Magazine article The Human Life Review

The Shibboleths of Academic Freedom

Magazine article The Human Life Review

The Shibboleths of Academic Freedom

Article excerpt

Utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer has for many years contemplated the mysteries of the human condition from his perch at Australia's Monash University. His studied conclusion, articulated in numerous articles and books, is that traditional morality is so much delusional hogwash.

If you look closely at what most men do, as opposed to what they claim they are doing, Singer says, you will see them engaged in an effort to maximize their own pleasure. And Professor Singer wishes to help them along by contriving a set of ethical rules to make them comfy as they pursue their inclinatons.

Lest you get the idea that Dr. Singer is a mere apostle of self-indulgence, it should be said at once that he is as stern as a Victorian schoolmarm when it comes to certain kinds of behavior. We should be scrupulous, for example, to respect the rights of animals. Singer's opinions on this subject have made him into something like the philosopher-king of the animal rights movement. He is also a moving force behind The Great Ape Project, which seeks to secure legal protection for certain higher-order simians.

Some apes, he argues, are entitled to rights of personhood, a status he refuses to grant to all human beings. In Singer's view, human infants are, at best, only presumptively rights-bearing creatures. For at least a couple of months after a child is born, he says, the law should recognize a parental right to kill their offspring.

In so arguing, of course, Singer is doing little more than extending the logic of Roe v. Wade to children already born-a proposition that would perhaps shock the conscience of the late Harry Blackmun, though there is little in his opinion or in subsequent opinions of the Supreme Court to prevent that extension. Singer's razor shreds the pretense of decency that shrouds for many the barbarism of the Court's reasoning.

Dr. Singer's candor, however, is not always appreciated. He is effectively banned from lecturing in Germany, where angry crowds greet his appearance with unpleasant reminders of Nazi eugenics. But what is unacceptable in Germany has apparently become a badge of honor at Princeton University, which recently invested Singer with a professorship in bioethics.

A robust group of Princeton students, showing more moral wisdom and courage than their mentors, staged a protest rally in April, with the promise of more when Singer arrives this fall. …

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