Peter Singer deserves to be the most important and influential and most readable philosopher in the world today. His contributions to animal liberation, objective morality, euthanasia and abortion issues has been unparalleled. This is a short selection of my thoughts around his Ethics in the Real World 82 Brief Essays on the Things that Matter which I highly recommend.

It is alarming how important peer articles are yet he tells us that it seems that each peer journal article is only read properly by about ten people. Education will never improve and neither will society unless that changes.

Singer deals with how the idea that we are insignificant in a universe of unimaginable vastness seems to mean we virtually do not matter. He calls that a nihilist view. He is right that nihilism – the denial that there is any real morality - is saying just that. He points to Russell who said that nihilism is unwarranted for it is good for us to see how little we are so that we can motivate ourselves to be better instead of thinking that the world is created for our sake and everything is about us.

We may be little but each of us is in a bubble which is anything but little. Our lives are big to us and that is what counts. The universe is a set of parts not a unit so for that reason what matters is what is going on in each bit. What is big in that bit is what matters.

Relativism is actually the bedrock of Christianity which in typical relativist fashion refuses to admit it and focuses anger and rage against other relativist. Relativists are voluntarist – they don’t care what harm rules do they just care that they want the rules. They replace morality with opinion and call it morality.

Singer recommends Derek Parfit's book On What Matters as an antidote to relativism for it gives secular and non-religious reasons why morality is not opinion but real truth. Parfit links the fact that we see that 1 and 1 is 2 meaning that it is just true and not a matter of opinion to being equal to how we see that it is true that I must avoid bringing terrible agony on myself in the future. It’s that simple. Parfit noticed too that all the moral philosophies are trying to do the same thing - benefit people and the problem is the detail. In the main issues and views they all agree. For example, they try to make people make good societies. So there is no room for saying no philosopher agrees with the other on what we ought to do and thus we can say morality is just a matter of taste and opinion. The expression is that the divergent philosophies are "climbing the same mountain on different sides." Parfit recognises that unless you can show morality is true which means that nihilism and subjectivism are false, nothing matters. It is not just morality that won't matter. Nothing will. Thinking won't even matter so we may as well believe or assume anything at all.

Singer tackles D'Souza who tries to make out that our suffering in this world loses value if it is the only life we have. As life involves suffering and the threat of suffering this is actually saying that life virtually has little importance unless there is an afterlife! To my mind D'Souza is advocating nihilism. He brings it in the back door.

We see that a person who values their suffering that they cannot avoid and who tries to turn it to good is a hero. He or she is even more heroic for facing it while feeling that death brings non-existence and there is no hope of an existence beyond it. The person then avoids any suspicion of, “It is that bit easier to be brave if one thinks death is not the end and there is a good life to be had after death.”

D'Souza says we cannot expect to understand why God allows suffering. He says an ant cannot be expected to understand why we do what we do. But we are not ants but moral agents! It is disingenuous and degrading to make out we are in the same situation as ants! In Philosophy of Religion , we might want to see God as a simple explanation for creation but not necessarily suffering. Creation from nothing is the core concept in Christianity. So the order is you need to explain existence and that is where God comes in. Then you may look at suffering. In fact if creation is the answer then do you even need an answer for suffering? No. Inquiring into it is linked to thinking creation is not true or there is no God.

Suffering is declared complicated when it is not. It is our duty to keep the subject of suffering simple. A dentist who leaves s child screaming in agony will be assessed simply and that means no "He must have had some reason for it.” To think that way is making it about how we feel as if it was about how we feel! That is the epitome of selfishness in some way it must have been right though we have no answer.

Why has God not given people the intelligence and understanding to understand suffering better? It is like he makes the human mind puny for he is hiding something. To say that God is to be trusted for he gave us our perception of good and bad is odd. It is saying that all that matters is that he makes us moral not that he is moral.

To say that God is good for he follows his own moral nature is to say that God meets God’s standards and that makes him good. It leads to pure tautology as Singer says. Tautology in moral matters is immoral so it makes faith in God immoral.

