Russell Blackford defends Peter Singer

I’ve written twice (here and here) about philosopher Peter Singer’s unpopular views favoring the “mercy killing” of newborn infants having horrible deformities or diseases.  For that many people have called for him to resign, or even for Princeton to fire him. And I’ve said that that’s unconscionable. For one thing, in my view Singer’s view does have some merit, and is at least worth debating. For another, you don’t try to get people fired simply for bring up a philosophical issue that makes people uncomfortable.

Over at The Conversation, Brother Russell Blackford agrees, and has written a nice piece called “I stand with Peter Singer.” It goes into the Singer issue in some detail, but then steps back and looks at wider issues like tenure and censorship. It’s well worth reading. A short excerpt:

Often, we are told that speech has consequences. It does, indeed. The most obvious consequences for expressing unpopular opinions are that some people may argue against them if they disagree, or they even may dislike you and avoid dealing with you if your worldview and values appear diametrically opposed to theirs. All that is inevitable and understandable. We all get to decide whom we are comfortable hanging out with as friends or friendly acquaintances.

If, however, you go further and respond to someone’s opinions by attempting to punish him or her, that is very different. Often we see the highly illiberal response of attempting to get someone fired. If we take that action, perhaps in a collective campaign, it has gone beyond disagreement, criticism, attempts at refutation, or even reasonable choices about whom we associate with in our personal lives. It has escalated to an attempt to suppress the opinions in question, and to deter their further expression.

. . . This takes us to the nub of the issue. All sorts of opinions may be open to criticism – perhaps even to successful rebuttal – but liberal-minded people will not go further and employ tactics designed to intimidate opponents into silence. The heart of our liberty of thought and discussion is not merely an absence of government censorship. Rather, at its heart is our ability to express opinions on matters of general interest – including political, cultural, and philosophical opinions – without being met by attempts to silence our voices.

All I can add is that I stand with Russell Blackford standing with Peter Singer.

78 Comments

  1. eric
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I agree. Look, if you’re a NASCAR driver badmouthing car racing – even on ‘your own time’ – I can see how you might reasonably be fired. Political appointees may not want to badmouth the President either; you frankly shouldn’t have taken that job if you disagreed so strongly with the person offering it to you, and if you don’t agree with the appointer, you are probably not well-qualified to carry out their policies. Not every opinion-job combination is inviolate.

    But we’re talking about an ethics professor discussing his views on ethics. He should absolutely have that freedom, both on and off the job. We should not only defend it, we should see the presence of folks like Singer as a sign of a good and healthy academic environment. It is good for our university-going kids to allow folks like Singer to voice their opinions. It would be a very sad day when every professor agrees lockstep with the mainstream populace on issues of politics, religion, ethics, etc.

    Not that that will ever really happen. You ask four professors their opinion on a subject, you should expect to get at least six different answers: five substantive ones, plus the ever-present “you’re asking the wrong question; what you should be asking is…”

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 23, 2015 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      Insubordination and breaches of confidentiality are firing offenses; they do not implicate issues of free expression per se (although they may, depending upon the public interest in the information disclosed, qualify for whistleblower protection).

      But none of that is at issue here. What is at issue here is the public outcry for punitive action to be taken against those expressing unpopular opinions. It is difficult, counter-instinctual even, to advocate as steadfastly for the free-expression rights of those with whom one disagrees as for those with whom one agrees. But that is the true measure of one’s commitment to free expression.

    • Randy Schenck
      Posted June 23, 2015 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      I can’t think of anything to add.

    • Posted June 23, 2015 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

      I think the situation Singer finds himself in is one of the reasons Schopenhauer railed against philosophers under someone’s employ. He argued that most of the time, they would be toeing the line of the employer. They are not free to philosophize.

  2. mecwordpress
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    I stand with y’all too.

  3. BobTerrace
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    For another, you don’t try to get people fired simply for bring up a philosophical issue that makes people uncomfortable.

    If that was the norm, Faux Noise would be dead air all the time.

  4. Heather Hastie
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I agree completely here. There’s too much of a tendency on both the far left and far right to attempt to either shut down debate or threaten debaters when it comes to subjects either considers controversial. There are multiple methods they use to do this, and calling for resignation or dismissal is just one of them.

    My usual reaction is, “who do these people think they are? What right do they have to decide what the rest of us should think, let alone discuss?” It’s a bad indication that I even have a “usual reaction”.

