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Theologians should face Peter Singer's challenge


Peter SingerThe philosopher Whitehead said that all philosophy is a footnote to Aristotle and Plato and he had a good point. There are not many new ideas in ethics — most theories are in some ways a revising of old ideas and the debates today would have been recognised by the ancient Greeks. Not much is new.

However, there has been an emerging challenge to traditional ethics which is not fully recognised or articulated and which strikes at the heart of all traditional religious ethics.

In some ways this challenge stemmed from Ludwig Feuerbach who argued that human beings are simply animals — 'we are what we eat', we are simply material beings who copulate, give birth, grow and die. Life has no transcendent purpose and, essentially, no meaning except that which we create.

Darwin's discovery of the means by which evolution takes place (the survival of the fittest) as well as the work of Freud, Marx, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and 20th century atheists such as Bertrand Russell, A. J. Ayer and others built on this insight. However it is the Australian philosopher, Peter Singer, who has done more than any other to codify and express this insight in ethical terms.

Singer is what is called a preference utilitarian — he holds that the more sentient beings can exercise choices and not suffer the better. He is passionately committed to the view that traditional religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam are speciest in holding that human beings are in an ontologically different category to animals and therefore argues strongly for the rights of animals. A dolphin or a monkey is able to suffer to a greater degree and also to experience happiness than someone with advanced Alzheimer's disease and, therefore, it is wrong to deny them rights. He is a vegetarian and a passionate complainer for animal rights.

Traditionally Christians have wanted to hold that humans were in a different category than animals — indeed it was a heresy called Traducianism in the early Church to hold that a man and woman could have sex and make a human baby — as this would have meant we were no different from animals. God was needed to implant a soul as the soul was immortal and could not be generated by human agency.

The early Church fathers such as Augustine held that souls were implanted 40 days after the conception of a boy and 90 days after conception of a girl and, indeed, Augustine argued that if someone hit a woman and caused a miscarriage prior to these dates they were not guilty of murder as, since no soul had been implanted, a person was not really present. Islam follows this idea of implantation of souls and still holds that Allah implants a soul 100 or 120 days after conception and, after this date, the status of the foetus changes.

This gives rise to the idea of the sanctity of human life — human beings, it is held, are not simply animals — they are made in the image of God and are immortal. Singer utterly rejects such ideas as medieval and today many Christians no longer hold to the implantation of a soul. However this makes it difficult to respond to Peter Singer's challenge and the consequences of this are profound.

If the sanctity of life is rejected, then many of Peter Singer's ideas become persuasive. For instance if a baby is born badly disabled and the parents do not want it then why not, Singer argues, simply kill it and have another one? We would do this with a dog or a cat and since humans are simply animals surely the happiness and well-being of everyone would be improved if the disabled baby was killed and the couple had a new, healthy child.

For a badly disabled child, Singer says that life has begun very badly whereas if one kills it (humanely of course) then the next baby might well be healthy and would therefore have a better quality of life. 'When the death of the disabled infant', writes Singer, '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.' Life that is free of suffering is to be cherished. Speaking of a baby, Singer argues in Practical Ethics, for the need to 'put aside feelings based on its small, helpless and — sometimes — cute appearance'.

Euthanasia would also make great sense — again we put a dog or a cat that is suffering out of its misery, so why not do the same for Granny? Religious people may react with horror to such suggestions but this is based on emotion and Singer urges us to forget emotion and be guided by reason. If humans are essentially animals, if there is no god and no meaning except that which we construct in this life, then his position becomes persuasive.

'After ruling our thoughts and our decisions about life and death for nearly two thousand years, the traditional Western ethic has collapsed.' On this note, Professor Peter Singer began his book — Rethinking Life and Death. He argues for a 'quality-of-life' ethic to replace what he considers to be the outgoing morality that is based on the 'sanctity-of-life'. Writing in the British journal 'The Spectator' in 1995 in an article entitled 'Killing Babies isn't Always Wrong,' Singer said of the Pope, 'I sometimes think that he and I at least share the virtue of seeing clearly what is at stake.' The sanctity-of-life ethic is the key issue at stake.

