Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Morality Pills

Peter Singer and Agata Sagan, from the New York Times, with my commentary:



Are We Ready for a ‘Morality Pill’?

By PETER SINGER and AGATA SAGAN
Last October, in Foshan, China, a 2-year-old girl was run over by a van. The driver did not stop. Over the next seven minutes, more than a dozen people walked or bicycled past the injured child. A second truck ran over her. Eventually, a woman pulled her to the side, and her mother arrived. The child died in a hospital. The entire scene was captured on video and caused an uproar when it was shown by a television station and posted online. A similar event occurred in London in 2004, as have others, far from the lens of a video camera.
There was widespread soul-searching in China about that incident.
Yet people can, and often do, behave in very different ways.
A news search for the words “hero saves” will routinely turn up stories of bystanders braving oncoming trains, swift currents and raging fires to save strangers from harm. Acts of extreme kindness, responsibility and compassion are, like their opposites, nearly universal.
Why are some people prepared to risk their lives to help a stranger when others won’t even stop to dial an emergency number?
Scientists have been exploring questions like this for decades.
Scientists are very late to the conversation. Philosophers and theologians and playwrights and poets and people in every imaginable walk of life have been exploring that question for millennia.

Scientists just began to wonder about it a few decades ago.
In the 1960s and early ’70s, famous experiments by Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo suggested that most of us would, under specific circumstances, voluntarily do great harm to innocent people.
Military commanders have known that since pre-history. Control of armies among civilian populations and vanquished enemies has always been a difficult problem. Atrocities, rape, and pillage are often the fruits of hard-fought victories, even among otherwise well-disciplined soldiers.

The same situational depravity has been noted during plagues and famines since antiquity.

Milgram showed us nothing new about human nature, but he reminded us of what we, in our modern conceit, had forgotten.

Singer needs to read more widely.
During the same period, John Darley and C. Daniel Batson showed that even some seminary students on their way to give a lecture about the parable of the Good Samaritan would, if told that they were running late, walk past a stranger lying moaning beside the path. More recent research has told us a lot about what happens in the brain when people make moral decisions.
"What happens in the brain" when people make moral decisions? Interesting, but not the crux of the matter. 'What happens in the soul' seems to me a more important question.
But are we getting any closer to understanding what drives our moral behavior?
Closer to understanding morality with science? I doubt it.
Here’s what much of the discussion of all these experiments missed: Some people did the right thing.
Most people who knew about the experiments didn't "miss it". The fact that some people acted morally, and some did not, was the published conclusion of the studies. That fact has been widely discussed.

Singer seems to have missed it.
A recent experiment (about which we have some ethical reservations) at the University of Chicago seems to shed new light on why.
Singer mentions no ethical reservations about the human subjects in Milgram's experiments, who were probably emotionally devastated knowing afterward that they cooperated with torture. Would you want to live with the knowledge that you were someone who has been cited for decades as a classic example of human depravity?

Singer's concern is, however, for the rats.
Researchers there took two rats who shared a cage and trapped one of them in a tube that could be opened only from the outside. The free rat usually tried to open the door, eventually succeeding. Even when the free rats could eat up all of a quantity of chocolate before freeing the trapped rat, they mostly preferred to free their cage-mate. The experimenters interpret their findings as demonstrating empathy in rats. But if that is the case, they have also demonstrated that individual rats vary, for only 23 of 30 rats freed their trapped companions.
I'm not acquainted with the details of the study. It would seem to me that there could be all sorts of reasons for one rat opening the cage of another (a desire for warmth or sex, an instinct to form a colony, etc), and "moral" considerations are only applicable to a few of them.

For an act to be moral, it must be, in classical terms, an act of the intellect. It must involve abstracting the universal aspects of a sense-datum-- it must involve some kind of abstract thinking. "It is sad to be stuck behind a door" (an act of the intellect) is a different mental act than the perception of a door (a sense-datum) and wanting to open the door (an act of the appetite-- which is the animal analogue of the human will).

