an exceptional book which explains the conflict between our moral intuitions driven by evolution and what is actually moral when derived from reason An excellent introduction to the ethical system of universal well being One of the best ideas Singer presents here is that science is the fulcrum upon which reason exerts leverage on ethics You can find the full text on a quick Google search and I would highly recommend you read this as a foundation for ethical reasoning. What Is Ethics Where Do Moral Standards Come From Are They Based On Emotions, Reason, Or Some Innate Sense Of Right And Wrong For Many Scientists, The Key Lies Entirely In Biology Especially In Darwinian Theories Of Evolution And Self Preservation But If Evolution Is A Struggle For Survival, Why Are We Still Capable Of Altruism In His Classic Study The Expanding Circle, Peter Singer Argues That Altruism Began As A Genetically Based Drive To Protect One S Kin And Community Members But Has Developed Into A Consciously Chosen Ethic With An Expanding Circle Of Moral Concern Drawing On Philosophy And Evolutionary Psychology, He Demonstrates That Human Ethics Cannot Be Explained By Biology Alone Rather, It Is Our Capacity For Reasoning That Makes Moral Progress Possible In A New Afterword, Singer Takes Stock Of His Argument In Light Of Recent Research On The Evolution Of Morality A fascinating exploration of the relationship between ethics and science, especially sociobiology Singer argues that certain kinds of altruism kin, reciprocal, even group may result in an evolutionary advantage, so that these traits may come to be strongly coded in our genes The fact that these forms of altruism are natural however, does not, by itself make them ethical Singer is especially good, in Chapter 3, on drawing a distinction between the ability of science to understand and predict the behavior of human beings and the likely consequences of their actions and its inability to help us decide which of those behaviors is ethical, while retaining our responsibility for our own actions As reasoning beings, humans must either reject or defend their instinctive choices through the use of reason, specifically through a reference to the principle of impartiality, where everyone else s interests count as much as our own The appeal to this principle, which may begin as a way of codifying and justifying our instinctive choices, soon takes on a life of its own, however For one thing, the codification of the conclusions arrived at through these principles helps to strengthen and enhance our natural altruistic i.e social tendencies at both the individual and group levels, while making such ethical choices both cognitively less taxing for the individual, and easier to coordinate across the group At the same time, the application of these principles naturally leads to an expansion of the circle of altruism, as our definition of everyone expands beyond our family, friends and neighbors, to include our community, our nation, human beings, and eventually all sentient living things Singer suggests that this process of expansion is driven by the cognitive dissonance we experience as rational beings when we apply the principle of impartiality to some cases but not to others, and is made compatible with evolution precisely because this kind of ethical expansion is associated with higher reasoning powers, so that the evolutionary disadvantage of generalized benevolence is offset by the evolutionary advantage of better reasoning That said, Singer is quick to recognize that for an ethical code for society to be viable it must not run entirely counter to our natural impulses, even though it may not and should not be entirely dictated by them A social code that insisted on complete impartiality and denied our natural tendency to give primacy to our family and friends would serve as little purpose as one that fully justified these impulses as being natural The former code would not only be too onerous for the majority of people to follow, it would, if followed, impose large costs by disrupting behaviors we currently take for granted The solution, then, is a kind of compromise a social moral code that allows for the primacy of kin and reciprocal loyalties while pushing us to reason impartially towards others when these loyalties are not threatened And an individual ethic that encourages us to consider forms of generalized altruism that we would not penalize others for not attempting, and tied to a recognition that for those of us living comfortable modern lives the genetically coded imperatives to limit the circle of altruism no longer make sense. This was an interesting analysis on the connect between evolution and ethics and does a good job of arguing that evolution and biology cannot explain everything about morality largely because of the is ought distinction which most students