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October 2010

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Rethinking Life and Death: Singer’s Five New Commandments

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Peter Singer is an interesting person. His goal as a philosopher is, as I see it, to come up with guidelines that allow for acting ethically while remaining consistent. He artfully exposes the inconsistencies in much of what we in the west consider our ethical codes. The book itself, Rethinking Life and Death, is a quick read, and one I recommend. 

Singer does have a perspective that has been challenged often; one example is that he has been accused of promoting the killing of the disabled. Those charges show that those who raise them have not read his work, but it is true that much of what he proposes may not be worth the trade off. For me, he raises the issue of whether it is more important to be consistent or to do what is right. He does not see the two as conflicting; I am not so sure.

At the end of his book he discusses the ‘old’ rules and proposes instead a new rule for each.

1. Old – Treat all human life as of equal worth

New – Recognize that the worth of human life varies

I think this one is possibly most likely to draw the ire of many who have not read his arguments. It mainly serves to address the concerns surrounding withdrawal of medical care from those who never will be conscious. 

 

2. Old – Never intentionally take innocent human life

New – Take responsibility for the consequencs of your decisions

 

3. Old – Never take your own life, and always try to prevent others taking theirs

New – Respect a person’s desire to live or die

This one, for me, was the most obviously correct. I know that suicide of a young, troubled person is something I want to prevent, but I do not agree that those who are terminally ill or in severe and unending pain should be required to stay alive if that is not their choice.

 

4. Old – Be fruitful and multiply

New – Bring children into the world only if they are wanted

I clearly agree with this suggestion as well. The idea of having kids to fulfill some religious purpose turns my stomach a bit (Duggars, I’m looking at you).

 

5. Old – Treat all human life as always more precious than any nonhuman life

New – Do not descriminate on the basis of species

This one also is likely to earn an audible guffaw from most people. As someone who has been a vegetarian a few times in my life, I have struggled with this for years. I’m still not sure how to act when it comes to using animals to receive pleasure in the form of cute boots or a tasty burger. I have requested his Animal Liberation book from the library to learn more.

 

If any of this strikes you as interesting, I suggest picking up a copy of the book at the library. 

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