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He espouses utilitarianism, a branch of ethics that measures "rightness" or "wrongness" on an action's effect on the majority of people (and animals). As a result, there is very little voice given in defense of certain rights that many of us--especially us Americans--consider to be fundamental (except, of course, to refute them). The individual is of little importance in his scheme of ethics, and his brand of utilitarianism, based on a rigorous logic, leads to some pretty scary destinations. For instance, in his argument in favor of animal rights, Singer argues that a) speciesism is no different from racism, that our perception of a difference is no less illogical and unethical than our one-time perception of an ethical difference between, say, men and women, or blacks and whites; b) that intelligence is no basis for dermining ethical stature, that, for instance, the lives of humans are not worth more than the lives of animals simply because they are more intelligence (if intelligence were a standard of judgment, he points out, we could perform medical experiments on the mentally retarded with moral impunity); c) that we need to measure the *interests* of the parties involved, and that, ultimately, all things being equal, an animal has as much interest in living as a human. Therefore, all things being equal, medical experimentation on animals is immoral. If, however, sacrificing the lives of, say 20 animals will save millions of human lives, then all things are not equal, and the interests of millions of people outweighs the interests of 20 animals. The horrifying extention of this principle, though, is that the interests of 20 people outweighs the interests of one, and that this philosophy will give the green light to all sorts of very profound civil rights abuses.
The arguments aren't impenetrable, but singer is very careful in setting them up, and very good at getting the reader to agree with him before the reader really knows what he is agreeing with. His arguments are strong, logical, and convincing (which isn't to say I agree with all of them).
He makes an interesting, very strong case for the ethical necessity of vegetarianism (simply: it is wrong to kill as a matter of tase; we don't need to eat meat, and therefore kill to do so only as a matter of taste; therefore it is wrong to eat meat). He also argues in favor of abortion & infancticide.
This is an excellent book for lay people interested in secular ethical reasoning.
The flaws in his argument seem to reside in his basic framework: an absolute hierarchy of interests (preferences, desires). Singer bases this book on the notion that equal desires should be considered equally...thus skirting the notion that desires have weight, and the lesser desires of, say, a thousand people can outweigh the greater desire of one person. Singer does not shy from controversy - see the last section of the book - so his absolutist myopia seems to be a genuine flaw, rather than an attempt to mollify the masses by permanently putting (for example) the right to remain alive above the right to live free of torture.
Practical Ethics attacks the issues directly and generally unflinchingly, and I highly recommend it. Singer's rationality is a breath of fresh air for those who are frustrated with the dogmatic, uninformed or otherwise predirected arguments rampant in philosopy. Still, he remains an absolutist, and arrives at conclusions that are generally useful but still dodge the development of an ethical calculus (arguably the holy grail of ethics) that can resolve the questions: "Is it right (ethical) to take the life of a tyrant who holds a thousand people captive and is torturing them within an inch of their lives? If so, is it right if the tyrant is only torturing ten people? How about three? How about two?"
To cross this threshold requires considerable intestinal fortitude...I hope that Singer has it, and produces a third edition demonstrating it.