Practical Ethics (英語) ペーパーバック – 2011/5/5
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For thirty years, Peter Singer's Practical Ethics has been the classic introduction to applied ethics. For this third edition, the author has revised and updated all the chapters and added a new chapter addressing climate change, one of the most important ethical challenges of our generation. Some of the questions discussed in this book concern our daily lives. Is it ethical to buy luxuries when others do not have enough to eat? Should we buy meat from intensively reared animals? Am I doing something wrong if my carbon footprint is above the global average? Other questions confront us as concerned citizens: equality and discrimination on the grounds of race or sex; abortion, the use of embryos for research and euthanasia; political violence and terrorism; and the preservation of our planet's environment. This book's lucid style and provocative arguments make it an ideal text for university courses and for anyone willing to think about how she or he ought to live.
"....It is a widely read and widely taught introduction to the philosophical dimensions of practical moral problems.... All of the chapters have been revised and updated, and a chapter has been added on climate change. Singer's lucid style of exposition and argument are perfect for this sort of introductory text. Every library should have a copy of this book.... Highly recommended...."
--J. H. Spence, Adrian College, CHOICE
"...This third edition keeps the lucid style and provocative arguments of its predecessors, but with a more up to date perspective into current ethical challenges. This makes Practical Ethics not only an ideal text for university courses, but also for anyone who wants to dedicate some serious thinking into how she or he ought to live.... remains a relevant and welcome contribution to ethics."
--Laura Cabrera, Institute for Biomedical Ethics, Basel University, Metapsychology Online Review
Singer presents his reasoning in a way that is easy to understand - and disagreeing with him becomes easier, because you can pick out where you think he's gone wrong (if you disagree, that is ...)
I've always said that he's a "people's philosopher" in that he doesn't shroud his writing in complicated language or obscure references. It's an excellent introduction to modern ethical thinking.
It's not a difficult read at all - it's a compelling one. Singer is not shy at tackling subjects including environmentalism, abortion and eating meat products.
To be clear tho - Singer is a world-famous academic in the subject of philosophy and regarded as one of the best ethicists of his generation. That means readers don't have to closely study Kant, JS Mill, JP Satre or (God help you!) Spinoza. He's done all that already.
Some years ago, I read another book by Singer, "The life you can safe". I recall Singer in that book as being somewhat infuriating in his arguments and writing style. I did not feel this way at all about this book. Singer begins by explaining that he will analyze good and bad from a preference utilitarian perspective, and he explains what that means and why he thinks it a sensible framework. He then continues to use this framework to discuss for example racial equality between humans, animal rights, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. While no part of the book can be said to be weak, these initial chapters are in my opinion the strongest. This is probably because Singer here discusses topics where his ethical framework can lead him to clear conclusions using clear, yet nontrivial arguments. Even if you already agree with Singer, these chapters are amazing reading, as he in detail dissects what are valid and invalid arguments for coming to the conclusions you already might believe.
The chapter on material inequality and poverty is probably the most inspirational. Singer is quite merciless in pointing out that from a utilitarian perspective, our low level of assistance to the extreme poor of this world is completely indefensible. A useful point in this is the following conclusion: We can choose between giving more, or abandoning utilitarianism. There is no real middle ground. Singer, however, also realizes that it would take unusual amounts of moral heroism to actually fulfill the requirements of utilitarianism, and discusses middle grounds acceptable to more moderate ethical systems.
The chapters on climate change, the environment and civil disobedience do not give as clear arguments and answers as the previous chapters, probably because these are topics where clear answers are harder to come by, but these chapters are nonetheless illuminating. Climate change presents a particular predicament for utilitarianism: Utilitarianism is to many a sound guide when a consequence has only one cause, namely one's own actions. This is not so with climate change, and the fact that the causes of climate change is spread among the actions of billions of individuals and that none of us, in an isolated sense, make a really significant contribution to climate change, means that utilitarianism has a hard time arguing that our personal CO2 emissions are ethically unsound. This in itself is an important conclusion which motivates thinking about ethical systems which might be better at prescribing how we ought to act as a society.
Singer ends the book with the chapter "Why act morally?", a discussion of why anyone in fact should choose to be moral at all. I find most of his arguments here somewhat weak, although the question itself is quite interesting, and the arguments presented constitute a fair fundament for thinking about this question.
Nonetheless, all in all, I think that Singer's book is a masterpiece of clarity, sound arguments, controversial ideas and a powerful rallying call for all of us to think about whether we want and ought to do better. Even without agreeing with everything Singer believes, I find that this is one of the most inspirational and motivational books I have read in my life. My first thought after finishing it was to buy more so that I could give them to my friends, which I guess is the highest praise a book can get. This is an astounding piece of work.
I don't go with him on everything, in part because I find Virtue Ethics to be a more compelling model for exploring our ethical needs and justifying why ethical behaviour is essential to our best life (I think his brief sketch of Plato and Aristotle was more than lacking and failed to appreciate (or at least to articulate) important aspects); I did though finish convinced that at least some giving to those most in need is a component of the sort of life anyone with any pretensions to a moral status must accept and as a vegetarian (at least of conscious beasties which can suffer).
One striking thing about Professor Singer’s comments is how often he refers to science and real-world situations in making his moral judgments. He is not just making abstract comments based on his own reasoning, but instead uses science and the real world. At the same time his thinking is both controversial (he has been physically attacked and denied the right to give talks) and not always, in my view, correct. For example, on page 139 on the topic of abortion he raises the question of whether or not a woman can terminate a pregnancy as a matter of personal convenience. In the example a woman who is two months pregnant decides to terminate the pregnancy because she wants to go mountain climbing. But she still plans to have children in the future. To quote Professor Singer at this point: “Yet if abortion is wrong only because it deprives the world of a future person, this abortion is not wrong. It does not prevent the entry of a person into the world, it merely delays it.” What Professor Singer is missing, of course, is the fact that it DOES prevent the entry of a particular person, namely the aborted fetus. A later pregnancy (not assured since the woman has already changed her mind once) would result in the birth of an entirely different person. People are not like machines that can be discarded and replaced by a duplicate at a later date.
At the same time, many of Professor Singer’s insights provide a new and deeper way of thinking about issues. One example he gives comes from Jonathan Glover. Imagine, Glover says, that in a poor village 100 people are about to eat lunch and each has a bowl with 100 beans. A band of bandits comes in and each bandit grabs one bowl, eats it and gallops off. The villagers are left hungry. But then the bandits have second thoughts and decide to return the following week with a different plan. Each bandit will take only one bean from each bowl. The results, of course, are the same, the villagers starve, but each bandit can say he did only a little harm to each person. This same way of thinking can be applied to such problems as global warming. My actions may only cause a very small part of the problem, but they are still wrong.
This book will change the way you think about the world and your actions in it. I recommend it for anyone who wants to live a decent and moral life.