The notion that an animal's mental act of sensation and appetite sheds light on the human mental act of the intellect and the will is dubious. Singer makes no mention of this limitation, and shows no awareness of it.
The causes of the difference in their behavior must lie in the rats themselves.
Of course. Where else would it lie?
It seems plausible that humans, like rats, are spread along a continuum of readiness to help others.
Some people are by nature helpful to others. Others not. This is news to Singer.
There has been considerable research on abnormal people, like psychopaths, but we need to know more about relatively stable differences (perhaps rooted in our genes) in the great majority of people as well.
Has Singer ever heard of psychology, sociology, theology, ethics, literature, and history? Much of human inquiry since the dawn of civilization has concerned itself with understanding the spectrum of normal human behavior.
Undoubtedly, situational factors can make a huge difference, and perhaps moral beliefs do as well, but if humans are just different in their predispositions to act morally, we also need to know more about these differences.
It's been studied since the dawn of man.
Only then will we gain a proper understanding of our moral behavior, including why it varies so much from person to person and whether there is anything we can do about it.
There is much to learn, but probably not from rats.

If continuing brain research does in fact show biochemical differences between the brains of those who help others and the brains of those who do not, could this lead to a “morality pill” — a drug that makes us more likely to help? Given the many other studies linking biochemical conditions to mood and behavior, and the proliferation of drugs to modify them that have followed, the idea is not far-fetched.
All sorts of things we ingest and perceive influence our mood and likely influence our moral acts. I'm certainly more disposed to courtesy when I'm well fed, haven't had too much coffee, haven't read Pharyngula recently, etc.
If so, would people choose to take it?
It seems immoral not to take the pill. If it were immoral not to take it, then the moral decision to take the morality pill could be influenced by a proto-morality pill. If the decision to take the proto-morality pill were a moral decision, then then the moral decision to take the proto-morality pill could be influenced by a proto-proto-morality pill. If... you see where this is going.

At some point you still have to make the moral decision, cold turkey, unless they put the pill in your drinking water.

But if they put the pill in your drinking water, then the decision to put the pill in your drinking water would be influenced by a pill...

It's morality pills, all the way down.
Could criminals be given the option, as an alternative to prison, of a drug-releasing implant that would make them less likely to harm others?
That's already done with chemical castration for sex offenders.
Might governments begin screening people to discover those most likely to commit crimes? Those who are at much greater risk of committing a crime might be offered the morality pill; if they refused, they might be required to wear a tracking device that would show where they had been at any given time, so that they would know that if they did commit a crime, they would be detected.
See where materialism leads us? If we accept the inference that we're evolved rats, we implicitly ask to be treated like rats.
Fifty years ago, Anthony Burgess wrote “A Clockwork Orange,” a futuristic novel about a vicious gang leader who undergoes a procedure that makes him incapable of violence.
Quadriplegia can do that, as can amputation of hands and feet. Capital punishment tends to reduce recidivism as well.

The effectiveness of such measures is not debatable. The morality of such measures is of course debatable. But before we decide on the morality, we all have to take our morality pill. Not to do so would be immoral, which would mean that we should take our proto-morality pill first...
Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 movie version sparked a discussion in which many argued that we could never be justified in depriving someone of his free will, no matter how gruesome the violence that would thereby be prevented. No doubt any proposal to develop a morality pill would encounter the same objection.
The morality of morality pills would be influenced by ingestion of morality pills...
But if our brain’s chemistry does affect our moral behavior, the question of whether that balance is set in a natural way or by medical intervention will make no difference in how freely we act.
Is Singer seriously asserting that whether an act is influenced by our nature, or is influenced by a pill we are forced to take, has no impact on the free nature of the act that results? Acts born of nature and acts born of slavery are equally free? Diligently harvesting cotton on your own farm and diligently harvesting cotton on your slave-master's plantation are equally free acts?

If Singer made this assertion without understanding it, he'd be a fool. But Singer is no fool. He understands. What we see in such sophistry is an effort to degrade man to the ethical status of a rat in a cage. Pure evil.

