Peter Singer

On this date in 1946, professor, philosopher, ethicist, animal rights activist and world-renowned author Peter Albert David Singer was born in Melbourne, Australia. His Jewish parents fled Vienna to Australia in 1938 to escape the Nazi takeover of Austria. He graduated with honors from the University of Melbourne in 1967, earned his M.A. from the University of Melbourne in 1969 and got his B. Phil. at the University of Oxford in 1971. In 1977, Singer was appointed to a chair of philosophy at Monash University in Melbourne, and subsequently was the founding director of that university's Centre for Human Bioethics. Singer was the founding president of the International Association of Bioethics, and with Helga Kuhse, founding co-editor of the journal Bioethics. In 1999, Prof. Singer accepted a professorship at Princeton University, and is currently the DeCamp professor of Bioethics at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton. He first became well-known internationally after the publication of Animal Liberation in 1975, which many consider the leading catalyst of the modern animal liberation movement. In addition to his hundreds of published articles and numerous books, his most influential publications include: Democracy and Disobedience (1973); Practical Ethics (1979); Marx (1980); The Expanding Circle (1981); Hegel (1982); The Reproduction Revolution (1984, with Deane Wells), Should the Baby Live? (1985, with Helga Kuhse), How Are We to Live? (1993), Rethinking Life and Death (1994); A Darwinian Left (1999), One World (2002), Pushing Time Away (2003) and Stem Cell Research: The Ethical Issues (2007). He also authored a book about George W. Bush's religion called The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush (2004).

As a student at the University of Melbourne, Singer was a member and then became president of the Rationalist Society, and editor of its publication The Freethinker. Singer frequently asserts that morality and ethics have no correlation to religious belief. "Atheists and agnostics do not behave less morally than religious believers, even if their virtuous acts rest on different principles. Non-believers often have as strong and sound a sense of right and wrong as anyone, and have worked to abolish slavery and contributed to other efforts to alleviate human suffering" (Project Syndicate, "Godless Morality," by Peter Singer and Marc Hauser, January 2006). Singer condemns religious intrusion into politics and scientific research. On religious opposition to stem cell research, Singer wrote: "If anyone ever tries to tell you that, for all its quirks and irrationality, religion is harmless or even beneficial for society, remember those 128 million Americans — and hundreds of millions more citizens of other nations — who might be helped by research that is being restricted by religious beliefs" (Free Inquiry, "The Harm That Religion Does," by Peter Singer, June/July 2004, p. 17). In a letter to the editor appearing in the New York Times (Nov. 8, 2004), Singer wrote: "Paul Krugman says Democrats need to make it clear they value faith. Is everyone caving in to this religious nonsense? What is faith but believing in something without any evidence? Why should Democrats value that? Formidable as the task may seem at present, the long-term need is to persuade Americans that having evidence for your beliefs is a good idea." At the Freedom From Religion Foundation annual convention of 2004, Singer was awarded the Emperor Has No Clothes Award for "telling it like it is" about religion. During his acceptance speech, he said, "Having come to live in America five years ago, I can clearly see why an organization like FFRF is very much needed."

Photo by Bbsrock under CC 3.0

"I don't believe in the existence of God, so it makes no sense to me to say that a human being is a creature of God. It's as simple as that."

—Peter Singer in a transcript of a television program appearing in Religion & Ethics online magazine (PBS), Sept. 10, 1999

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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