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Controversial philosopher to dissect issue of poverty

By Joanne Hou

May 24, 2007 9:40 p.m.

Peter Singer, a renowned and controversial ethicist and philosopher, is set to speak on campus today to share his views about global poverty and people’s obligations in solving this issue.

The Princeton University professor of bioethics is highly influential in the philosophy community, according to the press release for the lecture. But his ideas about animal rights, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia have stirred controversy.

“Peter Singer is one of the world’s most eminent and controversial ethicists and philosophers today,” said Kal Raustiala, director of the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA, one of the sponsors of the lecture.

Singer’s ethics theory is based on utilitarianism, which seeks to maximize the balance of pleasure and pain in a being’s life, said Calvin Normore, a philosophy professor.

For Singer, improving human welfare is not limited by national borders ““ people should help improve others’ welfare no matter where the needy people live.

Singer has said in his writings that people in wealthier nations such as the United States should forgo some luxury spending in order to donate the money to organizations that work to alleviate poverty in developing nations.

In his plan to eradicate global poverty, Singer said that if all Americans in the top 10 percent income bracket each donated between 10 and 25 percent of their income per year, the accumulated donation would be $808 billion a year, according to a submission he wrote for The New York Times last December.

Singer believes it is immoral for those who are able to give money to the poor to not do so, and said in the same article that eliminating poverty would not be very difficult if wealthy Americans followed his donation scheme.

To the general public, Singer is perhaps better known for his work in the field of animal rights, Raustiala said.

Normore said Singer takes the utilitarian philosophy of maximizing the pleasure and pain balance very seriously and was the first ethicist to apply that philosophy to animals who feel both pleasure and pain.

“He consistently applies (his utilitarian philosophy) in a very wide area ““ even when it seems highly counter-intuitive,” Normore said.

Singer has argued that animals suffer and feel pain and should not be killed unnecessarily, Raustiala said.

While Singer has said on his Web site that he accepts animal testing under some circumstances, he does believe the interests of animals should be taken into consideration.

Singer maintains that living things should be seen as individuals rather than as members of a specific species, and people should not value humans over animals simply because people are human.

Singer has also said that it is justified to kill a person who has lost his or her memory if the person agrees, but the person should not be killed if he or she expresses the desire to continue living.

Following this line of thought, Singer has also said that he supports laws allowing people to end their lives when they choose.

“Why should we not be able to decide for ourselves, in consultation with doctors, when our quality of life has fallen to the point where we would prefer not to go on living?” Singer asked on his Web site.

Singer’s ideas present a great challenge to the way people live their lives today, Normore said, adding that if people accepted Singer’s ideas he believes their lives would change greatly.

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Joanne Hou
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