You've been introduced to Peter Singer.
If there are already biochemical differences between us that can be used to predict how ethically we will act, then either such differences are compatible with free will, or they are evidence that at least as far as some of our ethical actions are concerned, none of us have ever had free will anyway.
Of course we have free will. The assertion that "we don't have free will" has no truth value if it is not made with some degree of freedom. The mere assertion of a proposition presupposes free will. Chemical processes alone can't be true or false, and thus can't be propositions.
In any case, whether or not we have free will, we may soon face new choices about the ways in which we are willing to influence behavior for the better.
The ethics does get sticky, but primarily because we accept implicitly Singer's odious materialistic view of man.

Human beings are composites of matter, soul, and spirit and are created by God in His image. We have free will, because He has free will.

Our free will is tainted by our propensity to sin and by our nature as composite creatures. We are not meat and we are not rats, but we are influenced by chemistry, because we are in one aspect material. Yet we are more than matter. We are soul and spirit as well. We can choose.

Moral culpability for our choices is complex question. We are influenced by material and immaterial things, and the influence can be very strong. Our acts are the outcome of a material and spiritual tug-of-war that each of knows intimately. To what extent are we morally culpable for a particular act? We can speculate, but we are not our own judges. Our moral culpability is finally a judgement that will be made by Another. He understands us, in part because He created us and He is one of us and He knows what we face. 

In the final analysis, mere chemical analysis of human neurotransmitters has little more to teach us about human moral decisions than chemical analysis of the ink on a page of a Shakespearian play has to teach us about Hamlet. We are not meat. We are not rats. We are embodied spiritual creatures.

Science predicated on the fallacy that we are rats and meat is pseudoscience, no less. The 21st century has its own phrenology, more technological but no less foolish than the phrenology of the 19th century. 

But that is not to say that there are no morality pills. One pill in particular has proven quite effective, when taken regularly. It is venerable, and has shaped civilizations. It has powers that transcend morality. Powers that seem miraculous. For millions of people it has transformed whiskey into furniture, and opiates into children's clothing, and promiscuity into fidelity. It's very expensive, but it's free for you. It was paid for already. 

And you don't need a prescription, just a desire. 

36 comments:

  1. Michael said: "Scientists are very late to the conversation. Philosophers and theologians and playwrights and poets and people in every imaginable walk of life have been exploring that question for millennia."

    Yes, science is relatively recent. It was also relatively late to the discussion of astronomy, geology, biology, human origins, etc. And now we have probes in orbit around Saturn, a map of the movement of the Earth's tectonic plates over 4 billion years, vaccines, super-productive crops, and an ever increasing understanding of the evolution of life.

    Interesting that you point to phrenology - an area of science that was debunked not by philosophers or poets, but by other scientists. That's a fantastic example of how science is self-correcting because it the scientific process, when done correctly, is self-questioning, self-critical, and constantly open to change.

    Science reserves its highest honors for the people who most completely overturn the existing orthodoxy and provide the most complete insights into the nature of reality.

    So now, let's see if science is as effective in the realm of morality and personality as it has been in the other areas it has touched. It will be very interesting to watch.

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  2. @RickK:

    Science excels at the modeling and manipulation of nature. It is natural philosophy, after all. It is however heavily dependent on other disciplines of philosophy-- metaphysics, theology, ethics, logic.

    Science is a powerful discipline, and can be used for good and for evil.

    Scientism-- a form of positivism-- is not science. It is an idiotic philosophical error.

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  3. When Benjamin Franklin introduced lightning rods to protect buildings, there were religiously-minded people objecting on the basis that lightning rods thwarted God's ability to express His will through lightning bolts.

    This story is repeated for nearly every discovery in every branch of science. Somebody has a moral/philosophical objection to a new discovery, new invention or new line of research.

    I, for one, look forward to further investigation into the electro-chemical workings of morality. As I have a friend whose life was effectively saved when her severe depression responded very well to an antidepressant, and another whose son is now able to sit through a day in school thanks to a Ritalin derivative, I'm pretty confident that science can one day tell us something useful about parts of the brain that drive other elements of behavior.