    We all know there are situations where people can be scared into not expressing perfectly normal rational ideas, such as not believing in a god. We in the First World are pretty good at criticizing the lack of mental freedom in many societies, but how different are we sometimes?

    • nightgaunt49
      Posted June 23, 2015 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      There is no balance between the Reich Wing and the Left by any margin, so I find it annoying when someone decides to show balance saying both do bad things. Oh individuals do, but not in order of magnitude.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted June 23, 2015 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        I’m not trying to show balance by saying both do bad; if I did that’s what I would have said. I’d appreciate not having words put in my mouth. I think the far right are much worse. However, I have no time for the illiberal left who decide what is acceptable opinion either.

        • nightgaunt49
          Posted June 23, 2015 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

          You may not be trying, yet that is how it comes out or I wouldn’t have interpreted it that way. I have seen that ploy used so often, it is hard to react any other way. Maybe you should have reworded it.

          Free speech is all about the “unacceptable” but if we can’t have a discourse without recriminations we make farce of the First Amendment and we all become hypocrites.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted June 23, 2015 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

            What exactly is my ploy? I agree with Russell Blackford – I think his article is superb.

            I think you’ve got a bit carried away from one sentence, or maybe misread it. I don’t think it needs rewording. I’m actually at a loss as to why you’ve interpreted what I said the way you have.

            I support free speech extremely strongly, and always have. I have a record of doing so too, which anyone who reads my website can attest to. I’ve written a lot about freedom of speech. Here’s a recent one: http://www.heatherhastie.com/stephane-charbonnier-charlie-hebdo-editor-rises-again/

            My support of freedom of speech has nothing to do with the First Amendment as I don’t live in your country. How I have been hypocritical is beyond me.

            • Michael Waterhouse
              Posted June 23, 2015 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

              What about Tim Hunt?

          • eric
            Posted June 24, 2015 at 6:47 am | Permalink

            Your “the left is nowhere near as bad as the right – stop comparing them” complaint falls pretty flat given the actual content of the post is left-wing calls for Singer’s (job) termination.

            This case is about left-wing attempts at censoring/controlling the conversation, and so it is perfectly legitimate when discussing this case to talk about general left-wing attempts to censor.

        • Cindy
          Posted June 23, 2015 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

          For what it’s worth, I interpereted your words just fine.

          It is clear that you are not doing what you have been accused of.

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted June 24, 2015 at 3:53 am | Permalink

            So did I – keep up the good work.

  5. Posted June 23, 2015 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    I’m warming up to the idea of strong general employment protections, like the kind they have in France or other countries where every employee is effectively tenured. There are too many campaigns to get people fired or “no-platformed” based on their public comments. It’s happening on all corners of the political spectrum. People are targeted for being aggressively feminist or anti-racist as much as they are for being sexist or racist. One ideological camp doesn’t have the privilege to claim protection for their views, because we are all in the minority on one topic or another. We all need the right to engage as citizens in public discourse without fear of reprisal. Liberal democracy thrives on openness, and when people are being open they will say things that are unpleasant, are wrong, are offensive; they will trip up and things that they might not actually believe, or that they reject after hearing it out loud. In many ways communicating is reasoning, and reasoning promotes progress. Punishment just shuts down the process and robs people of the right to be wrong, to be corrected, and to improve.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 23, 2015 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      It seems to me that people’s views, and their expression of them, are not directly relevant. I think job performance metrics are enough. Incompatible views may indeed be the cause of poor job performance, in which case you warn or get rid of the employee. Because of the poor job performance. Not their views.

      One size fits all laws are a problem because of the large range of business types and, mostly, sizes. I don’t know if this is a significant issue other places, but in the US it is a bit of a problem. Trying to comply with the laws governing employee protections (in this I mean mostly to do with hiring, firing, compensation, reprimanding, benefits) is much more of an impact on a small business compared to a large one. The performance of the business of a business person with one or a few employees is more sensitive to the relationships (“professional” & personal) between employer & employee than a large business’s with, say, dozens or hundreds of employees. And large businesses are more capable of bilking employees. Sometimes they devote entire departments to figuring out new and interesting ways to do that. Basically it comes down to, at what point does protecting the employee’s income security begin to unduly impact the employer’s (the actual person or people, not the coroporation, or whatever business entity) income security.

