Peter Singer’s utilitarian ethics replaces our sexually-obsessed religious morality

The sexually-obsessed morality of conservative Christianity

.. and of other religions!  This phrase aptly summarizes the dilemma of most moral problems in the US and in the world. Moral discussion and legal discourse are obsessed with sexuality and relatively unconcerned with violence, greed, selfishness.

The more enlightened Christian readers have themselves now recognized that their Church’s preoccupation with sex has been a mistake: Dr George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, has admitted that the church has been guilty of ‘being caught up with the idea that sexual sins were “more significant” then other sins’ and has said that instead we should think more in terms of global problems such as world poverty. […] ethics has no necessary connection with the sexually-obsessed morality of conservative Christianity   Peter Singer “How Are We to Live?”

World poverty, corporative greed, dishonesty of politics, culture of violence, school yard bullying. So many real problems require ethics and morality.  Real violence, real damage to society and economy caused by moral failures.

But religions obsess with issues like birth control,  abortion: “saving” human life of small clusters of cells, while thousands of really alive and breathing humans starve or get killed in wars. Religions cause suffering by prohibiting stem cell research, mandating that embryos can be discarded to waste but can not be used for life saving medical research. Our laws interfere with birth control and HIV prevention. 20 year jail sentences for consensual sex with adolescents or mere possession of nude photos.

There is a reason for this religious obsession with sex.  Our holy books, are all around 2000 years old and were not updated.

Sexuality and baby-making were inseparable 2000 years ago

But nowadays, we have birth control. Sexuality is not identical to child production any more. Paternity can be verified with DNA tests and does not require virginity enforced by draconian punishments.

It is funny, though, how churches extrapolate their teachings unto issues that are not covered by the Bible: areas like stem cells, birth control pill, etc. It is also interesting how churches influence politics and legal codes, in countries that have clear separation of church and state.

New ethics and morality are needed.

Merely abandoning religious ethics can lead to crime, greed, moral disorientation. We can observe this in politics, youth violence, obesity, nutrition, corporate (lack of) ethics, general moral disorientation of large parts of the population.Morality & Ethics without God: Peter Singer’s Utilitarianism

Read hundreds of free articles by and about Peter Singer

Very good overview of Peter Singer’s ethics. Just listen to the audio, the video is not interesting.  This is not a single video but a set of videos.
Peter Albert David Singer (born 6 July 1946) is an Australian philosopher. He is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and laureate professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE), University of Melbourne. He specialises in applied ethics, approaching ethical issues from a secular preference utilitarian perspective.

Singer is the greatest contemporary exponent of utilitarianism, the doctrine that actions should aim to maximise the greatest happiness for the greatest number of individuals. Given that our every action has consequences for this end, we are truly immersed in morality.

Peter Singer’s utilitarian philosophy is an alternative to stupidity derived from religious beliefs. Where Richard Dawkins just vaguely surmises about morality without religion, Peter Singer devotes his life to the intricacies of such a morality.  As I have stated, the rules from holy books like Bible or Koran were very sensible at the time they were written. But they need overhaul. And, preferably, without resorting to God or Prophets. Peter Singer can come to the rescue.

Dinesh de Souza made the great compliment: Singer’s ethics is what you arrive at with logic and without God: “Peter Singer represents the sharpest, deepest, certainly the most lucid, the most consistent in arguing out the premises and the implications of atheism”.
( is part 1 of a 12 (!) part discussion with Peter Singer. Very interesting to see in its entirety. In part 1 Dinesh gives a fairly good but hostile description of Peter Singer’s philosophy)

Peter Singer formulates a lot of beliefs that Human-Stupidity was holding, about issues like

  • atheism
  • abortion rights
  • right to die and self determination
  • prostitution and free sexual choice for consenting adults
  • morality without religion
  • greed & selfishness in CEOs as well as in the average citizen

But, lots of Peter Singer’s consequences are new, surprising or shocking. He defends animal rights to a dignified life outside of unnatural animal cage farming, proposes vegetarianism and veganism. Singer explains why it is a moral duty to donate a significant part of one’s income to the poor in the third world. A third world pauper can survive for another day if we gave him the one dollar we squander on luxury items like bottled (water when tap water or filter water is a healthy alternative).

