one of the ghastly "Life unworthy of Life" Nazi posters and put that LARGE CIRCULAR DO NOT ENTER SIGN OVER IT. Maybe this image on a would be a good T_SHIRT to wear!

Do the Arizona state students realize what's going on with Singer's anti human ethics here??? What is the REAL reason Singer is invited???

(I expect Singer and his followers to revert soon to my Viking pagan ancestor's past. The sacred trees which are worshipped- and the human sacrifices, Etc. Etc.)

Becky
Becky

This article sickened me. I gave birth to twins in December of 2006, a boy and a girl. My son had a rare disorder called anophthalmia, which means he was born with no eyes. We knew about it before he was born and were given the choice to terminate and chose not to do so, and although he only lived for five weeks, there was no way we would have killed him just because he would have been blind his whole life. His sisters will know about him, and the thought that there are people who do such things disgusts me.

 
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