of philosophy will already have come across As usual it s written in Peter Singer s accessible style and doesn t take an age to get through To me this book felt a little broad, but it s a good introduction to the topic. Magnifique livre, j ai failli y donner 5 toiles Singer est clair, plaisant lire et convaincant dans ses arguments Les 2 premiers chapitres sont d di s une explication de l origine biologique de l thique En fait, ce que tente de d fendre Singer est qu il y a des avantages de fitness tre altruiste, qu il est logique du point de vue de la s lection naturelle que nos anc tres avec des g nes altruistes se sont reproduis Il parle de 3 diff rentes sortes d altruisme naturelles naturelles dans le sens qui se sont d velopp non pas parce la raison, mais parce qu avoir ces traits tait avantageux la survie Le kin altruism , le reciprocal altruism et le group altruism L altruisme favoriser la survie de qq1 d autre avant la sienne dans certaines circonstances Kin altruism favoriser qq1 de sa famille, reciprocal altruism favoriser qq1 qui te rend un service, group altruism je m en rappelle moyen hihi.Bref, l id e tant que m me si a parait contradictoire, il est avantageux pour les individus de ne pas favoriser sa propre survie Dans le cas du kin altruism c est que la s lection naturelle se fait au niveau des g nes, puis que les membres d une m me famille partagent les g nes Donc, si un individu se sacrifie pour ses parents fr res soeurs voir m me cousins neveux ca peut souvent tre avantageux au point de vue de la transmission de ses g nes Si, par exemple, en se sacrifiant il sauve 6 membres de sa famille il y a plus de chance que ses g nes soient transmis que s il est goiste Dans le cas du reciprocal altruism c est plus simple, c est juste que parfois un change de service est b n fique la survie, que le moment o tu avantages l autre personne te sera redonn plus tard Certaines t ches ne peuvent tre accomplies seules, une entente tacite entre individus qui tentent de se prot ger permet d am liorer la fitness.Apr s avoir avanc cela, il d fend dans le 3e chapitre qu il y a une diff rence entre la morale naturelle et la bonne moralit , ce qui est privil gier Il cite E.O Wilson qui tente, dans son livre publi en 1975 de dire que les philosophes devraient cesser de s int resser l thique, que ca devrait plut t tre la t che des sociobiologistes qui, en trouvant les tendances naturelles de l homme trouvent en m me temps ce qu ils doivent faire Singer argument qu il y a une diff rence fondamentale Elle se trouve dans le is ought gap , les faits n ont pas, contrairement aux valeurs, la capacit de motiver mes actions No science will ever discover ethical premises inherent in our biological nature, because ethical premises are not the kind of thing discovered by scientific investigation Par l il veut dire que la science d couvre des faits, puis que le contenu de l thique n est pas factuel, puisque fondamentalement il cherche donner des raisons d agir et que les faits ne peuvent pas donner des raisons d agir Essentiellement c est ce qu il fait dans ce chapitre, prouver que la diff rence est fondamentale, mais il admet que la science aide beaucoup l thique, la science permet de dire ce qu est le monde et quand on prend des d cisions on se base sur des valeurs, certes, mais l application de ces valeurs varie selon l tat du monde, donc science et thique doivent collaborer pour que les individus aient de bonnes raisons d agir.Le 4e et de loin meilleur chapitre selon moi est celui o Singer fait de la philosophie morale proprement parler, il d fend sa conception morale et la justifie Sa justification est tellement all chante, bien justifi e, simple qu elle me convainc Le seul hic est qu il ne parle pas d utilitarisme, ce qu il justifie est la chose suivante 1 L thique commence quand des individus tentent de justifier leur conduite aupr s des autres membre de leurs groupes 2 Toute tentative de justification, si elle veut tre convaincante, doit tre impartiale, dans les mots de Singer, il faut que la personne qui tente de justifier sa conduite soit d sint ress e 3 partir de l , la raison intervient et ce que Singer appelle ethical thinking devient un sujet auquel la raison pense et d veloppe des arguments Le ethical thinking a commenc par une tentative de justifier sa conduite aux autres et partir de cela, la raison a commenc r fl chir l thique en tant que tel et le but a graduellement modifi tentative de convaincre ses concitoyens trouver ce que les individus doivent faire 4 Mais on n a pas le contenu du ethical thinking , je vais citer Singer au moment o il explique son raisonnement, il est clair et fait le lien entre le d but de l thique et o la raison peut le mener Reasoning in ethics is not limited to the negative task of rejecting custom as a source of moral authority We can progress toward rational settlement