Human Exceptionalism

Peter Singer’s Raging Inconsistency

I just posted about Princeton’s notorious bioethics professor, Peter Singer, embracing Aubrey de Gray’s anti-aging crusade.  As I read his piece, I was struck by Singer’s raging inconsistency about the moral unimportance of people not yet conceived.  But it didn’t fit in that post, so I write about it here.

Singer essentially claims that those not yet born have no cause for complaint if the interests of those alive now are put first. From, “Should We Live to 1000?”:

 If our planet has a finite capacity to support human life, is it better to have fewer people living longer lives, or more people living shorter lives? One reason for thinking it better to have fewer people living longer lives is that only those who are born know what death deprives them of; those who do not exist cannot know what they are missing.

Hmmm. But on page 186 of his book Practical Ethics, Singer claims that it is ethical and moral to kill an existing disabled baby to serve the interests of an, as yet, unborn sibling:

When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of the happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if the killing of the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others it would be right to kill him.

That’s the amorality of utilitarianism. There really are no fixed moral principles, only expedient analyses. If Singer wants a chance to experience near-immortality, the cost of the quest to the not yet born can be justified because they don’t matter yet. But when he wants to justify killing disabled babies, the lives of the not yet born matter more than the life of an already born infant–even if the latter-born sibling will never actually make it into this world. 

In other words, in Peter Singer’s moral universe, consistency doesn’t matter and principles need not be applied.


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