    If you want to stop research in this area because of your philosophical objections to the possible outcomes, that's your opinion Michael. You're following a time-honored tradition. But I have a moral objection to the idea that "we don't want to cure people of their anti-social behavior because it removes our ability to punish." Or "we need people to punish so we can show the rest of society what good behavior looks like." That's right up there with "we shouldn't cure AIDS because it is God's punishment for promiscuity."

    If "scientism" means I have more confidence in the ability of science to tell us more about the workings of the inner workings of the human personality than, say, religion can, then I'm guilty as charged. I'm sitting here, well-fed, warm, comfortably dressed, with two children growing up healthy, and with no deaths in my extended family from anything other than old age or cancer. So I'm benefitting much more from the progress in our understanding of the natural world than I am from the progress in our understanding of, say, which God is the "right" God, or whether Jesus was fully human, or the fundamental nature of the Trinity.

    I admire Singer for his clear-eyed willingness to ask hard questions, to look bravely forward, and to challenge us to address difficult ethical questions BEFORE the advancement of human knowledge forces into new situations. I think this is a much more positive and rational approach than attempts to halt progress, cling to the past, and hide from discovery.

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  4. "And you don't need a prescription, just a desire."

    That’s grand! You don’t need science; just eat some of the magic bead that turns into the flesh of the last great human sacrifice. Why take medicine when you can consume man-god flesh without a prescription!

    -KW

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  5. @KW:

    The civilization you live in was shaped by that medicine. Modern science arose from it.

    There are billions of people whose lives have been graced by it, and saved by it.

    Open your eyes.

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  6. My take?
    This positivist concept that the mind and brain are one and the same is a modern incarnation of the 'seat of the soul' superstitions of centuries past.
    It is, perhaps, the modern version of the same urge that drove early kingdom Egyptians to preserve the innards of the dead for their various personal physical aspects.
    I see it as (well) founded in a fear of physical death and separation from the physical that has made it's way into the folk-lore of the time, in this case the 'scientific beliefs' of moderns.
    As for the various medications mentioned in the comments, I will resist the urge to comment. We have had a close friend pass frequently, and (poorly?) prescribed drugs may have played a big part in the horror. Sufficed to say: My opinion is a hostile one at present.
    I would revisit this with a cooler temperament.

    As for the rats , I have long held a fondness for our long toothed friends.
    My Great Grandfather took to caring for and training rats during the first world war, and passed on the hobby to my granddad. Dad never took to it, but I sure did. We actually have two hutched of them right now. A whole family.
    In fact we have everything from mice to horses in this family. A regular zoo.
    Bit to the rats: Our funky little rodent friends are incredibly bright creatures. Cunning in their intelligence and real problem solvers. The stories I could tell from over the years. They are also very clean, and very social / friendly, cuddly, and get along with us AND our fish,cats & dogs etc. There are even what I would call 'exceptional' individuals among the rats. Those individual rats that stand out in their kindness to others, or in raw intelligence - and VERY rarely both.
    And, when given resources and opportunity, and perhaps gently nudged in the way - many, if not most, can become quite altruistic and sharing. Note I am not talking about experiments in fear and deprivation, but rather games involving rewards and company/praise. These are happy socialized rats in groups. Not caged frightened lab animals.
    Rats have long been my, and now my older son's, hobby.
    But they are NOT men. Much as I love my 'pack', they are not my kind.

    So I am not going to say the critters cannot choose, or do not have their own (here I go!) God given sense of morality or codes. But Animal morality is not ours, as men. It is perhaps a thin segment or slice of our full spectrum, and much of it utterly alien.
    The Human and Animal paths are different.
    We are kind of like 'engines' built for different, if sometimes complimentary, outcomes/puts or purposes or end products.
    I would not go so far as to say we cannot learn from rats. We can learn from all of God's creation, and those that can think and react may learn from us.
    I would go so far as to suggest that teaching and interacting with animals is the real lesson for us. By imparting our love and guidance on the animals in our care, I think we do God's work.
    But that is not enough.
    Animals must be, like some serial killers twisted youth, a practice doll for acting out our fears and anger. But the real target area of this slide into evil is the soul of man.
    Before 'man' can reduced to 'animal', 'animal' must be reduced to a 'thing'.
    What do we do with 'things'? We use them.
    I see it like this: Animals have been deliberately reduced in terms of importance and complexity by various means - only the most recent being science - in order to justify the horrors committed against them on an increasingly massive industrial scale each and every day...for centuries.
    Think about it. Must millions of creatures be kept cruelly only to die, so that by their rotting carcasses creating a surplus I can have a slightly cheaper cut of meat or fast food sandwich? This seems, to me, to be utterly amoral.