'That day had to come', states Singer, 'when Copernicus proved that the earth is not at the centre of the universe. It is ridiculous to pretend that the old ethics make sense when plainly they do not. The notion that human life is sacred just because it's human is medieval.'

Singer rejects ideas like 'sanctity-of-life', 'dignity', 'created in the image of God'. 'Fine phrases', he says, 'are the last resource of those who have run out of argument.' He sees no moral or philosophical significance to traditional teens such as 'being', 'nature' and 'essence'. What is fundamental, for Singer, is the capacity of humans and non-human animals to suffer. Human life is not sacrosanct, but certain kinds of human life can be 'meaningful'.

Surprisingly the response from religious thinkers to Singer have been muted — at least in terms of clear philosophic argument. This may partly be because the alternatives available in terms of response are limited. They include the following:

If one can hold onto implantation of souls as Islam does then this would refute Singer's claim that there is not essential difference between human beings and animals. However most modern philosophers reject this dualist approach and even the Catholic Church no longer firmly endorses this idea.

In the 1975 Declaration on Abortion, the Roman Catholic 'Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith' said that 'if the infusion of the soul [at conception] is judged only as probable to take its life is the same as incurring the danger of killing ... it is certain that even if one were to doubt whether the result of conception is already a human person, it is objectively a serious sin to incur the risk of committing homicide.'

Aristotle holds that human beings are rational animals and this is close to Singer's position as well as that taken by most modern philosophers.

It might be claimed that human beings are distinct from animals as they have greater rationality, consciousness, intelligence or the ability to feel pain than animals. This fails as an argument as there are many humans that have lesser capacities in these areas than animals. Kant, in his early years, argued that what made humans distinct from animals was their rationality and held that a non-rational person was not really human at all (the Nazis drew on this idea from Kant to justify some of their obscene policies). However later in Kant's life he recognised that this view was mistaken.

It might be claimed that human beings have greater potentialities than animals and are therefore to be valued differently from animals because of this. Singer maintains that the value of a human life is to be judged by its present capacities not by its potential — an embryo has the potential to become an adult but does not have the capacities of being a human so should not be regarded as such. Even if one maintained that potentialities should be taken into account, this would only affect some — for instance a patient with advanced Alzheimer's has limited potentiality.

Once the Sanctity of Life Principle is abandoned then there is no longer any fixed point at which human beings should be respected. Peter Singer is willing to kill an unwanted, disabled infant at 28 days after birth, but why not three months or even a year after birth? This could lead to terrible consequences with people who are intellectually or physically sub-normal being terminated against their will.

In other words it could be argued that rejecting the Sanctity of Life principle means embarking on a slippery slope with unacceptable consequences. Singer would not be convinced by this — it would be up to legislators with the agreement of the public to impose restrictions so that unacceptable consequences did not follow.

Oxford University has established a centre for the study of Transhumanism. The aim is to develop human capacities considerably beyond where they are at present. Human beings are not seen as the end point of evolution. Separately robotics as a science is developing rapidly and the possibility of self-conscious robots (think of the film I Robot or the recent film Her) is now at least conceivable. If the human species is not distinct from other forms of life, then the application of these technologies to produce a super race is now within the bounds of what is conceptually possible. This would not trouble Singer.

Singer is a philosopher and, as such, presents cogent and rational arguments. However this does raise the question whether reason should be the final arbiter in all such matters. Instinct and emotion have a role to play in what it means to be human. The instinctive abhorrence that some people feel against killing full term babies should not be rejected on the grounds that they may not be rational. It could be argued that a denial of the Christian idea of love and a rejection of a commitment to the intrinsic worth of each individual no matter what their capacities may be rational but it is not human.

