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The Peter Singer Phenomenon

Fkkize
Posts: 2,149
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8/8/2015 7:15:21 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
I think Peter Singer is both a grandiose and a terrible ethicist. Why do I think that? First we have to ask ourselves, what makes a good ethicist?
I personally like a lot of his views in applied ethics. I know many here don't, but he is talked about a lot in applied ethics. So we can without a doubt say he is at least relevant to the contemporary debate, but I want to leave out his contributions to applied ethics here and instead focus on two other areas. Indeed, many if not most philosophers dealing with applied ethics face the same problem, they are just less obvious about it. Someone once suggested you can tell how good of a scientist someone is by counting how often they are cited and I think we can apply the same criteria to philosophers, too. This however is not the reason why I think he is a grandiose philosopher. In fact, it leads me to the reason why I think he is terrible.
Reading through his books -I read four of them- you will recognize a scheme. In every book he devotes some part, ranging from a paragraph to a short chapter, to metaethics. Typically he is going to comment on moral relativism. This quote is from The Life You Can Save (written down from memory).

"Moral relativism is a great view only until someone does a terrible thing to you."

I think this is incredible. It's called tu quoque and is a form of ad hominem. He deals with (dismisses) relativism (and the whole anti-realist camp) in a single sentence!
He also says that he cannot find a satisfying reason why anyone should act morally.
Then it dawned on me. When he is talked about in metaethics he is, as far as I can tell, usually criticized for his arguably very demanding views. Typically the conclusion is that his views cannot be rationally justified from a motivational standpoint. I think this is why Singer has not found a satisfying answer to the question. It's because his standpoint simply is unjustifiable! He might not recognize this, but I think this level of consideration should be necessary before we can call a professor of philosophy any good (again, not counting his contributions to applied ethics in a bubble).
So, how can I say such a thing yet insist that Singer is also a grandiose ethicist? It's quite simple. What is the worth of ethics if you develop the prefect theory behind the walls of academia while the world starves to death? None I say. Although his works might be at times lacking some consideration, he has done more good than any other philosopher I know with the inspirational writing style of most of his books.
Many people have found the value of giving to the poor, started donating blood, acknowledge the rights of non-human animals and personally contacted Singer to tell him about the impact he had on their life, just because of his writings and I think that deserves a great deal of respect.

People like Derek Parfit are the exact opposite. If we measure the quality of a philosopher by the first criteria, then I don't think there is any philosopher right now, who would beat him. On the other hand, if we look at the quality of his works according to the second criteria, then he is not much better than the rest.
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dylancatlow
Posts: 12,248
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8/8/2015 8:23:39 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
Although I agree with your point, I don't see how grandiosity and unsound/incomplete reasoning are even in conflict. When something appears grandiose, it's usually because it's not presenting itself in an entirely honest way, or fails to fully appreciate the merits of the other side, and does not stand on ground as firm as it may seem at first. The cold hard facts of reality don't usually warrant the single-minded, romantic visions of most philosophers.
skipsaweirdo
Posts: 1,870
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8/9/2015 4:28:36 AM
Posted: 1 year ago
At 8/8/2015 7:15:21 PM, Fkkize wrote:
I think Peter Singer is both a grandiose and a terrible ethicist. Why do I think that? First we have to ask ourselves, what makes a good ethicist?
I personally like a lot of his views in applied ethics. I know many here don't, but he is talked about a lot in applied ethics. So we can without a doubt say he is at least relevant to the contemporary debate, but I want to leave out his contributions to applied ethics here and instead focus on two other areas. Indeed, many if not most philosophers dealing with applied ethics face the same problem, they are just less obvious about it. Someone once suggested you can tell how good of a scientist someone is by counting how often they are cited and I think we can apply the same criteria to philosophers, too. This however is not the reason why I think he is a grandiose philosopher. In fact, it leads me to the reason why I think he is terrible.
Reading through his books -I read four of them- you will recognize a scheme. In every book he devotes some part, ranging from a paragraph to a short chapter, to metaethics. Typically he is going to comment on moral relativism. This quote is from The Life You Can Save (written down from memory).

"Moral relativism is a great view only until someone does a terrible thing to you."

