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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the January 24,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Peter Singer & the Ethical Life

The two West Windsor police officers on duty during

the controversial ethicist Peter Singer’s most recent appearance found

themselves with little to do but listen. At Share Our Strength’s

Writers

Harvest benefit at Barnes & Noble in MarketFair last month, the large

and attentive audience, seated and standing shoulder-to-shoulder in

the aisles and between the stacks, neither heckled nor interrupted

the author. And during the question and answer session that followed

the reading, there was not so much as a hostile question. A very

different

atmosphere from the demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience

that accompanied his initial appearances on the Princeton campus in

1999.

The Australian philosopher and professor of bioethics makes another

appearance to introduce his recently published anthology,

"Writings

on an Ethical Life" published last month by the Ecco Press

($27.50),

an imprint of HarperCollins, at the Princeton University Store on

Monday, January 29, at 7 p.m.

Singer is the Australian ethicist who was appointed to the bioethics

chair at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values in 1999.

Conspicuous

over the past 20 years for his influential views on animal liberation,

he has raised the hackles of countless groups for his defense of

euthanasia

for severely disabled infants, among other issues.

Singer told his Barnes & Noble audience that Daniel Halpern, the

Hopewell-based

poet and founder of Ecco Press, encouraged him to compile an anthology

of his writings that would accurately and comprehensively represent

his work. "I always thought the Wall Street Journal was a

reputable

newspaper until they took something I had written, chopped off the

beginning of the first sentence — `some people say that’ —

and represented it as my opinion," he said. "It contributed

to the hysteria that has surrounded my work."

In his desire to set the record straight, Singer opened by reading

from the preface to the 1975 edition of "Animal Liberation,"

one of 16 books he has written or co-authored. His ideas, he

explained,

were intended for those "concerned about ending the oppression

and exploitation [of animals] wherever they occur, and in seeing that

the basic moral principle of equal consideration of interests is not

arbitrarily restricted to members of our own species."

Species discrimination was a recurrent theme of the evening. An

atheist,

Singer works to identify an ethical path through the minefield of

modern thought, much of it rooted in religious traditions and beliefs

he does not share. Some recent work deals with how much of one’s

income

should be used to feed the hungry people of the world.

Some choices, Singer says, center on to what extent we live for others

— or for ourselves. "I can see no escape from the conclusion

that each one of us with wealth surplus to his or her essential needs

should be giving most of it to help people suffering from poverty

so dire as to be life threatening," he wrote in an essay for the

New York Times Magazine last year, reprinted in this anthology.

Citing Conference Board figures that most middle class

families can survive on $30,000 for necessities, he puts forth the

idea that a family with an income of $50,000 should donate $20,000

to the poor, and one with $100,000 annually should turn over $70,000

to charity.

"The formula is simple: whatever money you’re spending on

luxuries,

not necessities, should be given away," he told the assembled

audience. He used dining out at an expensive restaurant or buying

new clothes because the old ones are no longer fashionable (but not

worn out) as areas where we could all cut spending to save lives,

one starving child at a time. Philosophically speaking, he reminded

his listeners that inaction in the face of global need is as much

a choice as action.

"If 10 percent of the population were to take a consciously

ethical

outlook on life and act accordingly, the resulting change would be

more significant than any change of government," says Singer.

Peter Singer , Princeton U-Store, 36 University Place,

609-921-8500. The bioethicist introduces the new comprehensive

anthology

of his works, "Writings on an Ethical Life: The Essential

Singer."

published last month by the Ecco Press. Free. Monday, January 29,

7 p.m.


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