Peter Singer Sees the Light?


It’s no big secret that ethicist Peter Singer doesn’t exactly agree with Christian ethics. That’s what makes his recent revelations so surprising. He has acknowledged that he has serious doubts as to whether or not his utilitarianism can provide an adequate foundation (or even adequate answers) to the problems the world faces. But he doesn’t stop there, rather he goes on to state that theistic ethicists have an advantage in having a foundation.

The article provides the absolute shocker, however, when it puts:

“He described his current position as being in a state of flux. But he is leaning towards accepting moral objectivity because he now rejects Hume’s view that practical reasoning is always subject to desire… Neither is he any more inclined to belief in God, though he did admit that there is a sense in which he “regrets” not doing so, as that is the only way to provide a complete answer to the question, why act morally? Only faith in a good God finally secures the conviction that living morally coincides with living well.”

I think this says quite a bit for Singer both as a person and as a philosopher. As a person it shows he doesn’t have much invested in himself as he’s willing to essentially turn against his entire life’s work and say, “I no longer have confidence in it.” It says that as a philosopher he’s willing to listen to other positions and contemplate them. As Edward Feser wrote (where I found a link to the original article):

But again, this is progress.  The moral positions Singer is usually associated with are odious, but it takes some courage and intellectual honesty for someone with Singer’s extreme views to admit that Christian morality might have something going for it.

What is most important in all of this – aside from the hope that Singer will abandon his extreme views on infanticide and euthanasia – is it shows that Christian morality is ultimately tenable and reasonable. It provides a response to the question “Why be moral” and contains truth within it. If Christian morality is viewed as a rational response to ethics, then certainly its metaphysics must be equally, if not more, rational.

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10 thoughts on “Peter Singer Sees the Light?

  1. I think you really missed the point there. Singer’s current change towards objective moral truths comes from Derek Parfit.
    And Singer doesn’t think that christian morality (whatever that means) is a rational response to ethics, otherwise he would embrace it.

    He simply said (correctly I think) that some questions that can be answered by christian ethics cannot be easily answered by some non religious theory. Of course the intellectual edifice has to be coherent, and accepting the religious point of view might answer one question but opens lots of other problems, and the tradeoff is not worth it. He still thinks that the problem of evil and the Euthyphro’s dilemma are insurmountable problems for religion.

    1. Both Euthyphro and the problem of evil have been adequately dealt with by Christian philosophers.

      Regardless, he states that his own theory is weak and that were he to write about it again he would show that it’s untenable. So this goes much deeper than how you’re interpreting it.

      Also, one can see something as rational without accepting it – since when did we begin to define “rational” as “true”? Something is rational if it’s plausible and logically coherent, neither of which promise the necessity of truth.

  2. Did you listen to the original talk? I did and I think your post clearly misrepresents Singer’s views. When does it say that “theistic ethicists have an advantage in having a foundation”?

    Singer does not believe christians have solved Euthyphro and the problem of evil. If you have reason to believe otherwise please post your references.

    The “write it again” refers to his “practical ethics” book, which has just come out in a new edition, where he did change some points and clarified some positions. And if you read it you’ll see that he’s not moving closer to any religious position. Otherwise, again, post your references.

    I would say that being logically coherent is a necessary feature of a theory that claims to be true (and let’s not go into theory of truth here).

  3. From the article:

    “Neither is he any more inclined to belief in God, though he did admit that there is a sense in which he “regrets” not doing so, as that is the only way to provide a complete answer to the question, why act morally? Only faith in a good God finally secures the conviction that living morally coincides with living well.”

    So no, I’m not misrepresenting his views. Nor did I ever claim that HE viewed the problem of evil and Euthyphro dilemma as being solved, I merely stated that they were solved. You can refer to Alvin Plantinga’s “God, Freedom, and Evil” for the problem of evil, along with “A Creation Order Theodicy” by Bruce Little to deal with the problem of evil. With the Euthyphro dilemma, you can pick up almost any Christian ethics book. Suffice it to say, if what is ethical flows from the nature of God rather than being an abstracted form, then the dilemma no longer exists. In fact, the dilemma only exists for purely Platonic religions, which Christianity (and Judaism and Islam for that matter) isn’t. Even Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover” avoids the dilemma because one must believfoundationalisme in abstracted forms in order to embrace the horns of the dilemma.