of disputes over ethics by taking the element of disinterestedness inherent in the idea of justifying one s conduct to society as a whole and extending this to the principle that to be ethical, a decision must give equal weight to the interests of all affected by it 5 Il a tay son crit re moral, il faut tre impartial, et avoir une gale consid ration des int r ts Pour avoir des int r ts il faut que des choses puissent tre bonne ou mauvaise pour soi 6 Il rejette ensuite les autres th ories morales en disant qu ils supposent un r alisme m ta thique et avance l argument de la bizzarerie de Mackie pour d fendre pourquoi cela est faux Donc si qq1 d fend que quoi que ce soit d autre que le simple fait que ses int r ts ont autant de valeur que ceux des autres a de la valeur morale, il doit justifier que ce crit re moral X qu il invoque est vrai, pour ce faire il tente de prouver que le r alisme moral est vrai, et le r alisme moral est faux donc c est impossible 7 Il parle de d autres choses, chapitre absolument passionnant, mais c est l essentiel.Je vais continuer plus tard pour les autres chapitre, mais le 4e sur la raison est jouissif, magnifique. Singer s book feels strikingly contemporary in 2017, as other reviewers have also pointed out The expanding circle is a wonderful metaphor of how we can improve our ethical rules by being inclusive in who we include in our moral calculations And it also makes for a wonderful book, which provides plenty of interesting arguments in defence of the careful and conservative integration of the insights of evolutionary psychology and sociobiology into moral philosophy Singer s book came out just a few years after E.O Wilson s Sociobiology and Richard Dawkins s The Selfish Gene and it suffers a little from the comparison, since it is summative than groundbreaking However, Singer s work also benefits from the comparison in other respects For one, it is perhaps the shortest introduction to the topic of sociobiology to the lay reader, even today It is written in an engaging and probing manner, unlike the dry tomes of most philosophers For the educated reader, the important distinction is that Singer s philosophical skills are very sophisticated compared to the often crude and amateurish remarks on naturalistic ethics made by Wilson and Dawkins.Singer not only summarizes a lot of the groundbreaking work on kin altruism, group altruism and reciprocal altruism as also discussed by Dawkins, Wilson and others , but he also exposes many of the logical fallacies and philosophical dilemmas that naturalists often leave unexplored For example, he points out how deriving an ought from an is is no simple matter, as philosophers since Hume have known A merely descriptive analysis of human psychology can shed light on why we act in ways that we do, but it still leaves open the possibility that we have radical freedom I m not sure I completely agree with Singer s existentialist and libertarian emphasis on the question of free will, but it serves as a powerful challenge to the naive derivations of the sociobiological canon.Secondly, Singer eloquently defends the rationalist impulses of human nature, and he ties them up to the radical freedom mentioned above, as the possibility of moral progress and expansion He argues that while the capacity to reason has evolved to allow us to publically defend our actions to the members of our in group in an effort to further reciprocal, group and kin cooperation , it has also allowed us to care about logical consistency and unbiased obedience to valid argumentation Thus, our rational capacities, while kept in check by a rainbow coalition of passions and intuitions, have allowed human cultures and literate societies to develop political institutions where public discourse has expanded the concern of selfish interests towards the concern for the interests of others There exists a march of reason towards an ever expanding circle of consideration for the welfare of others Singer calls this the principle of the equal consideration of interests Our passions and reason can coincide, he claims, when we try to alleviate our cognitive dissonance from purely self interested motivations and to spread our moral concern to all sentient beings equally.The resulting framework should not surprise anyone who is familiar with Singer s prior or later work He advocates for egalitarian humanitarian ethics which calls for the maximization of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, country, age, sexual orientation or even species membership But he also prudently advocates for a public allegiance to simple systems of ethics that incorporate easy and fast rules of practical reason He claims that universal ethics is the end goal, but we need to be efficient in moving towards it, and simply ignoring human nature of the sort that evolutionary psychology explains