Singer sets down moral conundrums to get our morality detectors to run. He finds that virtually everybody, atheist and believer, gives the same answers and thus proves that the notion of atheists being immoral or nihilists is just a prejudice and untrue.

One example is a surgeon who takes a healthy visitor to the hospital's organs to save five dying people in an absolute emergency. Singer expects us to respond that this is intolerable and wrong and immoral. Of atheists and believers, 97% says stealing the organs is immoral.

But he should ask that if it is wrong then how wrong is it? What if the surgeon should be punished lightly? He did not take the organs to sell them! Nobody can give a rational or provable answer to how much punishment the surgeon should get and what kind of punishment which shows we do make up a lot of what we describe as moral. Morality is often about trying to pretend you know more than what you do and you bully anybody who sees through you.

Singer gives an example of a book that is important which is given to a publisher who might not publish it and just keep the money for the author who paid up front has died. He says it is right to publish the book anyway for "what we do after a person dies can make a difference to how well their life went." This is a comforting idea and very important if you are an atheist who needs to face death.

Singer points out how the Catholic Church opposed Melinda Gates support for family planning though it would have resulted in 50 million less abortions.

Singer explains the Catholic doctrine of double effect where if you have two effects, one good and one bad, it is okay to do what causes the effects as long as you have no choice. So if you have to give pain killers that will hasten death for a dying person you are not to blame for their death for you need to do something about their pain. I'd like more accuracy from the Church on this subject. Though a secularist can follow double effect, for the Christian who equate good and God it is really a choice between God and evil. So double effect for Christian and for atheist may have the same outcomes but the fact remains that the first is only interested in the good not for its own sake but for he or she sees good as being God. That is an extremist outlook. It is cold for what if the patient wants you to think of him not some God! That is not double-effect in reality but religious toxicity.

Natural evil, eg the plague, is blamed on nobody not even God which is strange. Religion worries not about it but about human evil. An earthquake happening by itself is not a moral matter for religion but if you could cause one that would be a moral matter. Natural evil however forces terrible choices on us so it is not as separate from moral evil as people make out. Consider somebody screaming for days in agony who wishes to end it all. The way nature works will force that person who take her or his own life. Or it will force you to assist!

Singer points out that too often society wants to know what gender or sex you are when it does not need to know this at all. If a doctor applies for a medical position, the sex or gender should not matter.

Singer points out that if people think most others are giving to charity they will more often than not do it themselves. Your beliefs about what you think others are doing influences what you do. Religion has people thinking others pray more and need God more than they actually do. No wonder religion has such power even though the devout who impress us might be just actors.

Singer points out that Judaism and Islam do not have a law from "God" or in the scriptures that you must eat meat. That is a good point for too many are using religious freedom as an excuse for cruelly killing animals. He says that the Catholic Church insists the state must support a Catholic ethos for schools and hospitals and universities. He observes that as the religion has no command or duty to set up an educational facility or hospital, it cannot expect the law of the land to give it special treatment.

In the absence of [religious or otherwise] proof that babies should be baptised, Catholicism forces the doctrine that they should be on society. This leads to the state funding schools based on the notion that the baby is a Catholic and needing a Catholic education. An honest Catholic would reason that the child can wait until an informed decision is possible and then get baptised. God would count that child as baptised without baptism if anything happens.

Christianity and Judaism and Islam are not pacifist which makes it impossible to see how members claiming conscientious objection in war time get it.

Singer wonders why "can't children be encouraged to do things because they are intrinsically worthwhile, rather than because of fear of parental disapproval?" I ask is it about the career or education being intrinsically worthwhile? Surely what you choose says something about you. You choose medicine for you think you as a medically interested person are intrinsically worthwhile. And what about fearing a God who is with the parents and who is the third parent? What about fearing God’s disapproval?

Singer’s book shows up much of what is wrong with modern society – what he reveals about turkeys and how they are bred for thanksgiving is horrendous. The animals are sexually abused and virtually raped in the name of supplying tables.

Singer’s points are so good and there is so much further richness in them that can be teased out which is what I have tried to show in this review.

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