      Shoot, of all the people I have managed or employed over the years more of them held strong views that they were outspoken about, that were incompatible with mine, than otherwise.

      • Posted June 23, 2015 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        “Job performance” is a fuzzy concept that overlaps with an employee’s impact on company operations. If the company has to deal with DoS attacks or other public backlash due to a person’s feminist tweets, for example, then that person is likely to be terminated because they negatively impacted the company. I think a typical manager would consider that kind of impact as part of “job performance.” In fact it happens frequently. In Peter Singer’s case, academic administrators may consider his impact on the institution’s public image as part of his academic role. My university certainly has a clause allowing the President to terminate a tenured faculty member if they are deemed to have harmed the university’s mission.

        • eric
          Posted June 24, 2015 at 7:01 am | Permalink

          Yes, unfortunately its the case that today Universities are often run more as for-profit businesses rather than educational institutions.

          You are right that Universities can/do make that argument, and right that they often have employment clauses like the one you mention. However I think these things are bad for universities rather than good, because what they say to me is that the organization is putting the “making money” mission ahead of the “providing a good education to kids” mission or even the “perform research that benefits the world” mission.

          OTOH this is, in part, through no fault of their own. State-supported schools have seen lots of cuts that force them to be more income-focused. State legislators often want their universities to be operated in a for-profit business-like manner and so hire administrators with that attitude. Heck even at the federal level, the spate of laws (back in the 80s? 90s? I can’t recall) allowing Universities to hold and profit from patents kind of started the dominoes falling, by making them ‘private investors’ in their own R&D rather than the situation we had before, where they did it for educational, reputation, and ‘social good’ reasons.

          I have no problem with some businesses having such employment contracts. Like Darelle, I don’t think a one size fits all solution is going to be good. But if I had to pick one type of employer and say “see that job? That’s where it makes the most sense in terms of ‘corporate mission’ to protect their employee’s rights to speak unpopular opinions,” that employer would be Universities. This is the sort of job where it makes a lot of sense to limit politicians’ and the public’s ability to ‘punish’ unpopular speech or speakers.

        • darrelle
          Posted June 24, 2015 at 7:41 am | Permalink

          I am confused I guess. You seemed to be talking about how things should be, not about how things are.

          • Posted June 24, 2015 at 9:23 am | Permalink

            Of course I’m talking about how things should be. In some places and in some professions, this is how things are. Some people do enjoy strong employment protections, and I think all people should enjoy similar protections from reprisal based on their political or philosophical views, or based on external protests of those views.

            • eric
              Posted June 24, 2015 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

              So, the President should be unable to fire the WH Press Secretary for saying, during his personal time, that the President is a muslim communist? That’s a political view (one that is sadly more popular than it ought to be).

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 23, 2015 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Do the “strong general employment protections” you’re warming up to arise through governmental fiat or through negotiations between employer and employee, perhaps under the aegis of a collective-bargaining agreement?

      • Posted June 23, 2015 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

        Probably a combination of both. It’s possible to include something like “public controversy external to contract activities” as an excluded grounds for for termination, similar to terminations based on religious or sexual reprisals.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted June 23, 2015 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

      Do you have an example of someone being fired or no-platformed for being aggressively feminist?

      • Posted June 23, 2015 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

        Adria Richards lost her job as a result of blowback from her tweet criticizing a “dongle joke” at q tech conference. The men involved in the joke also lost their jobs. At my university, Anita Sarkesian was effective “no-platformed” (a term which usually amounts to a hecklers veto) when an anonymous anti-feminist threatened to perpetrate a massacre if she spoke. The university declined to offer any special security precautions in response to that threat. At UIUC, Steven Salaita was offered a contract with tenure, which he accepted. The contract was rescinded (with questionable legality) after administrators became aware of his colorfully worded tweets about Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. I can go on for a while.

        • Michael Waterhouse
          Posted June 23, 2015 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

          Go on for a bit longer, Adria Richards didn’t loose her job for being outspokenly feminist but for behaving in an absurd unpleasant way, with negative consequences for those she targeted. What you flippantly call ‘blow back’ was a family man losing his income for no reason.
          Anita Sarkesian and the manufactured threat story has got no similarity to the topic under discussion. She was not disinvited, and she was not disinvited for her opinion.
          The police decided that there was no credible threat. These are both completely different to the topic under discussion. And, I am not surprised that this is the best you can do.