will lead to counterproductive consequences His discussion is remarkably prescient and tantalizing, and I wish contemporary advocates for evolutionary ethics would take Singer s admonitions seriously.It still seems to me that sociobiology is a work in progress, and the integration of Darwinism into moral philosophy has barely begun The New Ethics faces many hurdles that need to be overcome It forces us to rethink our intuitions and customs about how we organize our social institutions, what principles we rely on to guide our private decisions, and what it means to be rational human Not all of its answers are simple or straightforward and Singer s analysis is one of the most foresighted among the bunch in this regard but all of its questions cut to the very core of our humanity If we take the metaphor of the Expanding Circle seriously, and set our goals on reworking our lives around the central insights of evolutionary ethics, we can use Singer s work as a point of departure for an ethical revolution that might take many centuries to complete. I remember enjoying Singer s style not long ago Now I find it much too fluid for my taste It s difficult to extract out the key points because everything is presented in a continuous chain of reasoning.As far as I could tell this book is trying to do two things First, to make the observation that over time people extend moral consideration to an expanding circle of beings, initially just kin and those one is frequently in contact with so that reciprocal altruism is important , then to neighbouring tribes villages, then to neighbouring countries, then different races genders, then different species, and then who knows This expansion is nicely illustrated by Plato advocating for Greeks to only enslave barbarians and not other Greeks.The second thing the book does is propose a mechanism for the expanding circle I think Singer s theory of Expanding Circle Mechanics can be summed up with two quotes First, a quote by Marx which is reproduced in The Expanding Circle Each new class which displaces the one previously dominant is forced, simply to be able to carry out its aim, to represent its interest as the common interest of all members of society, that is, ideally expressed It has to give its ideas the form of universality and represent them as the only rational, universally valid ones Every new class, therefore, achieves dominance only on a broader basis than that of the previous class ruling.Although Singer wouldn t restrict this to just the ruling class, it seems obvious how this would work for the ruling class Everyone needs to justify their actions to others in universal terms Singer If we do not understand what an escalator is, we might get on it intending to go a few meters, only to find that once we are on, it is difficult to avoid going all the way to the end Similarly, once reasoning has got started it is hard to tell where it will stop The idea o a disinterested defence of one s conduct emerges because of the social nature of human beings and the requirements of group living, but in the thought of reasoning beings, it takes on a logic of its own which leads to its extension beyond the bounds of the group.In particular, this process is mostly progressed by a small number of superior moral thinkers Plato and Mill are two obvious candidates, and probably Singer himself who notice inconsistencies in prevalent moral paradigms and champion radical new moral theories.All pretty interesting stuff, but I think got all the key points from the two page summary in The Better Angels of our Nature. 4 1 2 stars I had initially planned on giving this book a slightly lower rating, mostly due to two factors Singer s strong commitment to the fact value distinction and the ambivalence he displays in regards to objective normative truths In the new afterword to the edition I have, he now repudiates the latter view, which is a move I welcome However, he doesn t mention that values may be just a special class of facts, and I think admitting the existence of objective normative truths entails this view Maybe Singer would agree, but he doesn t explicitly mention the fact value distinction in the afterword, so I m left guessing as to his position.Just a few things I d like to comment on First, the general thesis that our moral circle is expanding, and has expanded historically speaking is entirely correct Going off this point, the idea that we can use our reason to make sure the circle continues to expand, that we are not entirely the slaves to our desires, as Hume held, is also correct So like most of what I ve read of Singer, his arguments once again succeed And finally, the parts of sociobiology that he is critical of which now seem pretty obvious today are spot on He is careful, however, not to be wholly critical of the implications an evolutionary understanding of human