G. K. Chesterton wrote the following: 'If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgement. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.'

A robot may be highly rational but is unlikely to share the emotions or instincts of human beings. This is potentially an important insight but the question remains whether the emotional reaction is an appropriate one and whether such a reaction is based on being 'speciest' as Singer holds because we have an emotional reaction to the protection of our own species.

If one believes in God, then it may be claimed that it is God who has created human beings directly. Human beings are immortal and their lives do not end in death and have far greater significance than any animal. If there is life after death, then it places the whole of this life in a completely different framework — this life is, at least in part, about preparing for the next and quality of life here is of less significance than preparing for death.

Plato argued that the task of the philosopher was to care for the soul as whilst the body perished the soul survived and would have to account for how life had been lived. This is a potentially interesting counter to Singer as it places human life in a completely different context and could justify the emotional reaction that many feel to Singer's position. It depends, of course, on an assumption (life after death) but this assumption is central to Christianity as St Paul recognised when he said that if Christ Jesus was not raised then human beings would be the most to be pitied.

The religious claim, therefore, can challenge Singer and show that his position is flawed. However this is a faith claim and one which in Australia, New Zealand and Europe is widely rejected so it is unlikely to command majority support and in a democracy this is crucial.

At the least, religious philosophers and theologians should further engage with the challenge to traditional ethics that Singer's position provides and should seek to engage with it. It is also wrong to demonise him as in the area of animal rights, care for the poor and the moral obligation of those who are wealthy to actively assist with problems in the Third World. He offers much to challenge religious believers. He gives away 20 per cent of his income and argues that this should be a minimum — how many religious believers do that?

It is important for young people (and therefore teachers) to be aware of the challenge to the Sanctity of Life that Singer provides as it is they who will have to influence future politicians in their decision making process. Singer puts forward a powerful case and it is one which, in the current climate where people seek happiness and quality of life above everything else, will find increasing support particularly with the difficulty of funding medical care for those who are old or disabled.

Increased support is not, of course, the same as saying his position is right — but that is why it is so important to engage with the issues and be clear about the basis for arguments which seek to show he is mistaken.


Peter VardyDr Peter Vardy was formally vice-principal of the Jesuit run Heythrop College, University of London for twelve years. He is running a series of teacher training workshops on bioethics across all capital cities in Australia in August. Details can be obtained from Wendy Rowe, Wombat Education.

Topic tags: Peter Vardy, Peter Singer



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St Augustine also wrote: It is more important to be able to discern and tell when Satan transforms himself as an angel of light, lest by this deception he should seduce us into harmful acts. For, when he deceives the corporeal senses, and does not thereby turn the mind from that true and right judgment by which one leads the life of faith, there is no danger to religion. Or if, feigning himself to be good, he does or says things that would fit the character of the good angels, even if then we believe him good, the error is neither dangerous nor fatal to the Christian faith. But when, by these alien wiles, he begins to lead us into his own ways, then great vigilance is required to recognize him and not follow after. But how few men are there who are able to avoid his deadly stratagems, unless God guides and preserves them! Yet the very difficulty of this business is useful in this respect: it shows that no man should rest his hopes in himself, nor one man in another, but all who are Gods should cast their hopes on him. And that this latter is obviously the best course for us no pious man would deny.

Bernstein | 31 July 2014  

"This gives rise to the idea of the sanctity of human life ... they are made in the image of God and are immortal." Peter Singer's position is almost impossible to refute on purely rational grounds. Any appeal to the sanctity of human life or God's will for his creation flounders on Singer's starting position of rejecting the existence of God - a position shared with an increasing number of people in our society. The gap in Singer's position appears to be undervaluing human characteristics other than rationality. The intuitive, emotional, creative spirit is what defines us and, as the fields of transhumanism and robotics progress further, might well become the residual qualities by which we are differentiated from advanced automaton machines. With much respect for philosophy, I think it would be a great loss to humanity if we put all our faith in rationality, and walk away from the rich treasury of literature and the other creative arts, and allow our intuitive awareness of the Divine to be dulled by the futile effort to justify or refute that awareness by rational argument.