          Steven Salaita and his comments on Israel and its treatment of Palestinians has got what to do with feminism?

          I don’t think this is the place to have this discussion though. Unless you have a real example.

          • Posted June 24, 2015 at 12:29 am | Permalink

            Anita Richards and Steven Salaita are exact examples of what I’m talking about. Salaita’s comments fall into the broader umbrella of cultural criticism that is usually recognized as allied with feminism. They were denied employment based on external reactions to their public remarks; based on deliberate campaigns to get them fired. Sarkesian is a little different; the university had options but chose to respond apathetically, allowing the heckler to win his veto.

            From your reaction, I can only guess that you think these examples are okay. You also seem to be implying that no one on the left gets terminated for their extracurricular speech, writing or activism. So should I infer that (A) You don’t think it’s possible that Peter Singer could be terminated in response to protests against his social and ethical writings; or (B) You think it would be okay for that to happen?

            • Cindy
              Posted June 24, 2015 at 7:32 am | Permalink

              Adria Richards was fired and she can’t get another job because she is a toxic troublemaker.

              She actually had the gall to say that the fathers who lost their jobs should have kept quiet about their firing and her role in it, because they “deserved” what they got. As far as she is concerned, she is the only victim in this whole thing that *she* started.

              I’m a woman and I wouldn’t hire her.

              • Posted June 24, 2015 at 9:20 am | Permalink

                Cindy, I think you and Michael Waterhouse are making my point for me. You don’t like her, and think she doesn’t deserve to be employed, because you don’t like her views on sexual harassment and feminism. The kind of protections I’m talking about would protect those dongle jokers from being fired over Twitter backlash, and they would also protect Adria Richards’ employment from your opinion of her social philosophy. Imagine that: all parties would be able to make strong claims on the Internet without jeopardizing their professional lives.

              • Cindy
                Posted June 24, 2015 at 10:34 am | Permalink

                FYI, I consider myself a feminist.

                Just not the kind of feminist who seeks to destroy people’s careers based on an innocent joke taken out of context, and then has the gall to blame *them* for revealing that they were *fired* due to *her* actions.

                According to her, they should not have revealed that they were fired, because you know, *she* was the only victim there, due to her apparent right to be destroy lives based on perceived ‘offenses’.

                Yeah, I wouldn’t want to hire someone like that. What kind of company would want someone like her, always creating a huge fiasco over imagined slights?

              • Posted June 24, 2015 at 10:48 am | Permalink

                I know a couple of aggressively feminist CEOs of small SF tech companies who are rabid supporters of Adria Richards. I periodically see them on Facebook commenting about who does/doesn’t “deserve” to be fired based on their tweets, and they repeatedly reference Richards as some kind of yardstick for undeserved termination. The arguments always go “So-and-so’s case is nothing like Richards; so-and-so deserves no sympathy.” After watching these debates percolate for a couple of years, I’m now firmly convinced that almost no one deserves termination, and that a person’s job should be off-limits in philosophical or cultural disputes.

              • Michael Waterhouse
                Posted June 24, 2015 at 10:37 am | Permalink

                Nope. The point was beliefs and ideas not behavior. She could have expressed those beliefs, but it was her behavior that caused the trouble.

                If Singer started going around to hospitals pointing out who should live or not, it would be different story.

                Again, it was extreme behavior as well as toxic attitudes that cost Richards.

                And, that is one example so tenuous as to be worthless. Are there more?

                I am not worried about a broader umbrella. That Steven Salaita case has nothing to do with feminist views being penalized ‘just as much’ (your claim) as the other way.

                I am only talking about feminism.

                The Sarkesian case does NOT support your claim. The police said there was no credible threat. There are even some interesting theories as to where that threat came from.
                But it clearly is not what we are talking about.

                I don’t know what you are getting at really in your second paragraph asserting I think it would be OK for Singer to get fired. Obviously not, nor Tim Hunt. Nor Ayyan Hirsi Ali and so on.

                I don’t think people should be fired for controversial opinions, especially in academia. That this is happening seems to be product of a particular part of the left, he illiberal left, the SJW’s who do seem to be out to stifle speech they don’t agree with.