    The whole point is, Singer has admitted his views are in flux and he recognizes that some form of ethical or ontological objectivity is necessary and that his form of utilitarianism isn’t adequate.

  4. You avoid the question so I assume you haven’t listened to the talk.

    I don’t particularly care about discussing the details of the various arguments here, I just want to point out that your article clearly misrepresents Singer’s opinions (as does the Guardin article BTW). Good that you think that the problems were “solved”, but a more accurate statement would be that some authors declare to have solved them, and that the problems remain controversial. The majority of professional philosophers are non religious (see stats on philpapers) so if you want to be taken seriously you should at least acknowledge the possibility of being wrong.

    Their sentence “Only faith in a good God finally secures the conviction that living morally coincides with living well.” is completely misleading. It might correspond to the authors’ view, but it clearly doesn’t correspond to what Singer (and the majority of professional philosophers) think. (BTW at least for the Guardian author I find “He began his professional life as a priest in the Church of England, left an atheist, and is now agnostic”)

    In your sentence “What is most important in all of this […] is it shows that Christian morality is ultimately tenable and reasonable.”. What do you mean by “all this”? Show me where Singer said that Christian morality is ultimately tenable and reasonable, and then we’ll talk about being misleading or not.

    If you want to understand what Singer is talking about you should read Parfit’s “On What Matters”.

    1. I did watch the video, both his introduction and his last lecture. Again, how do I misrepresent his opinions? Even he acknowledged that Christianity is rational, though not necessarily true (by debating it and lending it credit on certain aspects, or by allowing it as a possibility, the rationality is implied). And I never said he thought the problem of evil was solved or the Euthyphro dilemma. I merely stated that they had been solved and left it open for you to research it. Certainly there are detractors in the field of philosophy (which, for now, holds a majority of non-theists, something that is seemingly changing however), but within the Philosophy of Religion (analytic at least) it is theism reigning supreme. The reason is (1) the logical problem of evil has been shown not to be a problem (though I would concede that the evidential problem of evil still needs support, even in light of Little’s Creation-Order Theodicy) and (2) the Euthyphro dilemma simply doesn’t apply to non-Platonic religions.

  5. good then, we agree. I subscribe to alerts on google news and so many christian blogs came out with similarly misleading articles. I think 90% of the Peter Singer discussions on the web come from christian who don’t even understand his basic positions. Good to see that you seem different (but still write misleading articles and titles).

    There were many nice speakers at the talk (I’ve listened to it, not watched it). One catholic lady clearly said that she considers the problem of evil to be still open, and that theists shouldn’t pretend it has been solved. Some time ago I took a look at Platinga’s argument, and it seemed very narrow in scope, and very unsatisfying. At least he’s a well respected philosopher so I give him the benefit of doubt.

    In any case, Singer didn’t “see the light”. He always acknowledged the weakenesses of his moral framework (read “practical ethics”, he’s very clear about that), and now he thinks he’s found a better alternative. Which does NOT involve the existance of a divinity, and it does NOT show that chistian ethics it rational or tenable.

    Good that you think that philosophers will become theists, as they used to. I don’t know where you get your trends, but philpapers shows me that globally it is 70/20 for atheists, while in philosophy of religion it is 64/20 again for atheists. and I suspect the 10% left is for agnostics (as myself, btw). What’s your source for this “theism reigning supreme”?

    http://philpapers.org/surveys/metaresults.pl?affil=Target+faculty&areas0=22&areas_max=1&normalize=Off

  6. BTW, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says:

    “Plantinga’s view here, however, is very implausible. For not only can the argument from evil be formulated in terms of specific evils, but that is the natural way to do so, given that it is only certain types of evils that are generally viewed as raising a serious problem with respect to the rationality of belief in God. To concentrate exclusively on abstract versions of the argument from evil is therefore to ignore the most plausible and challenging versions of the argument.”

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/

    so pretending the problem has been solved by his approach is, again, very misleading to say the least.

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