Vegetarian Ideal

Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.
- Albert Einstein

Monday, July 15, 2013

Peter Singer: Vegetarianism and ethics of food consumption

In an article for the online publication Chinadialogue, Singer called Western-style meat production cruel, unhealthy and damaging to the ecosystem.

He rejected the idea that the method was necessary to meet the population's increasing demand, explaining that animals in factory farms have to eat food grown explicitly for them, and they burn up most of the food's energy just to breathe and keep their bodies warm.

Singer calls himself a vegetarian and a "flexible vegan".

In his May 2006 interview in Mother Jones, he states: I don't eat meat. I've been a vegetarian since 1971. I've gradually become increasingly vegan. I am largely vegan but I'm a flexible vegan. I don't go to the supermarket and buy non-vegan stuff for myself. But when I'm traveling or going to other people's places I will be quite happy to eat vegetarian rather than vegan.

In addition to his addressing issues concerning the consumption of animal products, Singer's "Can You Do Good by Eating Well?" in Greater Good examines the ethics of eating locally grown food.

Peter Albert David Singer, AC (born 6 July 1946) is an Australian moral philosopher.

He is currently the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and a 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.

He is a major proponent of biocentrism.  He is known in particular for his book, Animal Liberation (1975), a canonical text in animal rights/liberation theory.

On two occasions Singer served as chair of the philosophy department at Monash University, where he founded its Centre for Human Bioethics.

In 1996 he stood unsuccessfully as a Greens candidate for the Australian Senate.

In 2004 he was recognised as the Australian Humanist of the Year by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies, and in June 2012 was named a Companion of the Order of Australia for his services to philosophy and bioethics.

He serves on the Advisory Board of Incentives for Global Health, the NGO formed to develop the Health Impact Fund proposal.

He was voted one of Australia's ten most influential public intellectuals in 2006.

Singer currently serves on the advisory board of Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP).


Born 6 July 1946 (age 67)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Analytic philosophy · Utilitarianism
Main interests Ethics
Notable ideas Equal consideration of interests, Drowning child analogy


Applied ethics

Singer's most comprehensive work, Practical Ethics (1979),[18] analyzes in detail why and how living beings' interests should be weighed. His principle of equal consideration of interests does not dictate equal treatment of all those with interests, since different interests warrant different treatment. All have an interest in avoiding pain, for instance, but relatively few have an interest in cultivating their abilities. Not only does his principle justify different treatment for different interests, but it allows different treatment for the same interest when diminishing marginal utility is a factor. For example, this approach would privilege a starving person's interest in food over the same interest of someone who is only slightly hungry.

Among the more important human interests are those in avoiding pain, in developing one's abilities, in satisfying basic needs for food and shelter, in enjoying warm personal relationships, in being free to pursue one's projects without interference, "and many others".

The fundamental interest that entitles a being to equal consideration is the capacity for "suffering and/or enjoyment or happiness". Singer holds that a being's interests should always be weighed according to that being's concrete properties. He favors a 'journey' model of life, which measures the wrongness of taking a life by the degree to which doing so frustrates a life journey's goals.[clarification needed] The journey model is tolerant of some frustrated desire and explains why persons who have embarked on their journeys are not replaceable. Only a personal interest in continuing to live brings the journey model into play. This model also explains the priority that Singer attaches to interests over trivial desires and pleasures.

Singer's ideas require the concept of an impartial standpoint from which to compare interests. He has wavered about whether the precise aim is the total amount of satisfied interests or the most satisfied interests among those beings who already exist prior to the decision-making. The second edition of Practical Ethics disavows the first edition's suggestion that the total and prior-existence views should be combined. The second edition asserts that preference-satisfaction utilitarianism, incorporating the 'journey' model, applies without invoking the first edition's suggestion about the total view. The details are fuzzy, however, and Singer admits that he is "not entirely satisfied" with his treatment.

Ethical conduct is justifiable by reasons that go beyond prudence to "something bigger than the individual," addressing a larger audience. Singer thinks this going-beyond identifies moral reasons as "somehow universal", specifically in the injunction to 'love thy neighbor as thyself', interpreted by him as demanding that one give the same weight to the interests of others as one gives to one's own interests. This universalising step, which Singer traces from Kant to Hare,[20] is crucial and sets him apart from those moral theorists, from Hobbes to David Gauthier, who tie morality to prudence. Universalisation leads directly to utilitarianism, Singer argues, on the strength of the thought that one's own interests cannot count for more than the interests of others. Taking these into account, one must weigh them up and adopt the course of action that is most likely to maximise the interests of those affected; utilitarianism has been arrived at. Singer's universalising step applies to interests without reference to who has them, whereas a Kantian's applies to the judgments of rational agents (in Kant's kingdom of ends, or Rawls's Original Position, etc.). Singer regards Kantian universalisation as unjust to animals.

 As for the Hobbesians, Singer attempts a response in the final chapter of Practical Ethics, arguing that self-interested reasons support adoption of the moral point of view, such as 'the paradox of hedonism', which counsels that happiness is best found by not looking for it, and the need most people feel to relate to something larger than their own concerns.

Practical Ethics includes a chapter arguing for the redistribution of wealth to ameliorate absolute poverty (Chapter 8, "Rich and Poor"), and another making a case for resettlement of refugees on a large scale in industrialised countries (Chapter 9, "Insiders and Outsiders").

Although the natural, non-sentient environment has no intrinsic value for a utilitarian like Singer, environmental degradation is a profound threat to sentient life, and for this reason he states that environmentalists are right to speak of wilderness as a 'world heritage'.

The best online source for interviews with me as well as articles about me, is (although unfortunately this website is no longer being updated).

For books about me, incidentally, see especially Hyun Hchsmann, On Peter Singer, Wadsworth, 2002

Publishing Company, Chicago, 2009 and Charles C. Camosy, 

Peter Singer and Christian Ethics, Cambridge University Press, 2012.

A documentary about me entitled Singer: A Dangerous Mind (no, that title was not my idea) was produced by Margie Bryant, with support from the BBC and the ABC (thats the Australian Broadcasting Corporation). By clicking ABC you can buy it, or watch a trailer about it and download educational materials if you want to use it in the classroom or so.



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