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    1. CNTD
      Now that animals have become mere 'things' in the mind of the consumer, the same reductive process seeks to further justify further experiments in 'efficiency' by reducing mankind to 'animal', and no doubt eventually 'thing'.
      Make all the apologia you want folks, but that IS materialism in application.
      Of the men and rats? Men are not rats. Men NOR rats are merely meat. Meat is not merely meat.
      Life and living things are more important than MERE matter.
      Merely my thoughts!

      Delete
  7. @RickK:

    I have no problem with psychopharmaceutical research. It has enhanced the lives of millions of people, and is good and noble science. Your bizarre inference that I and other Christians oppose medical research because it might alleviate suffering isn't worthy of reply.

    I object to idiot materialistic assertions about man. I object to lying about the nature of human beings.

    Singer is right to raise ethical questions about psychopharmacology. It can be of tremendous help, but can be misused, and it does raise ethical issues in some applications.

    My fear is that the ethical system advanced by monsters like Singer will be the template on which we will decide such moral questions.

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    1. 'My fear is that the ethical system advanced by monsters like Singer will be the template on which we will decide such moral questions.'
      In this we are in complete agreement.
      Singer's position is quite clear to me and his influence on any sort of ethical framework for future research would confirm my deepest worries about a very worrisome and poorly regulated industry.

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    2. Republican Colorado State Sen. Dave Schultheis restated his opposition to a bill requiring HIV tests for pregnant women by claiming that infected babies would cause families to “see the negative consequences of that promiscuity.”

      Want more examples? In such company, it's hard to call Singer the monster.

      Delete
  8. On the actual pill, I don't think an actual morality pill is possible. Enhance recall, long term memories, even to treat cases of chemical imbalance and severe trauma and depression - sure I can imagine medicines for these things. But morality?

    Come on.

    That is just dystopian science fiction, isn't it? 

    I guess I'll just have to take my chances with the 'shell people', or make like Logan and Run for Sanctuary.


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    1. Why not a pill? Oliver Sacks and others recount many examples of physical effects on the brain causing (sometimes fascinating) changes in moral judgement.

      If we can make a pill to alleviate depression or improve concentration, why can't we make a pill or treatment that alleviates psycopathy? Though I wonder who would run the Fortune 50 or Goldman's M&A department if we had such a pill.

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  9. Leftists don't think religion has any answers for scientific questions. They do, however, think that science has answers for moral questions. It's strange.

    The Torch

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  10. There are documented instances of mammal speicies helping different species get out of trouble. From dolphins saving humans from shark attacks to elephants liberating antelope from enclosures, many animals have displayed what can only be described as empathy. To know what it is to suffer and take action to prevent suffering in others is far from being unique to humans, and this capacity for empathy in non-humans shows that the roots of what we call morality lay deep within our evolutionary history.

    Either that or a talking snake tricked a woman into eating fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the talking snake is still trying to trick us with all this “science” nonsense.

    -KW

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  11. Michael,

    Peter Singer. A monster? One of his more frecent books was 'the Life You Can Save', in which he suggests that everyone in rich countries should donate at least 1% of their income to humanitarian aid to the poor in third world countries, rising to at least 5% of income for those with an income over $100,000 pa. He even includes a link to a website ranking charities on their effectiveness and aims, so you can tailor your donations.

    Is that monstrous?

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    1. Nope. Nothing monstrous about that. I don't understand why you would suggest such a thing.

