(First Things) Peter Wicks–Utility’s Deceptions: A review of Peter Singer and Christian Ethics

One reason utilitarian ethical thinking proves so persistently attractive even to those who are reluctant to accept the conclusions it implies is that many of us have difficulty imagining what else ethical thinking could be. This is in part because ours is a culture that places more confidence in the application of theory than in the exercise of judgment, which is one reason utilitarianism has proved so curiously impervious to the reductio ad absurdum arguments that are most frequently used in attempts to refute it.

When Singer claims that we need a Copernican revolution in ethics, he is not casting himself in the role of Copernicus or Galileo. Camosy refers to those who share Singer’s views as “Singerites,” but this reinforces the misleading impression that Singer is the originator of those views. Singer is often described as the world’s most influential philosopher, and it is natural to assume that his prominence is a sign of fundamental originality.

Yet the opposite is closer to the truth. Singer’s writings on our duties to animals and the world’s poor, and his attack on the sanctity of life, could not have been as influential as they are if the reasoning with which he arrives at his conclusions were not already widely accepted, even if many of his conclusions are not.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Theology