I think this is incredible. It's called tu quoque and is a form of ad hominem. He deals with (dismisses) relativism (and the whole anti-realist camp) in a single sentence!
He also says that he cannot find a satisfying reason why anyone should act morally.
Then it dawned on me. When he is talked about in metaethics he is, as far as I can tell, usually criticized for his arguably very demanding views. Typically the conclusion is that his views cannot be rationally justified from a motivational standpoint. I think this is why Singer has not found a satisfying answer to the question. It's because his standpoint simply is unjustifiable! He might not recognize this, but I think this level of consideration should be necessary before we can call a professor of philosophy any good (again, not counting his contributions to applied ethics in a bubble).
So, how can I say such a thing yet insist that Singer is also a grandiose ethicist? It's quite simple. What is the worth of ethics if you develop the prefect theory behind the walls of academia while the world starves to death? None I say. Although his works might be at times lacking some consideration, he has done more good than any other philosopher I know with the inspirational writing style of most of his books.
Many people have found the value of giving to the poor, started donating blood, acknowledge the rights of non-human animals and personally contacted Singer to tell him about the impact he had on their life, just because of his writings and I think that deserves a great deal of respect.

People like Derek Parfit are the exact opposite. If we measure the quality of a philosopher by the first criteria, then I don't think there is any philosopher right now, who would beat him. On the other hand, if we look at the quality of his works according to the second criteria, then he is not much better than the rest.

The worldview of modern scientism and capitalism are profoundly wrongheaded, rooted in an artificialism and arbitrarialism that cannot begin to see the primordial truth of the way nature actually works, in animals and in ourselves as well. All modern culture and ideology that try to disestablish these principles -- radical egalitarianism, capitalist or bourgeois materialist-artificialist hierarchicalism, arbitrarial libertarianism, etc. -- are flying in the face of the headwinds of both nature and values, the tides of human nature and human character. But these ideologies' fallacies are incomprehensible to them just because their culture systematically prohibits them from thinking about issues at the level of structural principles, of ultimate preconceptions: nothing but good pedestrian mechanical bourgeois logic, as remote as it can possibly be from philosophy.
HououinKyouma
Posts: 1,030
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8/9/2015 10:31:52 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
At 8/8/2015 7:15:21 PM, Fkkize wrote:
I think Peter Singer is both a grandiose and a terrible ethicist. Why do I think that? First we have to ask ourselves, what makes a good ethicist?
I personally like a lot of his views in applied ethics. I know many here don't, but he is talked about a lot in applied ethics. So we can without a doubt say he is at least relevant to the contemporary debate, but I want to leave out his contributions to applied ethics here and instead focus on two other areas. Indeed, many if not most philosophers dealing with applied ethics face the same problem, they are just less obvious about it. Someone once suggested you can tell how good of a scientist someone is by counting how often they are cited and I think we can apply the same criteria to philosophers, too. This however is not the reason why I think he is a grandiose philosopher. In fact, it leads me to the reason why I think he is terrible.
Reading through his books -I read four of them- you will recognize a scheme. In every book he devotes some part, ranging from a paragraph to a short chapter, to metaethics. Typically he is going to comment on moral relativism. This quote is from The Life You Can Save (written down from memory).

"Moral relativism is a great view only until someone does a terrible thing to you."

I think this is incredible. It's called tu quoque and is a form of ad hominem. He deals with (dismisses) relativism (and the whole anti-realist camp) in a single sentence!
He also says that he cannot find a satisfying reason why anyone should act morally.
Then it dawned on me. When he is talked about in metaethics he is, as far as I can tell, usually criticized for his arguably very demanding views. Typically the conclusion is that his views cannot be rationally justified from a motivational standpoint. I think this is why Singer has not found a satisfying answer to the question. It's because his standpoint simply is unjustifiable! He might not recognize this, but I think this level of consideration should be necessary before we can call a professor of philosophy any good (again, not counting his contributions to applied ethics in a bubble).
So, how can I say such a thing yet insist that Singer is also a grandiose ethicist? It's quite simple. What is the worth of ethics if you develop the prefect theory behind the walls of academia while the world starves to death? None I say. Although his works might be at times lacking some consideration, he has done more good than any other philosopher I know with the inspirational writing style of most of his books.
Many people have found the value of giving to the poor, started donating blood, acknowledge the rights of non-human animals and personally contacted Singer to tell him about the impact he had on their life, just because of his writings and I think that deserves a great deal of respect.

People like Derek Parfit are the exact opposite. If we measure the quality of a philosopher by the first criteria, then I don't think there is any philosopher right now, who would beat him. On the other hand, if we look at the quality of his works according to the second criteria, then he is not much better than the rest.