      But plenty of people think it's a good idea to donate money to poor people in the Third World without supporting ideas like:

      1) Killing children under the age of one is fine, even responsible from an environmental perspective
      2) Sex with animals is A-okay, just as long as the animal isn't being hurt
      3) human being have no more value than any other creature on the earth, including earthworms.

      That's why he's a monster.

      I think you're trying a tired tactic here, Bachfiend. The tactic is something like "You just don't like him because he's so good, so kind, so charitable. You hate him for his awesomeness."

      Yeah, as if Peter Singer is really just hated because he thinks people should send money to people who have none.

      TRISH

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    2. 1) Killing children under the age of one is fine, even responsible from an environmental perspective

      Is that what Peter Singer claims? Unconditionally? Or are you twisting his words to lend more credibility to your claim he is a monster? I lean towards the latter, given your record here, but please correct me if I'm wrong.

      Delete
  12. For an act to be moral, it must be, in classical terms, an act of the intellect. It must involve abstracting the universal aspects of a sense-datum-- it must involve some kind of abstract thinking.

    Why? If a child falls into a river, is the savior who jumps in without thinking - acting on instinct as it were - not a moral actor?

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  13. @bach:

    Singer is, according to everything I've read about him, a gentleman, a humanitarian, and a pleasure to know. He is a remarkably clear prose stylist-- his short book on Marx is one of the best introductions-- highly readable, and his ethics textbook is legendary.

    The anthropology he promotes is utterly materialistic and utilitarian. He advocates a calculus that places man in the animal world. He is a very effective expositor.

    He obviously advocates abortion of children with anomalies, and he has argued that parents should have the opportunity to kill their young children (variably up to age 3 months or a year) if they believe that killing the child would allow them to devote more time to other children or themselves, and achieve greater happiness.

    He has been picketed by disability groups, and he has been prevented from speaking in Germany. There are people who understand him. He uses his considerable rhetorical skills to advance an agenda that has clear ties to eugenics and Nazism.

    He is radically evil. Nice guy and good writer, though.

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  14. @troy:

    [If a child falls into a river, is the savior who jumps in without thinking - acting on instinct as it were - not a moral actor?]

    To the extent that the act is instinctual, it is difficult to see how one could credit the actor with morality. Instinct means act without intellection-- without weighing alternatives. But I don't think that any human act is really completely instinctual. If a child falls into a river, the decision to save him is made by weighing different instincts-- the instinct for self-preservation vs the instinct to help another. That weighing in an act of intellect, not an instinctual act. The weighing may be brief and may be incomplete, but it is still an intellectual act, and is a moral act.

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    1. I think it is not so easy to draw a line between instinctual and intellectual. An instinct can be honed by previous intellectual considerations. Soldiers are trained to act instinctively on threats without considering the moral implications of their actions. Yet a soldier that saves the lives of his comrades is considered a hero - a moral actor.

      The point is that learned behavior can be moral even if it requires no thinking to execute such behavior. If you consider evolution to be a learning process, moral behavior can be the outcome of an evolutionary process.

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  15. @troy:

    [Is that what Peter Singer claims? Unconditionally? Or are you twisting his words to lend more credibility to your claim he is a monster? I lean towards the latter, given your record here, but please correct me if I'm wrong.]

    Singer has explicitly advocated infanticide (see "http://www.equip.org/articles/peter-singer-s-bold-defense-of-infanticide" for a good discussion with quotes and references).

    He has waffled in subsequent public statements, and apparently understands the impact of such assertions on public acceptance of his ethical system.

    I don't care about his equivocation. Infanticide is a "one strike and you're out" issue for me. I don't give Mengele's heirs a second chance.

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  16. I know little of Singer's opinions regarding infanticide, but I'm OK with killing terminally ill infants that suffer horribly. I would do that to my own children if it came to that. Well, that's what I say now - who knows how I would feel if that really came to pass.

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  17. @troy:

    We're all terminal, Troy.

    There are abundant options to alleviate suffering. No one need suffer pain, and emotional suffering can be eased in many ways. In medical practice we have a level of care called Comfort Care, which is the withdrawal of measures to prolong life and the use of all measures to alleviate suffering. It does not involve killing.

