I have previously (here and here) rubbished articles for grievously offending my logical sensibilities. Unfortunately, the comments threads were of no help in deciding whether the deficiency was mine or some contemporary philosophers and other thinkers.
Once again, it is time to reach for the Rubbisher.
Peter Singer is something of an enfant terrible: his niche in philosophy is to take a seemingly reasonable position, and extrapolate it to where shock and opprobrium is sure to follow.
Here are some examples:
Abortion: In Practical Ethics, Singer argues in favour of abortion rights on the grounds that fetuses are neither rational nor self-aware, and can therefore hold no preferences. As a result, he argues that the preference of a mother to have an abortion automatically takes precedence. In sum, Singer argues that a fetus lacks personhood.
Similar to his argument for abortion, Singer argues that newborns lack the essential characteristics of personhood—"rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness"—and therefore "killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living."
Speciesism: Speciesism is an attitude of bias against a being because of the species to which it belongs. Typically, humans show speciesism when they give less weight to the interests of nonhuman animals than they give to the similar interests of human beings.
[On the basis that a being able to think of itself as existing over time], one might argue that to kill a normal human being who wants to go on living is more seriously wrong than killing a nonhuman animal. Whether this claim is or is not sound, it is not speciesist. But given that some human beings – most obviously, those with profound intellectual impairment – lack this capacity, or have it to a lower degree than some nonhuman animals, it would be speciesist to claim that it is always more seriously wrong to kill a member of the species Homo sapiens than it is to kill a nonhuman animal.
Altruism: A minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of one's spare resources to make the world a better place.
These positions run the gamut from the apparently awful to the seemingly benign. I think they each rest on at least some flim-flammery, by either ignoring inescapable elements of reality — time, say — question begging, or failing to take an argument to where it demands being taken.
But no matter, that isn't what had me casting about for my Rubbisher.
It has come to some degree of notice that Peter Singer is spending significant resources caring for his Alzheimer's crippled mother. For most of us, more or less unburdened by a surfeit of philosophical posing, uhh, thinking, this is a no brainer. However, for Singer, this is clearly verboten, whether on the grounds of altruism or speciesism, at the very least.
Yet, despite his admonitions to the rest of us, he does so, nonetheless.
The philosopher Peter Singer was once attacked for contradicting himself. Singer advanced an ethical theory in which the most worthwhile thing was complex conscious life and feeling, and did not shy away from the logical consequence that the life of a severely mentally impaired human was worth less than that of a chicken. Journalists then discovered that Singer’s mother had Alzheimer’s and that he chose to spend his money taking care of her rather than helping chickens.
They called Singer a hypocrite and The New Republic even ran a cover with a picture of an addled old woman with a walker and the headline “Other People’s Mothers.”
Failing to notice the answer on offer, the author, by definition an esteemed contemporary philosopher or other thinker on issues both timely and timeless goes straight to missing the screamingly obvious:
So, how bad is contradicting yourself?
In philosophy, since Socrates (a troll before there ever was an internet), the answer has been “very bad.” If you find you believe two inconsistent propositions you need to do something about it. You owe a theory.
No, Eric Kaplan, this isn't contradicting yourself, this is allowing yourself that which you prohibit others. There's a fancy word for it, often improperly used, but not here: hypocrisy. Contradiction, entirely unrelated, involves having taken a position, subsequently taken on board discordant information, then reversing, or significantly changing your position; not just for yourself, but for everyone else, too.
Peter Singer has done nothing of the kind. But let's let that slide, so that Kaplan can have his say:
Part of the reason this mother/chicken puzzle is so hard is it runs up against two contradictory beliefs we have about human beings:
a) Humans are meaningful; the things they do make sense
b) Humans are things with causes like anything else — as meaningless as forest fires.
I could burden you with further pull quotes, but I won't because the chase that needs cutting to is right here. Kaplan, and on his behalf, Singer, have skipped right over a fatal error.
What do you think it is? Hint: it is contained in a single word.