                Which reminds me of another difference between that and the Sarkesian situation. There were no organized mass cries demanding she be silenced. That is the difference.

                You said you could go on. I would like to hear any other comparable cases. I am always ready to change my mind.

              • Cindy
                Posted June 24, 2015 at 10:41 am | Permalink

                That was meant for cjw, not me, right?

              • Michael Waterhouse
                Posted June 24, 2015 at 10:51 am | Permalink

                And for Cindy and others, the feminism that I am against is the new Po Mo toxic victim mentality, blaming, SJW disingenuous one.
                The one making itself immune from criticism.

                I think women are great in a whole bunch of different ways and are all as good as each other, so to speak, and we all deserve the same respect and opportunities.

              • Michael Waterhouse
                Posted June 24, 2015 at 10:52 am | Permalink

                I should have said ‘we’ are all as good as each other.

              • Michael Waterhouse
                Posted June 24, 2015 at 10:55 am | Permalink

                To Cindy again, I don’t have a direct ‘reply’ button to your query

                “That was meant for cjw, not me, right?” so,

                yes it was for cjw.

            • Michael Waterhouse
              Posted June 24, 2015 at 10:58 am | Permalink

              ‘I’m now firmly convinced that almost no one deserves termination, and that a person’s job should be off-limits in philosophical or cultural disputes.’

              Agreed.

  6. Myles
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I stand with Jerry Coyne standing Russell Blackford standing with Peter Singer.

    • Graham Martin-Royle
      Posted June 23, 2015 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      I stand with Myles etc.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 23, 2015 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        Would that this were to become a finite regress, until there is none left but Singer, who can close the circle, ouroboros-like, by standing with us who stand with him.

        • Michael Michaels
          Posted June 23, 2015 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

          Outstanding.

  7. JJH
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    This debate is interesting to me for a couple of reasons.

    1. I strongly disagree with Singer on the infanticide question. I actually agree with Roe v. Wade that at the point of viability, society gets a say (guess I’m truly a consequentialist at heart – but only in a Rawlsian sort of way). I also disagree with Singer about giving a cow the same moral standing as a human; I actually think the two propositions are contradictory).

    2. However, I use Singer’s argument for infanticide as an example of why that religion should not be entered into the political debate. You can’t say that infanticide is bad based on an ancient religious text (I live in the US and the Bible still carries a lot of weight; although in several places it endorses infanticide). Then I follow up with, “Let me give you some good secular reasons for why it is wrong.”

    To endorse silencing Singer would take away some of my best arguments.

  8. nightgaunt49
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    What cost a human life? Depends on many factors. How much can we use what little wealth we have left to take care of those who would die normally otherwise? I don’t want to be cruel, but are the parents being cruel to their severely damaged offspring? Should we institute a time period after birth where no medical intervention to see who will naturally survive and who will not? Run a cost to benefit analysis on every birth? On every patient? What will the psychological cost to ourselves by doing so?
    Difficult questions, who will pay for it? Is it a good idea in the long run to do everything possible to maintain life and ignore the quality of that life?

    • BobTerrace
      Posted June 23, 2015 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Should we institute a time period after birth where no medical intervention to see who will naturally survive and who will not? Run a cost to benefit analysis on every birth? On every patient?

      No, no, and no.

      • nightgaunt49
        Posted June 23, 2015 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        No, no, and no.

        Now that was easy, what next beyond that?

        • BobTerrace
          Posted June 23, 2015 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

          I don’t have an answer and I certainly don’t have the expertise to help decide.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted June 24, 2015 at 3:38 am | Permalink

        Why not?

        cr

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 24, 2015 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

      In the Christian past, the idea of “quickening” meant a newborn was deemed likely to survive. It’s why god will come to judge the “quick and the dead.” The in-between haven’t achieved humanhood yet

      • ladyatheist
        Posted June 24, 2015 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

        Also called “ensoulment” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ensoulment

        • Cindy
          Posted June 25, 2015 at 12:12 am | Permalink

          Quickening can be felt as early as 14 weeks, more often around the 20 week mark. No 20-24ish week infants were surviving birth in Medieval times, not without modern technology.

          Heck, in Medieval times, even surviving at 35 weeks was touch and go.

  9. Posted June 23, 2015 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    “To endorse silencing Singer would take away some of my best arguments.”