Peter Singer speaks about animal rights, saying that biologicially a cow has much more consciousness, capacity to suffer and urge to live then an embryo, or maybe even a one month old baby. Some of his statements come even as a shock to open minded people like Human-Stupidity, because remnants of Christian (or other religious) education still linger in all of us.

Peter Singer’s debates, interviews, articles, and books.
Mandatory reading for everyone!

We have stumbled over Peter Singer a few times. We always planned to study his views, but never had the courage to dedicate our time to these studies. But all readers of this blog would greatly profit from studying Peter Singer. Atheists, men’s right activists, feminists in favor of liberation of prostitution, people concerned about human rights, Singer is a great moralist, and his morals are not based on questionable 2000 year old religious treatises but real concern about increasing happiness diminishing human (and animal) suffering.

peter-singer Peter Singer seems to agree with many issues raised here at  Or, at least has well fundamented ethical arguments about them.  In  some of his stances he radically surpassed even our own ideas.

How Are We to Live?: Ethics

Rethinking Life and Death:
The Collapse of Our Traditional Ethics
by Peter Singer
$16.95 0312144016

A Darwinian Left:
Politics, Evolution, and Cooperation
by Peter Singer
$14.00 0300083238

One World: The Ethics of Globalization,
Second Edition
(The Terry Lectures Series)
by Professor Peter Singer
$14.00 0300103050

Peter Singer on Prostitution and private sex life

A Private Affair?

May, 2007

The French have a long tradition of respecting the privacy of their politicians’ personal lives, and French public opinion is more broad-minded than in the United States, where an unwed mother of four would have no chance of being nominated for the presidency by a major party. Indeed, last month, Randall Tobias, the top foreign aid adviser in the US State Department, resigned after acknowledging that he had used an escort service described as providing “high-end erotic fantasy” – although Tobias said he only had a massage. […]

As the administrator of the US Agency for International Development, Tobias implemented the Bush administration’s policy that requires organizations working against HIV/AIDS to condemn prostitution if they are to be eligible for US assistance. That policy has been criticized for making it more difficult to assist sex workers who are at high risk of contracting and spreading HIV/AIDS. Arguably, the public has an interest in knowing if those who implement such policies are themselves paying for sexual services. […]

Even so, whether people choose to marry or not, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual, even whether they pay to fulfill their erotic fantasies or have fantasies they can fulfill at no cost, tells us little about whether they are good people who can be trusted with high office – unless, of course, they say one thing while doing another. If we can cultivate a wider tolerance of human diversity, politicians, business leaders, and administrators would be less fearful of “exposure,” because they would realize that they have done nothing that they must hide.

Prostitution is illegal in most of the US, including Washington DC, and this could be one reason why Tobias had to resign. But when New Jersey Governor John Corzine was involved in a serious road accident last month, it became known that he violated his own state’s law by not wearing his seat belt. By any sensible measure, Corzine’s violation of the law was more serious than that of Tobias. Laws requiring the wearing of seatbelts save many lives. Laws prohibiting prostitution do no evident good at all, and may well do harm. Yet no one suggested that Corzine should resign because of his foolish and illegal act. In the US, at least, breaching sexual norms still brings with it a moral opprobrium that is unrelated to any real harm it may do.

Peter Singer about Abortion, Animal Rights, Darwin ….

Singer is the greatest contemporary exponent of utilitarianism, the doctrine that actions should aim to maximise the greatest happiness for the greatest number of individuals. Given that our every action has consequences for this end, we are truly immersed in morality. With his lean build and exhausted demeanour, the Australian academic embodies the intense pressure of this outlook. “We must follow the argument where it leads,” said Socrates and, during a career at Melbourne, Oxford and now Princeton,

Singer has obeyed this advice at the expense of tradition, sentiment and, some would say, common sense.[…]

Singer hopes for a “Copernican revolution” in ethics that takes account of Darwin — a new moral universe in which human life is no longer at the centre. In Singer’s ethical calculus it is preferences, interests and the ability to suffer that matter, and humans are not the only creatures to possess all three. On the other hand, some humans — such as those in a persistent vegetative state — lack the requisite traits for personhood, and we need treat such unfortunates no better than the unenlightened at present treat beasts. It is not that Singer loves animals or hates people: he merely demands the Socratic virtue of consistency. So if medical researchers wish to experiment on live animals, they must also consider practising on brain-damaged humans with equivalent faculties. If we are untroubled by boiling an egg where we would not dream of doing the same to a live adult chicken, this should tell us something about the so-called “right to life” of the unborn foetus. Indeed, Singer has considered abortion to be permissible several weeks after birth should the child be severely disabled.[..]