    Killing an innocent human being deliberately is grievously sinful, and is never right. Never.

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  18. In medical practice we have a level of care called Comfort Care, which is the withdrawal of measures to prolong life and the use of all measures to alleviate suffering. It does not involve killing.

    Sure it does. It's slow killing. I'm saying sometimes it's better to practice fast killing.

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  19. Starving someone to death is killing. It's more humane to get it over with quickly by, say, administering a lethal dose of morphine.

    I just don't understand how you can consider the withdrawal of measures necessary to prolong life not a form of killing. Depriving a person of food is a way to slowly kill a person. Depriving a person's brain of oxygen is a faster way of killing. What's the moral difference?

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  20. @troy:

    Comfort care does not involve withdrawal of food or hydration. It merely involves withdrawal of higher levels of medical treatment-- antibiotics, chemotherapy, medications to manage blood pressure, surgical procedures, respirators, etc.

    The focus is on analgesia and treatment of anxiety, etc.

    It is not killing. Withdrawal of extraordinary care is not killing, but rather allowing the natural process of dying to proceed.

    Withdrawal of ordinary care-- withdrawal of food, water, shelter, hygiene-- is killing, and is very unethical.

    Active killing, even for "mercy", is murder.

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  21. Michael,

    You're engaging in your usual incoherent illogical hyperbole.

    Peter Singer cannot be a gentleman, a humanitarian and a pleasure to know, AND a monster at the same time. You can argue that some of his ideas are wrong, and if you do so, you should provide the arguments, not just assert that someone's reading of a millennium old text extrapolated to situations not conceived of at the time of writing forbid certain actions, such as selective abortion of serious fetal abnormalities.

    Hitler and Mengele were monsters, because they had evil ideas and the power to put them into effect. Peter Singer has no power, beyond his talent of persuasion. He's putting forth ideas for discussion. You're quite free to reject and argue against them.

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    1. @bach:

      You misunderstand the nature of power. In you terms, Marx was powerless. The guy couldn't even hold a job. He was a crank who wrote unreadable screeds about topics few people cared about. Yet his ideas ruled the 20th century, killed 100 million people, and still have purchase.

      Singer is the world's most influential ethicist. He specializes in bioethics. We are in the midst of a biomedical revolution-- life extension, organ transplantation, cybernetics, psychopharmacology the possibility of human cloning, etc.

      Singer, more than any other person, if defining the terms of bioethics. He is brilliant, rhetorically skilled, and his ideas are utterly evil. His ideas are evil not merely because of his proposals-- euthanasia, infanticide, zoophilia, etc-- but because the premise upon which our ethical system is constructed-- our understanding of nature and man-- is being defined according to his metaphysics, which is atheist, materialist, Darwinist, and to a significant degree Marxist.

      Pure evil, and extraordinarily dangerous.

      Delete
    2. Succinctly and eloquently put, Doctor.
      You clearly divide the concepts of intelligence, sanity, and morality.
      Singer is rational, sane, curious, brilliant, and EVIL in his stance. This, combined with his professional and academic influence is why he is dangerous.
      It is also what makes people like you, Doctor Egnor, a 'danger' to that agenda. Your work, position, influence, and connections make you a mark.
      That is perhaps why so much vitriol is directed toward you, and anyone who shows you any degree of support in these posts.
      What I mean to say is: Take heart Doctor, you frighten them as much as Singer nauseates you.
      Just read the responses to your posts for proof.

      As a side note:
      This is similar to a common point I try to make when discussing our enemy with (some) of our civilian friends.
      For example many imagine the mujahideen as ignorant, 'sick', poor and terrified people. True they capture Janissary types and use boy soldiers, but the actual Mooj themselves are not at all as they seem.
      Many western people don't understand these people have lives, ideas, and many are extremely intelligent.
      They are neither mad nor insane ('sick'). They are the enemy not just sick idiots.
      'The enemy' is how you should see them - and that is how their best and brightest see you too!

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  22. "Hitler and Mengele were monsters, because they had evil ideas and the power to put them into effect. Peter Singer has no power, beyond his talent of persuasion."