    That touches on something that has always confused me about these people who want to silence people who express opinions that they think are so “wrong” they shouldn’t even be heard. If they are that wrong opponents should relish the opportunity to expose, and prove them wrong.
    Whenever I hear that people are trying to silence someone it makes me more interested in what they have to say, and makes me suspect that their position isn’t as absurd. ridiculous, or as unsupported by evidence as their opponents would have you believe.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted June 23, 2015 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

      I said something similar in the first post.
      For a thinking person, it should (should?) be a pleasure to listen to a world class thinker and philosopher.
      And if one disagrees, a pleasure to come up with countering arguments.

      I like the way you put it.

    • eric
      Posted June 24, 2015 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      Its a form of the ‘Little People’ argument. The censor is saying, in effect, ‘while *I* may be able to see through their argument, the hoi polloi will fall for it, and this will negatively impact society, so we’d better not let that happen.’

      When it comes to religion/atheism, you also occasionally get the argumentum ad Satan. I.e., ‘we can’t let the nonbeliever speak, because even though they are transparently wrong, Satan will make their words compelling to others.’

      Here’s an example where the would-be censor is a little more explicit about their thought processes (though not completely so): Monique Davis, Illinois state legislator, in April 14 2008, said this in a legislative session, in response to an atheist wanting to speak to the legislator about religious freedom: “[Atheism is] dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!”
      Link.

  10. Rhinanthus
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Let me suggest another potential example: a daycare worker argues that pedophilia is an acceptable sexual practice. He has not been accused of personally having sex with a child. Should such an opinion be sufficient to fire him? If your answer is yes, then this means that some opinions are sufficient to justify loss of employment for at least some situations. If so, then how does a liberal society decide where to draw the line? Personally, I would not send my child to a daycare centre that employed such a person. Granted, this example is rather different from Singer since his job is not directly related to decisions related to his argument, but it still reasonable to assume that the opinion of a professional philosopher could affect such decisions.
    I don’t have an answer but I don’t accept the claim that no negative consequences concerning employment should ever result from any voiced opinion.

    • BobTerrace
      Posted June 23, 2015 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      “I don’t accept the claim that no negative consequences concerning employment should ever result from any voiced opinion.”

      Of course not. Someone saying “I’m going to kill you” to a coworker, will get them put in jail as well as fired.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted June 23, 2015 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

      A large part of the argument, this argument at least, is academic freedom.
      There would be countless counter examples of philosophy professors and eve unfortunately theologians having impact on the world
      It is part of the process of developing policy.
      That is only part of the current argument though.

    • eric
      Posted June 24, 2015 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      I would say: of course some opinions are sufficient to justify firing from some jobs. But Peter Singer’s opinion seems IMO to me insufficient to justify firing him from a University professor job.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 24, 2015 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

      Academic freedom is different though. Tenured faculty should be free to explore ideas that may be unpopular or even repulsive to some because that’s how their field can progress. If they can only say or do what has already been judged “correct” research stagnates. It’s why Guillermo Gonzalez rightly keeps his cretinism separate from his astronomy teaching. He has a right to develop his unpopular view, and his colleagues outside of the university will be free to develop counter-arguments/research

      • ladyatheist
        Posted June 24, 2015 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

        …and I forgot to say, while his job duties as a professor are to stay with the accepted ideas and results of his field. If he departs from those (as Hedin did) then the university as the boss has the duty to rein him in.

  11. Michael Michaels
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    What about cases like Rush Limbaugh when he called a woman a slut when she appeared before congress?

    Does Rush Limbaugh deserve protection even when he is calling a woman a slut for promoting free contraception for women in America?

    • BobTerrace
      Posted June 23, 2015 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      Protection for that speech- yes. As well as condemnation and ridicule.

    • Thanny
      Posted June 23, 2015 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      Protection? That’s an odd choice of words.

      What he said was, at the absolute worst, offensive. That is, it had the capacity to hurt the feelings of some heterogeneous group of people.

      What do you consider just punishment for hurting feelings?

      I don’t listen to a word Limbaugh says. However many good points he may have made over the 22+ years I’ve written him off as not worth listening to (i.e. almost as long as I’ve been aware of his existence), none of them can be good enough to subject myself to his stupidity.

      What I do not suggest – what I, as a liberal, cannot suggest – is that his opinions, being unpleasant and unwanted in my view, should be stricken from the Earth so that no one can hear them.