He protests that he is not prejudiced against the disabled, but points out that by bringing up such a child, a couple with limited resources are, as it were, depriving a future, healthy child of a far more fulfilled life. It may seem strange to consider individuals who do not yet actually exist, but as a utilitarian he is at least being consistent in desiring a world with as many satisfied preferences as possible.

Singer’s brand of utilitarianism–one that seeks to satisfy people’s preferences rather than maximise their pleasure as in Jeremy Bentham’s — has led him to a paternalistic leftism (he urges American households to give away to the poor all the domestic income that they do not spend on necessities, and spends little on luxuries himself). The preferences it counts are those that people would have in ideal conditions. So a third world peasant woman’s preference to remain chained to her kitchen stove is to be discounted in favour of the contrary preference she would have if she had had access to a western education. The utilitarian abacus is to be operated by those in the know, by those who are aware of people’s best interests and are able to coax them to the point where they accept the need for change.

Peter Singer on Prenatal Diagnosis and Euthanasia

Peter Singer: Monika Seifert, like many of my other critics, makes the mistake of thinking that because I defend both prenatal diagnosis followed by abortion, and euthanasia soon after birth, I am assuming that the lives of the children aborted or killed are “nicht lebenswert.” But that is just as false as assuming that the withdrawal of thalidomide [I think you call it Contergan] from the market is a judgment that the life of children born without limbs is “nicht lebenswert”. On the contrary, such decisions are comparative judgments: that life with limbs is, other things being equal, better than one without limbs; that having a child without Downs syndrome is, other things being equal, better than having one with Downs syndrome – and so on. No absolute judgment is being made about whether life without limbs, or with Downs syndrome, is worth living. Undeniably, many people without limbs and with Down’s syndrome do have lives that are worth living. Nevertheless, most pregnant women told that their child has such a condition will terminate the pregnancy, and attempt to have another child without such a condition. That is, I believe, a reasonable judgment to make. p.55

Peter Singer about Race, Gender and Intelligence

The intersection of genetics and intelligence is an intellectual minefield. Harvard’s former president Larry Summers touched off one explosion in 2005 when he tentatively suggested a genetic explanation for the difficulty his university had in recruiting female professors in math and physics. (He did not suggest that men are on average more gifted in these fields than women, but that there is some reason for believing that men are more likely than women to be found at both the upper and lower ends of the spectrum of abilities in these fields – and Harvard, of course, only appoints people at the extreme upper end.)–.htm

A very good comment!

Now one of the most eminent scientists of our time has blundered much more clumsily into the same minefield, with predictable results. In October, James Watson, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for his description of the structure of DNA, was in London to promote his memoir, Avoid Boring People and Other Lessons From a Life in Science . In an interview in the London Sunday Times , he was quoted as saying that he was gloomy about Africa’s prospects, because “All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really.” He added that he hoped everyone was equal, but that “people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true.”

Watson tried to clarify his remarks in a subsequent interview in The Independent, saying:

The overwhelming desire of society today is to assume that equal powers of reason are a universal heritage of humanity. It may well be. But simply wanting this to be the case is not enough. This is not science. To question this is not to give in to racism.

Watson is right that questioning this assumption is not, in itself, racist. A racist has a negative attitude to people of a particular race. There is nothing racist about trying to learn what the facts are. What does raise the suspicion of racism, however, is propagating a negative view of the facts when that view lacks a solid scientific foundation–.htm

Peter Singer fumbled on this topic. He is a philosopher, but did not really profoundly study the politically incorrect taboo topic of race and intelligence, by Rushton and Lynn, And the fact that most other research is biased because research in the molds of Rushton and Lynn does not get funding but rather gets you fired (There were attempts at firing Rushton in spite of tenure, and being, by far, the most published and cited psychologist of his entire University.)