behavior has for ethics He rightly emphasizes the worth that studying humans from an evolutionary perspective may have for ethical doctrines. This is an intelligent, highly readable piece of philosophy that, for the most part, is still relevant to modern discussions about the tension between biology and ethics Written as a direct response to E.O Wilson s texts Sociobiology and On Human Nature, this book is a good primer for anyone interested in the longstanding debate concerning whether we ought to look to science or philosophy to resolve our deepest moral quandaries Like any balanced author, Singer proposes a hybrid approach we need to couple scientific facts with philosophically derived ethical principles While this position isn t very novel today, I imagine it was probably much so in the early 80s when most of the world was still busy demonizing E.O Wilson for his incredibly insightful and regrettably inflammatory work Before reading this, Singer was known to me as someone who achieved notoriety by advocating a rather harsh form of utilitarianism, but I ve come to understand that unsurprisingly his approach is nuanced than that Singer essentially argues that we shouldn t give up on the notion that our ethical ideals about equality and fairness have merit simply because biology and psychology might reveal humans to be a generally brutal and selfish species It s arguable whether or not science actually does this, but in my opinion, recent insights from numerous fields have gone a long way in debunking many of the rosier elements of modern liberal thinking It s not that we aren t capable of genuinely good acts, but rather that our potential benevolence is often obstructed by the one two combination of our routine use of motivated reasoning and our incredible tolerance for apathy toward those we perceive to be outside of our in group Singer doesn t deny these facts, but like a good philosopher he also won t accept that the facts are the end of the story He makes a cogent argument that an increase in the use of sound reasoning will not only allow individuals to behave in ethically appropriate ways, but will also aid societies in imagining and implementing structures that nudge people in the right direction without dictating morals in a top down fashion In general, I agree with Singer s perspective and think that, despite the numerous problems faced by the 21st century world, we have made demonstrably positive progress since this book was first published Still, there were many points in this book where I felt like Singer was expecting far too much of average people His final chapter ameliorated this problem somewhat, but I still felt that many of his claims amounted to something like people will be better if they become reasonable To Singer, this means achieving an objective perspective that allows us to see that our personal desires and needs aren t truly any important than those of strangers anywhere in the world And while I agree with Singer on this point theoretically, I also think that hell would have to freeze over for people to actually start living this way Additionally, I think Singer often misrepresents and makes a straw man out of E.O Wilson, but I am perhaps biased here as Wilson is one of my all time favorite writers I think Wilson s ability to cut through the cultural noise and state matters clearly and directly has often been misconstrued as hubris Singer is certainly not the only offender in this regard, and unlike some of Wilson s other critics, Singer does a good job of occasionally giving Wilson credit where credit is due.My other big complaint is that, for someone concerned with social justice, Singer makes no mention in this text of socioeconomic or racial privilege It seems to me that the ability to engage in the kind of ethical reasoning Singer promotes is almost entirely dependent on the availability of education and basic resources, which are in no way evenly distributed throughout the world So while he does a good job of advocating generally for bettering the lives of impoverished people, Singer doesn t situate our ability to effectively pursue this project within the proper context of equitable distribution of wealth and or opportunity This seems like a big piece of the puzzle that is missing from this text Perhaps Singer addresses the issue elsewhere Overall, this is a quick, smart journey into the mind of one of the most respected and readable philosophers out there.
Animal Liberation, widely regarded as the touchstone of the animal liberation movement Not all members of the animal liberation movement share this view, and Singer himself has said the media overstates his status His views on that and other issues in bioethics have attracted attention and a degree of controversy Excerpted from
- 190 pages
- The Expanding Circle
- Peter Singer
- 16 November 2018 Peter Singer