Peter Albert David Singer was born 6 July, 1946 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. His parents were Viennese Jews from Germany who fled to Australia in 1938, a year before World War II. His father was a coffee and tea importer and his mother was practising in medicine. Singer studied at the University of Melbourne in law, philosophy and history and in 1969 received an MA for his thesis, "Why should I be moral?"
Personal Beliefs and Views
Singer is an atheist, humanist, socialist & vegan, who sees things from a preference utilitarian perspective; this means that he considers the action that causes the least pain to be the best. Something that has been pointed out with preference utilitarianism, is that if the act which causes the least harm is better, then it would mean killing every single living thing instantly is preferred to allowing them to live for even an hour; this is due to the fact that if every living thing were killed instantly, there would be no mental or physical pain or suffering occuring as the thing that causes pain and suffering would no longer exist (living things inflict pain and suffering on other living things). As even in an hour an immense amount of suffering can take place due to what living things inflict on each other. For example; humans slaughtering non-human animals planet wide, diseases and mental illness, crime, war, terrorism etcetera.
Singer is a vegan due to him viewing the misery that animals experience obliging him to cut out animals, milk and eggs. Singer does not view eating these things as wrong, but rather the way in which the animals are treated and how they live as wrong. He feels that if you can obtain what you need without having to consume animals, milk and eggs then you should do so. As obtaining all seven nutrients (water, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrate, fat, dietary fiber & protein) from plants (fruit, vegetables) and nuts, berries etc. causes less harm than what animals go through considering how they live, are treated and then subsequently slaughtered. If animals were treated well, lived comfortably and were killed instantly and painlessly, then he feels it would then be okay to consume animals and their products. However, as farms like this are either relatively few or non existent he feels the best thing to do is to cut them all out completely. Singer feels everyone should at least follow a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (cut out animals, but include their produce; milk and eggs), or preferably follow a vegetarian diet where milk and eggs are also cut out; to go even further and be a vegan, things made from animals and tested on them should also be cut out.
Abortion, Euthanasia & Infanticide
Singer also has controversial stances on abortion, euthanasia & infanticide. He feels there are circumstances where these things should be performed. For example; abortion should be carried out when doctors know the foetus will be born with a horrible disease and/or mental illness. The reason being, although killing the foetus could be thought of as wrong, surely allowing the pregnancy to go ahead and have the child be born, where they live a life of misery is also wrong? The child being born results in suffering, both mental and physical, to him/her and the parents/guardians/other relatives. So although both actions are wrong, the latter is the least wrong. So in essence; the latter act is the "lesser of two evils". A similar thought can be applied to euthanasia and infanticide.
Singer also has views on bestiality (sex between humans and non-human animals) and torture that many find immoral, but his views are from the preference utilitarian perspective. Singer feels that the former, bestiality, although not normal or natural, is no cause for shock or horror and should only be stopped if cruelty is involved. As for torture, it can be justified in some circumstances when it causes lesser harm. For example; if a person set an atomic bomb in Washington D.C. and the bomb were to detonate, millions could die. Many more may live, suffering from mental and/or physical problems due to being caught in the explosion or due to having found out that a friend or family member died, causing them suffering. The alternative is to get the information out of the bomber as to where the bomb is and how to disarm it; this may involve torture. However, surely the torture of the bomber would cause far less suffering than the bomb detonating? This is why in some circumstances, but not all, torture can be viewed as the lesser of two evils.
In his work "Famine, Affluence & Morality", Singer says that people living in abundance while others starve is morally indefensible and that the rich have a duty to help the poor. Singer feels that spending money on something one has no need for, is not as important as donating money to help those living in poverty and starving. While many may say they dislike how people are starving in the streets and living in poverty, they never donate any money to help, Singer points this fact out, as well as pointing out that either there is nothing wrong with spending money on things one has no need for (which many must think as that is what they do) or that many people are very immoral by not helping as much as they can. This means that they are partly responsible for people living in poverty and starving as they do nothing to help. Singer himself donates 20% of his annual salary to UNICEF and Oxfam.
Quote: If we can prevent something bad without sacrificing anything of comparable significance, we ought to do it; absolute poverty is bad; there is some poverty we can prevent without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance; therefore we ought to prevent some absolute poverty.
In 1996 he ran as a green party candidate but was unsuccessful. In 2004 he was awarded the Humanist of the year award by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies. Singer is well known for his books "Famine, Affluence & Morality" and "Animal Liberation".
To read more about Peter Singer, please read the wikipedia article about him: here