Ian Fraser | 01 August 2014  

Thanks. This is a really important article, and gets to the core of a major problem for the Church, which I believe dear Pope Francis is currently on about. That is: what is the philosophical basis for our beliefs? The problem it seems to me, is the attempt over centuries to ape the Greeks and base our morals in so many areas on convoluted rationalisations from a tortured idea of "natural law", whatever that is ! And from that create a "tradition" and "the magisterium"! Singer is beating us hands-down on that ground. We need to turn with Francis is to the life, death and (most importantly perhaps) resurrection of Jesus Christ, and his core message: that God loves us and that we are called to love him back, and to love our neighbours...and ALL of them, as ourselves. That is what gives humans of all ages and physical and mental capacities their dignity and "sanctity". The church has tried to be too "clever"and then repressive when it began to fall apart , and failed! I think a surprising number of our countrymen would follow us on those core principles.

Eugene | 01 August 2014  

I live in a town in regional NSW were the two main industries are tourism and retirement.. I have no statistics to prove it but animal husbandry and animals as pets would be a close third. In any one week I am sure to be involved in some discussion about the matters that Peter Singer's teaching raises. Not that my interlocutors are aware they are raising the same questions and suggesting the same solutions as Singer does. My general observations are these. Older people recoil from having their pet dog or cat put to sleep - possibly seeing themselves as the next candidates for euthanasia.. Younger people accept that sick and dying oldies should be put our of their misery. It would also remove their burden of having to care for them. It seems to me that in the concrete situation where decisions have to be made whether a person or an animal should be killed (euthanised) or their suffering mitigated the ordinary man in the street doesn't turn to certain philosophical principles to reach a decision. A plethoric multiplicity of interacting emotions . rationalisations and sometimes calm reason influence his decision-making process. Theologians debunking Singer wouldn't enter into it.

Uncle Pat | 01 August 2014  

Well said Ian Fraser.

Pam | 01 August 2014  

It seems to me that Raimond Gaita had handled Peter Singer's theses often and eloquently - but more importantly, with a humanity consistently informed by seriousness. As Gaita puts it, it is easy to present one's thinking as "advanced", "radical" and "challenging" when you propose your philosophy in supposedly rational terms that are nevertheless completely deracinated from the context of common humanity (including compassion!) within which the broader philosophical tradition arose. In other words, a phrase such as "rational preference" can be made to mean anything you want to. But it need not make any actual sense within the living experience of most of us. And that's not unlike that other weasel term "economic rationalism", really.

Fred Green | 01 August 2014  

Thank you Peter for your contribution to a topic that I agree seems lacking in engagement by our theologians and philosophers, at least in the public domain. I am neither theologian nor philosopher, but it seems one of our greatest challenges is posed by dualistic thinking. The fact that Singer talks about our oneness with our fellow creatures on this clod while at the same time operates totally within the rational to me seems to be only partially human. While I applaud Singer for his challenge to poverty and inequality, where he exhilarates and inspires, his summaries appear to mimic a certain violence that is inherent in nature. The question, ‘why do bad things happen to good people?’ tempts us to bury many noble of our capacities and lead many to be split by the blade of the either/or dichotomy. It is not just semantics that drives this debate, there are fundamental divergences that create dangerous chasms that should alarm. At the same time, it is healthy to remember that the democratic domain that is Western thinking, has been constructed using the girders of free will. Good feel free to step back to view the wider context within which the ape so cleverly swings.

