Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Peter Singer and Christian Ethics

I recommend my friend Charles Camosy's new book, "Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization."  The book is a creative and helpful reframing of the discourse surrounding Singer's work. 

Camosy is, without doubt, going to take some criticism from those who believe that he is working (too) hard to rehabilitate Singer's reputation in the Christian community.  He is trying to do that, make no mistake.  And while making clear his disagreements with Singer, one will not find much moral outrage in Camosy's tone when confronting some of Singer's truly monstrous (in my view) positions.  In Camosy's defense, though, moral outrage is not his motivation here.  He is walking a very tricky line, urging the Christian community to step back from the categorical demonization of Singer and discern areas of common interest and shared premises without glossing over foundational and unbridgeable differences.  I think he succeeds on that front.  He does not hesitate to point out when Singer's arguments fall short on their own terms, though he writes with an optimism -- with some basis, given some of Singer's recent comments -- that Singer is still a work in progress, and that his thought is trending favorably. 

Even putting the exploration of Singer's work to the side, the book provides an excellent and accessible analysis of current debates surrounding issues such as euthanasia and abortion.  And his chapter on non-human animals makes -- at least for this factory-farm consuming Christian -- for some uncomfortable reading.  It also provides a rather jarring experience, as Camosy seems angrier with his fellow Christians for our total disregard of non-human animals than with Singer for his views on infanticide.  My guess is that this difference is attributable to two factors: 1) Camosy is angered by Christian hypocrisy, and Singer, for all his morally reprehensible views, is no hypocrite; and 2) there is no shortage of anger surrounding the issue of abortion and infanticide, while anger, at least among the Christian community, is virtually non-existent when it comes to our treatment of non-human animals.

It's a provocative book that should be widely read, and one that is worthy of sustained conversation.


Vischer, Rob | Permalink

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I am about a third of the way through, and whatever one may think of Peter Singer, I think you will be impressed with Charles Camosy (f you aren't already from his other endeavors, such as the Catholic Moral Theology blog). The book is amazingly readable, and not without surprises. Peter Singer rejects, for example, the "Famous Violinist" argument in favor of abortion even accepting the personhood of the unborn child. It is not too much of a burden, he maintains, to be attached to someone whose life depends on you for nine months. You can give up 9 months of your freedom if it will save the violinist's life. Peter Singer also believes Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and that abortion law should be determined by legislatures (and the people), not by courts. Also, even though brief, some of the quotes from Singer about animal suffering, and how much we are responsible for it because our choice of foods, can't help but jar you into taking the issue more seriously.

Posted by: David Nickol | Jul 20, 2012 4:49:30 PM

I highly recommend Charles' 2008 article in the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, "Common Ground on Surgical Abortion." In it, he finds common ground with Singer and does so with complete integrity and with some pretty insightful arguments. I look forward to reading the book.

Posted by: Francis J. Beckwith | Jul 21, 2012 2:27:51 PM

Every philosopher should know that in order to find the truth, you must begin at the beginning. Truth begets truth until you add a false assumption, which is why, just like the cast of characters in The Emperor's New Clothes, one cannot find common ground in regards to abortion, without calling that which is true, a lie, if one does not recognize the Truth of the Sanctity of every Human Life from The Beginning.

Posted by: N.D. | Jul 22, 2012 11:42:32 AM

It's your blog, but don't you think it's the better practice to note that you've deleted a bunch of posts and why? Otherwise, how can commenters understand the line you draw between acceptable comments and non-acceptable. I could understand not bothering with this if a comment was just an obscenity filled rant, but none of the vanished comments I saw fit that bill.

Posted by: WmBrennan | Jul 23, 2012 10:54:02 AM

Perhaps it was your reference to Robby George? The only comment of mine to be deleted (to date) included a critical swipe at George's partisanship ...

Posted by: WmBrennan | Jul 23, 2012 12:39:29 PM

I am wondering why my statement regarding the fact that it is only logical to assume that every son or daughter of a Human Individual (definition of person) is a Human Individual (definition of person) and thus CREATED equal in Dignity while being complementary as male and female, was considered an inappropriate comment in a discussion about a book that debates whether it is true that every son and daughter of a Human Person has an inherent Right to be treated with Dignity and respect?

Posted by: N.D. | Jul 23, 2012 12:58:27 PM

A Human Person who recognizes the self-evident truth, and thus the universal truth, that every Human Person has been created equal in Dignity, while being complementary as male and female, is not being partisan.

Posted by: N.D. | Jul 23, 2012 1:06:14 PM

I deleted several comments, not because of the (silly) reason imagined by WmBrennan, but because they were, in my view, inappropriate and unproductive. I meant to "publicize" this fact but -- I confess! -- I was busy with my new baby and forgot.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Jul 23, 2012 3:30:30 PM

Oh sure, blame the baby ...

(I kid re your kid.)

Posted by: WmBrennan | Jul 23, 2012 5:17:46 PM

WmBrennan: =-)

I had to delete a few more nasty comments, BTW.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Jul 23, 2012 8:30:13 PM

Thank you for deleting those comments that were not appropriate for a blog that serves to Mirror Justice, Professor Garnett. God Bless your family and welcome baby John Joseph Garnett!

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