I find troubling Singer’s barometer of human worth — tied to self-awareness — leading as it does to dangerous nonsense such as valuing a dog over an infant.
Richard rightly pressed Singer on what exactly he meant by getting value and worth by helping to create a “better” world in a purposeless universe. Singer didn’t really have an answer for this except to say that while the universe may be purposeless, people are not. They have their own purposes. But if that is our measure, then exactly whose “purposes” do we value? In a universe that only gains value by people’s own purposes, how do we justifiably privilege one person’s “purpose” over another’s?
This ties in to the stunningly naïve and idealistic notion advanced by Susan Blackmore that as society has become more secularized it has somehow become generally kinder and gentler. The 20th century is full of counterexamples. As Paul Johnson has pointed out in his book Darwin: Portrait of a Genius, the secular, self-interested philosophies of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse-tung imposed unprecedented misery on the world. Johnson goes so far as to say, “It is likely that over 100 million people were killed or starved to death as a result of totalitarian regimes infected with varieties of social Darwinism.”
This is Susan Blackmore’s improved secular world? I’m sure she would denounce all of these dictators, but she clearly forgot about their horrific examples of modern-day cruelty.
Also, how does Singer balance the “purposes” of a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or Mao Tse-tung against other people’s purposes? I am sure Singer too would denounce these mass murderers, but by what objective criteria can we judge them “wrong” if we have to give our moral compass over to subjective human purposes?
Photo: Peter Singer, Richard Weikart, Susan Blackmore, via Premier Christian Radio.