Vic O’Callaghan | 01 August 2014  

This is a puzzling piece. It parodies Darwin and presents, instead, a Nietzschean distortion. What Singer presents is also a variant of JB Watson's "Behaviourism" movement which so blighted psychology during the 20th century. But he is consistent in his thinking. In fact, he demeans people to a LESSER status than animals because, with his ideas on "animal liberation" which seem to imply at least a parity of worth, he is prepared to endorse the killing of handicapped children who -- by his logic -- must be considered at least of equal worth with animals." Furthermore, what it says about the "infusion of the soul" question (whatever that may mean) seems paradoxical: at one point is it dismissed as a "heresy" and at another the author says merely that "many Christians [?not ALL?] do not agree with it. The essential point surely is the nettlesome matter of "consciousness", as well as "conscience" and "moral choice" which animals seem not to have or, if it might be argued otherwise, they have in quite a different (even rudimentary) form in contrast to people. This is seems to me to be what older philosophers and theologians were trying to grapple with when they used the term :"soul", no matter how inadequate we might sometimes find that language today.

John Carmody | 01 August 2014  

The author’s ‘rational but not human’ line would be embraced by an ordinary non-Christian person I think. If Singer ‘maintains that the value of a human life is to be judged by its present capacities not by its potential — an embryo has the potential to become an adult but does not have the capacities of being a human so should not be regarded as such’, then what are the implications for an ordinary healthy baby? Being presently incapable of surviving alone, does Prof Singer believe that it has ‘the capacities of being a human’? If we are correct in thinking that being human goes beyond reason and into emotion (including relationship) won’t people reject the logical extremes into which Singer’s arguments lead? Like the Nazi euthanasia, or the arbitrary and changeable (surely the antithesis of ‘rational’) time limits proposed by Singer for killing disabled infants. We need to hear arguments that ‘speciesm’ is reasonable (in spite of needing to respect and admire, and I would say learn from, animals), and the absurd and abhorrent (but surely ‘rational’!) extensions that would follow from rejecting that position. This should enable the ‘sanctity of life’ statement and the question of God.

David Moloney | 01 August 2014  

born late 40s. Physically disabled in the first two months. Uncle sad I should have been hit on the head with a hammer! I'm still here, he is not. Blow Peter Singer!

folkie | 01 August 2014  

Singer’s problematic definition of personhood is no basis on which to build an ethical system. It is discriminatory - a kind of genetic apartheid. It does not adequately account for why Singer places a value on consciousness and sentience, why he devalues the increasingly evident abilities of infants and why he devalues potential, hidden qualities of the human person. Moreover, Singer misrepresents ‘the other side’s’ view (the Judeo Christian) he supposedly challenges: while appropriating Thomistic-Aristotelian terms, he does not clearly define his understanding of them and distorts ‘the other side’s’ views on ‘species’, ‘potentiality’ and the treatment of animals. He has no philosophy of mind to account for the distinctions he makes downplaying the higher abilities of human beings from which spring metaphysical questioning of being. Singer’s definition of personhood discriminates against the vulnerable who would be better protected with a greater understanding of mutual dependence between the strong and weak. Persons can do more for each other in a kinder more connected world - than in the world of Singer's ''oh so nice'committees which decide who will live and who will die.

Skye | 01 August 2014  

#The Dogma of Immaculate Conception would be meaningless, without ensoulment at conception. #Divine Revelation, implicitly at least, underlines de facto ensoulment at conception, as a revealed-given to facilitate the "freedom from original sin" within the soul AT BVM CONCEPTION-not later #Thereby ensoulment/animation at conception is, at bare minimum, "proxima fidei"[If not "de fidei,]" #The ensoulment at conception was not a special privilege, but a given normal creative act by God re all conceptions. #The privilege was the freedom from original sin in the ensoulment from conception, #Mundane ensoulment at conception was no privilege, though per accidens revelation of utterly mundane facet re ante natal obstetrics/gynecology ensoulment 101

Father John George | 01 August 2014  

It's good to be speciesist. We prefer the human species because it's our species. Just as we prefer our own family because it's our family..If there are other species that can think this way and be speciesist, than that's their right. But we must remember that one thing about being human is that we must be humane.