I like Singer as well, from the little that I have read or heard from him, but if it is, as you say, true that he cannot think of a "reason" why anyone would act morally, I don't think of that as a problem. I consider the entire project of looking for a rational justification for why people act morally to be a futile exercise.
"Here the ways of men part: if you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire." F. Nietzsche.

"Freedom is always freedom for the one who thinks differently." R. Luxemburg.

"The principle of the masochistic left is that, in general, two blacks make a white, half a loaf is the same as no bread." G. Orwell, paraphrase.

"Islamophobia is a word created by fascists, used by cowards, to manipulate morons". Andrew Cummins.
derailed
Posts: 41
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8/12/2015 2:28:59 AM
Posted: 1 year ago
At 8/8/2015 7:15:21 PM, Fkkize wrote:
I think Peter Singer is both a grandiose and a terrible ethicist. Why do I think that? First we have to ask ourselves, what makes a good ethicist?
I personally like a lot of his views in applied ethics. I know many here don't, but he is talked about a lot in applied ethics. So we can without a doubt say he is at least relevant to the contemporary debate, but I want to leave out his contributions to applied ethics here and instead focus on two other areas. Indeed, many if not most philosophers dealing with applied ethics face the same problem, they are just less obvious about it. Someone once suggested you can tell how good of a scientist someone is by counting how often they are cited and I think we can apply the same criteria to philosophers, too. This however is not the reason why I think he is a grandiose philosopher. In fact, it leads me to the reason why I think he is terrible.
Reading through his books -I read four of them- you will recognize a scheme. In every book he devotes some part, ranging from a paragraph to a short chapter, to metaethics. Typically he is going to comment on moral relativism. This quote is from The Life You Can Save (written down from memory).

"Moral relativism is a great view only until someone does a terrible thing to you."

I think this is incredible. It's called tu quoque and is a form of ad hominem. He deals with (dismisses) relativism (and the whole anti-realist camp) in a single sentence!
He also says that he cannot find a satisfying reason why anyone should act morally.
Then it dawned on me. When he is talked about in metaethics he is, as far as I can tell, usually criticized for his arguably very demanding views. Typically the conclusion is that his views cannot be rationally justified from a motivational standpoint. I think this is why Singer has not found a satisfying answer to the question. It's because his standpoint simply is unjustifiable! He might not recognize this, but I think this level of consideration should be necessary before we can call a professor of philosophy any good (again, not counting his contributions to applied ethics in a bubble).
So, how can I say such a thing yet insist that Singer is also a grandiose ethicist? It's quite simple. What is the worth of ethics if you develop the prefect theory behind the walls of academia while the world starves to death? None I say. Although his works might be at times lacking some consideration, he has done more good than any other philosopher I know with the inspirational writing style of most of his books.
Many people have found the value of giving to the poor, started donating blood, acknowledge the rights of non-human animals and personally contacted Singer to tell him about the impact he had on their life, just because of his writings and I think that deserves a great deal of respect.

People like Derek Parfit are the exact opposite. If we measure the quality of a philosopher by the first criteria, then I don't think there is any philosopher right now, who would beat him. On the other hand, if we look at the quality of his works according to the second criteria, then he is not much better than the rest.

I'm in agreement with you about an ambivalence toward Singer. I agree with some of what he says about his conceptions of rights regarding non-human animals and those living in poverty. But I don't buy his arguments about infanticide and the removal of rights for severely disabled people. One thing that does seem admirable is that he is willing to be honest and say the hard things - and I have to admire him for that, even if I find some of his views to be repugnant. And yes, it's important that he's involved in practical matters rather than arguing from a purely theoretical perspective. I'd use the words "relevant," "practical," and "impactful" rather than grandiose.

Can you give some context for the quotes you give? Why would he say that moral relativism is unsustainable, yet also admit that he finds no satisfying reason to be moral? I'm inclined to guess that the first quote (about moral relativism) doesn't dismiss anti-realism, just that when someone does something that we find disagreeable, we're likely to condemn it, no matter how much we might claim morality is subjective. This implies that we behave as though actions have moral weight, whether we are realists or relativists. I'd guess that the second quote then refers to the fact that despite our intense defense of morality, we don't have definitive reasons/justifications for morality, which I'm fine with. Figuring that out should be an ongoing process. But more context could help show whether this is what he meant or something else.

I'm interested in checking out his latest book, The Most Good You Can Do.
What they call talent is nothing but the capacity for doing continuous work in the right way. --Winslow Homer