    So the difference is not in their intent, but in their ability to put their intent into practice. Thank goodness Peter Singer doesn't have any power! We'd have a lot of dead babies and raped animals on our hands. Singer thinks that zoophilia is just fine, so long as it is "mutually satisfying." So as long as you and your Irish setter are enjoying yourselves...Have at it!

    Singer has no power. Or does he? As a "bio-ethicist" of sorts, as a professor at a prestigious Ivy League college, his opinions carry some weight. I suppose it matters what circles you travel in, right? In academic circles, being pro-infanticide and pro-zoophilia don't automatically discredit you. Not in the same way that say, being a Tea Party activist might, or objecting to "gay" "marriage". Those are automatic career-killers.

    But believe me, Singer has a lot more influence than I do, which is essentially none.

    So Bachfiend, let me ask you this. Imagine a fictitious person, a certain backwoods redneck who is a genocidal racist, never saw a Jew or a black person he thought was worthy of life. Is he evil? Does his evilness hinge on his ability to put his genocidal ideas into practice? What if he never rose above the level of the village idiot? What if no one ever let him have an ounce of political power? Would he still be evil, or would he then be an okay guy?

    TRISH

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  23. Trish,

    You've missed the point as usual. Michael called Peter Singer a 'monster'. He's not. He might have ideas you disagree with, but that doesn't make him a monster. If he suggests that parents should be able to decide for themselves that their deformed babies shouldn't be allowed to live, then that doesn't make him a monster.

    Hitler was a monster because he believed that the killing of the deformed, and not just babies, should be mandatory, and authorized the Tiergartenstrasse 4 socalled euthanasia program. Mengele was a monster because he had the power to do his socalled twins research in the death camps.

    A backwoods individual who believes that black Americans are subhuman isn't a monster unless he puts his beliefs into action and kills any black American he meets.

    I agree. Peter Singer has more power than you or I. Perhaps 10 times or a 100 times as much. But then again, he has less power than a single member of Congress, ie zero.

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    1. "He might have ideas you disagree with, but that doesn't make him a monster."

      If they're monstrous ideas, yes it does.

      "If he suggests that parents should be able to decide for themselves that their deformed babies shouldn't be allowed to live, then that doesn't make him a monster."

      That' not even a good representation of what Singer believes, but yes, even that's pretty monstrous. It's no one's job to decide who should live. Missing an arm? We're going to kill you. Cleft pallet? You're dead. Yes, that's pretty much the dictionary definition of monstrous.

      "Hitler was a monster because he believed that the killing of the deformed, and not just babies, should be mandatory, and authorized the Tiergartenstrasse 4 socalled euthanasia program."

      From your perspective, Hitler was a monster because he REQUIRED the deformed to be killed off. If he had only permitted it, performed it, approved of it, he would have been okay? And so long as it was never on adults? This is not a sound idea. Killing children is wrong. How about that? It's a blanket statement, I know.

      Want to know something else about Singer's philosophy? He actually admits that unborn children are living creatures and that terminating a pregnancy is killing. Well there's refreshing honesty. He just doesn't think it matters. That's right, it's killing the most innocent of creatures, he admits that much, but that's not important. What's important is weighing the desires of the mother against the desires of the child.

      Interestingly, only the mother gets a vote on the matter.

      But here's the point--he understands (correctly) that we've killed close to fifty-five million children in this country AND HE DOESN'T CARE. He understands that 75% of Romanians are killed in the womb AND HE DOESN'T CARE. Using his position as a bioethicist, he pushes for acceptance of such practices.

      In Peter Singer's world it isn't evil to kill the unborn, or even to kill the born. It isn't evil to engage in sex acts with animals. It is, however, gravely immoral to have a pastrami on rye.

      TRISH

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  24. @bach:

    Ideas are power. Singer is a man of ideas.

    You understand that as well as I do, and you are dissembling.

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  25. Also, I think the racist guy who wants to kill blacks is pretty monstrous just for wanting to.

    TRISH

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  26. Morality is the theory that every human act must be either right or wrong, and that 99 % of them are wrong.

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