      Suppression of any speech and liberalism are just as incompatible as science and religion.

      • Michael Waterhouse
        Posted June 23, 2015 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

        Nicely said.

      • Michael Michaels
        Posted June 24, 2015 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        Did you not understand the context considering the main article and the calls for boycotts of his advertisers after his slut shaming? The article is about a student demanding a teacher be fired for something he said. I’ve extended that to an entertainer.

        Allow me to quote the article:
        “If, however, you go further and respond to someone’s opinions by attempting to punish him or her, that is very different. Often we see the highly illiberal response of attempting to get someone fired.”

        Further, numerous right wing pundits and conservatives made an issue out of the call for boycotting Rush’s advertisers. Many stated it was violating his first amendment rights. An absurd comment, but in both cases the mans career is being threatened, the teacher and the ‘entertainer’.

        I’m terribly sorry you found the word protection to be so terribly distressing to you.

    • eric
      Posted June 24, 2015 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      Rush is a radio talk show host. His entire job (from his employer’s perspective) is to bring in advertising sponsors and listeners. So if he says something that stops bringing in advertisers and listeners, IMO they have every right to fire him. They don’t have to, but no I don’t think disk jockeys, TV personalities, and other “PR job” employees should necessarily get that sort of employment protection. If you’re hired to make your employer popular with the public or paying advertisers, and you make your employer unpopular with them, then you have failed spectacularly at your job. Nor is this a left-right thing. On the left, Howard Stern did get fired for unpopular speech. I have no problem with that decision either.

      Singer’s job, OTOH, is to make students think hard about philosophy and ethics. His is not a PR job (yeah, I know, an employer will argue that every job is a PR job. That’s bullflop. He gets paid to teach and possibly bring in research grants; his job carries no expectation of bringing in private corporate sponsors for the University). His voicing his opinion on ethics seems to be directly relevant to doing a good job.

      • Michael Michaels
        Posted June 24, 2015 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

        That is much the way I think on the subject. My ability to choose as a consumer is one of the few ways I have to exercise my free speech rights and deny support to organizations or corporations that I feel are not helping to maintain the social contract, or in some cases, do things that I consider to be unethical, like the corporations that support climate change denial groups that spread disinformation.

        A company may have the right to spread disinformation, I have the right to not support that company.

        I have heard from liberals who don’t agree. They have expressed the idea that boycotting companies is unethical. One says you should buy products based on the product, not on what the company does. I purchase products based on their price and utility, but I also consider the companies behavior. Corporations are people, (like it or not) and they also represent people, and some do actual harm.
        It seems to me that separating a companies products from it’s behavior leaves very few ways to effect companies behavior.

        There are some people I don’t care to spend my time with, or money on. That includes corporations and their products.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 24, 2015 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

      Yes.

  12. fuchsia0223
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    I find some of Singer’s views repugnant, both abstractly as a member of society and concretely as a parent of a severely disabled child. I don’t know that I could “prove them wrong,” but I know I don’t like them. My son is in fact a drain on society in general and his family in particular, in the sense that we spend a lot of money, time, and energy caring for him and get back nothing of any monetary value. But I’d hate to have the implicit question, “are you a net contributor, or are you likely to become one?” be the basis for whether I live or die, or whether anyone does.

    So I can’t say I stand with Singer, or with any of the people who do. I don’t think he should be fired from his job at Princeton. I don’t want him as my judge, or doctor, or elected representative.

  13. Posted June 23, 2015 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I stand with Jerry Coyne standing with Russell Blackford standing with Peter Singer. Pretty soon it’ll be the next hands across america.

    • BobTerrace
      Posted June 23, 2015 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      Ill bring chairs so you can all sit down.

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted June 24, 2015 at 4:01 am | Permalink

        Thank you – I’m too old for all this standing. I’ll sit with y’all.

  14. Mark Cagnetta
    Posted June 23, 2015 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    I, too, stand with Peter Singer. I was the father of a little boy diagnosed with lissencephaly. He was given two years to live, but survived to age eight. Taking care of my little guy was traumatic and, in the end, we had to watch as he starved to death due to pneumonia. Knowing for certain that his life was coming to an end it would have been easier there was a humane way to have ended his life and his suffering. A decision that is highly difficult, but may be best for all.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 24, 2015 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

      You could have done it for a puppy, but not for a child. It makes no sense to me.

