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The Forum > General Discussion > ETHICS.. Preference Utilitarianism and Peter Singer

ETHICS.. Preference Utilitarianism and Peter Singer

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Peter Singer is connected to the University of Melbourne as follows:

Laureate Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. He specialises in applied ethics and approaches ethical issues from a secular, preference utilitarian perspective.

So... he is one of a number who's idea's about applied ethics we might find we are landed with by the time his students become Academics and Politicians and Public Servants.

One aspect of Singer's philosophy is found in a review of a book "Heavy Petting" which in turn is found in Wikipedia under the sub heading "Zoophilia"

I ask the OLO community, in your opinion, is this the kind of 'ethics' which should be taught at a major university in a faculty specializing in applied ethics ?

Secondly, no matter how we feel about the practice of zoophilia, does it not follow logically from acceptance of Darwinian evolutionary thinking, as just one of a number of possible behaviors? and Further, if we accept Darwinian evolution, who are we to make value judgements on the practice?

Is "Preference Utilitarianism" a sound approach to ethics?

Thoughts ?
Posted by ALGOREisRICH, Thursday, 20 January 2011 8:32:38 PM
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"... no matter how we feel about the practice of zoophilia, does it not follow logically from acceptance of Darwinian evolutionary thinking, as just one of a number of possible behaviors?"

Evolutionary theory, of itself, is not a system of ethics, any more than the theory of gravitation is. Evolutionary theory of itself is 'wertfrei'. It can say something about how ethics came to be. But it doesn't of itself provide us with ethics.

"Further, if we accept Darwinian evolution, who are we to make value judgements on the practice?"

However it is true that, starting from an acceptance of evolutionary theory, we are not in a position to judge any particular behaviour one way or another from an ethical standpoint. But that doesn't mean that we can't have ethics, and it is doesn't mean a theistic ethic is presumptively superior.

I don't think it's legitimate to start with the conclusion that you don't like what you think evolutionary theory might be tending to, and work backwards from there to not "accept" the theory of evolution.

Evolutionary theory is about how species originate. It needs to be dealt with on its own merits. (See for example Darwin's essay on the origin of the various races of pigeons in the chapter on Variation Under Domestication in Origin of Species - in reference to your query elsewhere about the origin of the human races.)
Posted by Peter Hume, Friday, 21 January 2011 10:12:30 AM
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Sorry, Boaz, but I really can't take this topic seriously. You're just looking for another opportunity to say - "see, you atheists just make it up as you go".

Well I for one am not going to bite.

But I do have a story for you.

It was an ordinary day in Llaregyb magistrates court. A man was being tried for fornicating with a sheep, and the key witness was an old chap who was walking along the highway by the farm where the sheep was raised.

'Well, I was walkin' along, and saw this sheep just minding her own business like, when this feller walks up behind the sheep, real quiet. He unbuckles his belt, and pulls the sheep close. Well, they sorta shook for a couple of minutes. Then when they'd finished the sheep turned around... an' licked him!'

Just then one of the members of the jury leaned over to the jury member next to him and said, 'You know .. a good sheep'll do that.'

Pip pip.
Posted by Pericles, Friday, 21 January 2011 10:43:32 AM
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Hi Peter..welcome to the discussion.

You say:

Evolutionary theory, of itself, is not a system of ethics.

I quite agree. I was not suggesting it is. I am beginning with Darwinian evolution as a dot point..and then moving toward how we can arrive at ethics which are viable.

Singer has seen it clearly.. if we begin with an evolutionary natural selection foundation, then it follows quite logically that 'any' system of ethics built upon such a foundation is neither better or worse than any other, and conceivably, we could have many competing ethics systems.

Singer simply shows 'where' such thinking ends up. "Bestiality" is the more appropriate term, and he is also known for such ideas as culling the severely disabled, hence the intensity of protests BY the disabled at many of his lectures.

So... as to the relative value of Theistic ethics to secular Darwinian/evolution based ethics....well that is something for the individual.

But what Singer does not verbalize, is this.. 'Darwinian' natural selection had a hidden dark side.

IF..... the human race has developed by natural selection...and there are very noticable differences between 'races'....then it is entirely consistent with the theory to claim "Some are more developed than others".. which of course leads to the sub title of his book "Origin of the Species"...which our kiddies are defintely NOT taught at school

i.e. "Or the Survival of PREFERRED races in the struggle of life"

So... all I'm saying is that this leads to the 'open slather' idea of racism and eugenics. But with theistic ethics (all equal because of one ancestor) racism is not possible. So..I will argue that Theistic ethics are indeed superior to non theistic.

I think I've hit a nerve with poor old Perilous.. I'm guessing he is a 'Singeresque' Ethicist :) Happy new Year P
Posted by ALGOREisRICH, Friday, 21 January 2011 11:05:12 AM
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"So... all I'm saying is that this leads to the 'open slather' idea of racism and eugenics."

No it doesn't, because facts don't supply values. Even if some human races were better at some things than others as a matter of fact, it wouldn't follow from that, that we are justified in aggressing against others as a matter of ethics.

It is true that evolutionary theory, of itself, does not provide us with an ethics. It provides us with a theory of the facts on which ethics take place.

But it is not true that therefore one ethic is as good as another. For Singer to maintain that argument he would have to maintain that him being tortured and murdered is neither better nor worse than him not being Ė and that unethical behaviour is no better or worse than ethical behaviour, which is not much of a theory of ethics. And I donít think Singer is making that argument.

"But with theistic ethics (all equal because of one ancestor) racism is not possible."

As I recall, the justification of Negro slavery in theistic ethics was that Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japeth. And, to cut a long story short, these were the progenitors of the main races, including the one destined to be 'hewers of wood and drawers of water'. So there is nothing about theistic ethics that excludes the possibility of racism, and plenty about it that facilitates it.

Rather, the deal is, if man is a product of natural selection, and man is by nature a social animal, and society requires rules, therefore man develops ethics, and the philosophical question is how we are to know good ethics from bad.

I think good ethics need to be:
a) consistent with the nature of man which is discoverable by reason, and
b) internally consistent.

Singer's ethics don't qualify as good because they are illogical (and he's a fascist creep).
Posted by Peter Hume, Friday, 21 January 2011 11:42:30 AM
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I can read you like a book, Boaz.

Pericles: "You're just looking for another opportunity to say - 'see, you atheists just make it up as you go'".

Boaz: "Singer simply shows 'where' such thinking ends up. "Bestiality" is the more appropriate term... all I'm saying is that this leads to the 'open slather' idea of racism and eugenics."

It doesn't improve with re-reading, either.
Posted by Pericles, Friday, 21 January 2011 12:06:25 PM
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