See Racial differences in intelligence: James Watson, Nobel Prize winning geneticist persecuted for scientific truth

Putting aside the specific claims that Watson made in his Sunday Times interview, a genuinely difficult question remains: should scientists investigate the possibility of a link between race and intelligence? Is the question too sensitive for science to explore? Is the danger of misuse of the results of such research too great?

The dangers are obvious enough. Racist stereotyping harms the prospects of many non-whites, especially those of African descent. […] On the other hand, it clearly is possible that differences in IQ scores between people living in impoverished countries and people living in affluent countries are affected by factors like education and nutrition in early childhood. Controlling for these variables is difficult.

But there are studies that control for such factors. If there are not enough studies about this, then this is due to the taboo nature of such studies. (Race differences in intelligence: how research changed my mind to overcome the “all races are equal” dogma.)

Yet to say that we should not carry out research in this area is equivalent to saying that we should reject open-minded investigation of the causes of inequalities in income, education, and health between people of different racial or ethnic groups. When faced with such major social problems, a preference for ignorance over knowledge is difficult to defend.   Should We Talk About Race and Intelligence?

He still hedges his bets and is pretty open minded. I wish he would study the literature.

Peter Singer on Virtual Pedophilia and Video Game Violence

[Internet role-playing game called Second Life]  In fact, if your virtual character is an adult, you can have sex with a virtual character who is a child.

If you did that in the real world, most of us would agree that you did something seriously wrong. But is it seriously wrong to have virtual sex with a virtual child? […]

The law is on solid ground when it protects children from being exploited for sexual purposes.

Peter Singer usually hedges his words wisely. “When” and “if” helps him to avoid to have to debate fundamental scientific evidence that would get him into trouble.  Like which law protects children under which circumstances, and when it is a pure witch hunt.

It becomes much more dubious when it interferes with sexual acts between consenting adults. What adults choose to do in the bedroom, many thoughtful people believe, is their own business, and the state ought not to pry into it.

If you get aroused by having your adult partner dress up as a schoolchild before you have sex, and he or she is happy to enter into that fantasy, your behavior may be abhorrent to most people, but as long as it is done in private, few would think that it makes you a criminal.

Nor should it make any difference if you invite a few adult friends over, and in the privacy of your own home they all choose to take part in a larger-scale sexual fantasy of the same kind. Are computers linked via the Internet – again, assuming that only consenting adults are involved – so different from a group fantasy of this kind?

When someone proposes making something a criminal offense, we should always ask: who is harmed? If it can be shown that the opportunity to act out a fantasy by having virtual sex with a virtual child makes people more likely to engage in real pedophilia, then real children will be harmed, and the case for prohibiting virtual pedophilia becomes stronger.

But looking at the question in this way raises another, and perhaps more significant, issue about virtual activities: video game violence.

Those who play violent video games are often at an impressionable age. Doom, a popular violent videogame, was a favorite of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the teenage Columbine High School murderers. In a chilling videotape they made before the massacre, Harris says “It’s going to be like fucking Doom….That fucking shotgun [he kisses his gun] is straight out of Doom!” […]

The burst of publicity about virtual pedophilia in Second Life may have focused on the wrong target. Video games are properly subject to legal controls, not when they enable people to do things that, if real, would be crimes, but when there is evidence on the basis of which we can reasonably conclude that they are likely to increase serious crime in the real world. At present, the evidence for that is stronger for games involving violence than it is for virtual realities that permit pedophilia.–.htm

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8 thoughts on “Peter Singer’s utilitarian ethics replaces our sexually-obsessed religious morality”

  1. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    It’s always a shock and a pleasure when self claimed logical human beings are able to change their world view despite their indoctrinations.
    If an animal is a sentient being then we have no right to exploit them for our own gains.

  2. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Religious morality might seem sexually obsessed during these times, but Singer’s is awful.

    “he merely demands the Socratic virtue of consistency”


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