  15. Posted June 23, 2015 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    I did not comment on the previous thread because I was experiencing some raw emotions. As the parent of a child (now adult) with a disability, and one not appearing til well after birth, I will admit to feeling at times that it would have been better had they not been born. Nevertheless that child is a great joy, exceedingly smart (PhD) and is in work. Our marriage, on then other hand, has just barely survived. I honestly do not know what would have happened if the disability had been intellectual.

    I am not a great fan of Singer, being a definite carnivore, but I do think that the ideas he has put forward are worthy of discussion and debate. It is, after all, and should be the function of a philosopher to cause discomfort. Thus I agree with Jerry and Russell, it is pathetic and cowardly to try to silence any voice, but especially one who is supposed to have academic freedom, out of discomfort at their speech. I would add that this discomfort often arises from an inability to find a counter argument.

  16. ladyatheist
    Posted June 24, 2015 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Jerry Coyne standing with Russell Blackford standing with Peter Singer and with all the posters who are already standing with them.

    Thorny issues of morality are what drew me to the atheist arm of the interwebs. The Teri Schiavo case had my blood boiling for many reasons. I still don’t understand why it’s okay to remove a feeding tube but it’s not okay to give the patient the same type of end-of-life that we give to our dogs and cats. Why is it “humane” to euthanize our pets but we have to force our loved ones to suffer against their will? (Yeah, I know Teri Schiavo didn’t suffer, but that was just my starting point)

    Re: this situation, having become interested in ethics, I learned about the trolley problem in ethics, a thought experiment that initially had two situations. In one, you can save the lives of six people by throwing a switch, which will send the trolley down a different track, killing one person. In the second, you can push a fat man (fatter than yourself and therefore the best choice) in front of the trolley, thus stopping the trolley but killing the man. In both cases one life can be sacrificed for six. Most people will choose to throw the switch in Scenario 1, but will not choose to push the fat man in front of the trolley. Passively allowing a death is fine for most people, but actively causing the death is not, even when six others die down the road.

    So…. you can allow a child to suffer and die from withdrawal of a feeding tube, but you can’t euthanize the child because you’ll be committing murder.

    We have come to the point where failure to feed a healthy child is considered a felony, and if the formerly healthy child dies it’s murder, but removing the feeding tube of a child with no chance at normal life is not considered murder. When we catch up to ourselves and decide that passively allowing a death is equal to actively causing it, we’ll allow euthanasia.

    p.s. I also agree with self-euthanasia.

  17. Posted June 25, 2015 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I stand with Peter Singer, et al, and most definitely with ladyatheist on assisted dying.

    Regarding the trolley problem: IMO this pussy-foots around and disguises the real dilemma, though the fat-man version comes nearer to reality in this respect. The first trolley problem takes no concern for the differential values of the various players. If this were in real life they would be real people whose lives are of different value one from another both to themselves and to their fellows. This escalates the difficulties in the decision for the points-controller. Suppose we have six healthy children on one line and a decrepit very old person on the branch line? But what about six hopelessly infirm and suffering persons against one healthy virile woman on the branch? Or suppose six “terrorists” against, say, the Pope or Obama, Putin, Peter Singer, the latest pop-idol or sports-star, take your own pick? You don’t need to postulate the “fat-man” on a bridge scenario.

    The problem is that we shrink from the responsibility of that intrinsic need to place differential value judgments on human life which actively assisting the death of another human will entail, -and which religion offloads onto a Superior Intelligence, -those proverbial “natural causes”, although these are often very far from “natural” under modern “best” medical practice.

    Terminating the life of another species is less of a burden as evolution has programmed any predatory species to regard other species as legitimate prey, i.e. of lower value than itself. Even with pets that are held in great affection this holds good and facilitates humane killing. This makes Peter Singer’s “equal rights for animals” idea, at the least, (evolutionarily) questionable: e.g. and using the trolleys again, pitting six calves against one baby.

    For human beings MUST consider themselves to be the PRIME species. Though this does not preclude us acting humanely to other species, but to regard any other species as having commensurable “rights” with humans is to oppose the unavoidable callously indifferent process of evolution -a selective process which, to my mind, is the natural basis of all morality, namely, that intra-species behaviour which tends to aid the survival and foster the development of its own species.


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