Gavan Breen | 01 August 2014  

I endorse the comment by Fred Green and recommend that we read both Peter Singer's "Writings on an Ethical Life" and Raimond Gaita's "Good and Evil. An Absolute Conception". Gaita is a great Australian moral philosopher who provides a significant critique of consequentialist ethics in general and of Peter Singer in particular. I believe that if we see this matter as a debate between the two ethicists, Gaita is the victor.

Gerard Costigan | 01 August 2014  

When Peter Singer says that “there is not essential difference between human beings and animals”, for a second I almost believed he was telling the truth...

Orlando Braga | 02 August 2014  

'The ensoulment at conception was not a special privilege, but a given normal creative act by God re all conceptions'. I wonder, Father JG, if you could identify for me the precise point, during the evolution of the homo sapiens species from less developed species, when God began to perform this creative act? I wonder also if there is any evidence in the fossil record of such a game-changing event?

Ginger Meggs | 02 August 2014  

'Singer’s problematic definition of personhood is no basis on which to build an ethical system. It is discriminatory - a kind of genetic apartheid. It does not adequately account for why Singer places a value on consciousness and sentience, why he devalues the increasingly evident abilities of infants and why he devalues potential, hidden qualities of the human person'. Couldn't the same be said, Skye, about Christianity - or at least the West's version of it. Is Singer's definition any more 'discriminatory' that Morrison's definition of who should be able to come to this country and who should not? Is it any more a 'kind of genetic apartheid' than the difference in importance that Abbott and Bishop give to the score or so of Australians on the downed airliner vs the hundreds of Palestinians killed (and still being killed) by the Israeli state? Singer's view may very well be problematic as you claim, but it is no less problematic than the prevailing view in the west.

Ginger Meggs | 02 August 2014  

Peter Singer argues that 1/ either handicapped human beings or people with serious deficiencies has no right to live, and he justifies his opinion by saying that “those are lives not worth of living”. On the other hand, he argues that 2/ the death of those handicapped people is “useful” as society would spare money in health care. Peter Singer doctrine can be debunked in two points, as follows: 1/ Peter Singer incurs in a Naturalistic Fallacy (please check the British philosopher G. E. Moore) as he draws moral conclusions from facts. 2/ Peter Singer presupposes that there is a general consensus about the value and the convenient costs of a human life – and there is not such a consensus.

Orlando Braga | 02 August 2014  

Good article and many responses. I think it's vital to address the challenge of Singer's system, but primarily on its own terms: philosophy, including logic, rather than theology. Singer's position is deeply flawed at these levels alone. For one thing, it trades heavily on the enlightenment rejection of traditional aristotelian/scholastic concepts, especially final causality (and hence causality in general). I recommend reading Singer closely, but also through the eyes of philosophers such as Edward Feser ("Aquinas" "Scholastic Metaphysics" "The Last Superstition" and David Oderberg ("Moral Theory", "Applied Ethics", "Real Essentialism", etc) who are prominent in what is a fascinating revival of traditional metaphysics. They brilliantly assail the enlightenment project (Hume, Descartes, Berkeley, etc). Once that critique is understood, Singer's thesis can be seen for the thin (and poisonous) gruel it is. Dr Vardy's own writings in bioethics and philosophy are also excellent, IMO. Incidentally Singer himself has of late begun to question his own project - which is to his credit. Let's keep him in our prayers.

HH | 02 August 2014  

Dr Vardy Faith response and methodology may not placate majority democratic polls,or the philosophical smoking rooms. But at pastoral coal face, where faith is weakening, faith statements,Church doctrinal clarifications, are pivotal]. Man cannot live by philosophy alone. The Singer issue is fiducial, not mere philosophical discourse. And yes I am dyed in the wool Thomist. Aquinas produced a perennial Summa Theologica not a mere summa philosophica .The former never won universal applause in the church,in later democracies, or opinion polls, but continues to revive and underpin sound apologetics,in the church before outside.

