Fiona Woollard
University of Southampton
Peter Singer is one of the most widely known and most controversial contemporary philosophers. He is a true practical philosopher, combining significant academic achievement with efforts to bring about real change in the world. He has made substantial contributions to the animal liberation movement and to the battle against global poverty. "The Singer Solution to World Poverty", published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, led to more than $600,000 of donation to Oxfam and UNICEF. Singer argues that common moral thinking vastly underestimates our moral obligations to animals suffering at human hands and to human beings dying in far away places. Put simply, Singer claims that the pain of the animals gives us conclusive reason to stop participating in practices like factory farming and animal experimentation. Equally, the suffering of people in the third world means that we have a moral obligation to donate most of our income to aid organisations. Even though many resist some of the more counterintuitive conclusions of these arguments, when it comes to preventing animal torture and encouraging efforts to end poverty, it is hard to deny that Singer is on the side of the angels. Although the actions he urges may not be morally obligatory, they are at the very least morally admirable. However, some other aspects of Singer's views come in for serious moral censure. His advocacy of infanticide, in particular the infanticide of disabled infants, has led to fierce opposition and even violent attack. The phrase "moral iconoclast" is apt.
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