Father John George | 03 August 2014  

Do the manatees, chimpanzees and the rest give a damn about us?Do they argue amongst themselves about the priority they should give to our interests? Common sense tells us they don't because they are only animals. In the absence of evidence we can only act as common sense suggests.

Jim Jones | 04 August 2014  

Yes HH, any attempt to refute Singer on theological grounds is a waste of effort. Even to get his attention, an argument against his position has to be philosophical. And thanks for your list of references. I'm not ready to write off the Enlightenment, but I do think the Western world effectively dispensed with metaphysics too readily.

Ian Fraser | 04 August 2014  

'Do the manatees [etc] give a damn about us? Common sense tells us they don't because they are ONLY animals'. Well they may not give a damn, Jim Jones, but the reason cannot be 'because they are only animals', otherwise we, who are also 'only animals', 'could not give a damn' either. If you want to talk about the 'sanctity of life' then you need to include all life, not just homo sapiens, and face the consequences. If you want to limit 'sanctity' to the human species only, then you have to invent concepts of 'ensoulment'. But where is your evidence for adopting that position? You could hardly rely on 'common sense'.

Ginger Meggs | 04 August 2014  

IF, thanks. Can I share with you (and anyone else interested) 3 youtube lectures by Feser which cover this whole area of science, the philosophy of nature, natural theology (ie proof of the existence of God from reason), the enlightenment turn against Aristotle and scholastic views of same and the reply of modern Aristotelians/scholastics. They're fascinating and, for a dummie like me, I find the more times I listen to them the more I learn. What is particularly intriguing is the fact that modern philosophers of science - even atheists such as Thomas Nagel, etc, are starting to reject the enlightenment concept of science as inadequate, and are carving out positions that represent a recovery - to some extent of Aristotelian/scholastic notions. It's worth noting that Feser and Oderberg were once firmly atheist philosophers who have thought their way back to theism along philosophical pathways. A rip roaring history of the great questions of metaphysics from Thales and Parmenides to the moderns, to boot. Give yourself a treat! Cheers. (The first tow are a couplet, the third is a standalone. Material largely overlaps, but all 3 are worth listening to.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1Dkp1U9pek https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-O40N4nNGUc https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgVh8aJPPN8

HH | 04 August 2014  

GM, every living thing has a soul, since a ‘soul’ – in the traditional Aristotelian/Thomist sense - is just the form of any thing which is a living thing. In any case, discussing souls and ensoulment is not relevant here. There are two attributes of humans which distinguish them from animals and other living things and ground the sanctity of human life as opposed to other forms of life. Unlike all other living creatures, as far as we are know, humans, as a species, have 1. the capacity to know why it is that they do what they do and 2. free will. Oderberg’s “Applied Ethics” Ch 3: “Animals” presents the arguments establishing this account, and defends it against both the “animal rights” position on the one hand and the consequentialist position of Singer on the other. (See also Oderberg's “The Illusion of Animal Rights”, available online).

HH | 12 August 2014  

Ensoulment is crucial, since the soul's faculties, of non material intellect and will, constitute the bedrock differentiation of human and animal life. Don't dumb down ensoulment.

Father John George | 21 August 2014  

Just because Peter Singer is a darling of the left espousing trendy animal rights' causes and a well known philosopher doesn't mean he speaks the truth or any common sense, let alone acknowledges the reality of the lived experience of disability, potential or otherwise. As a person who acquired a spinal cord injury in young adulthood I am appalled and outraged by his arrogant assumption that my life and those of my brothers and sisters in disability are less worthy of living than his or any other temporarily able- bodied person. He lives a heartbeat away from acquiring a disability himself. It is his refusal to recognise his own fragility and mortality and his ill-informed presumptions about the quality of my life is why he and his views are held in such contempt in the disability community.

Joan Hume | 16 August 2015  

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