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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thursday: Peter Wicks on Peter Singer

Peter Wicks
   My guest on Thursday's show is Dr. Peter Wicks (PhD, Notre Dame), a Catherine of Siena fellow and member of the ethics faculty at Villanova University. I discovered Peter's work in a recent issue of the journal First Things, in which he reviewed a book by Charles Camosy, assistant professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University. In the book, Camosy argues that Catholics can find more common ground than they think with Peter Singer, a man whose ideas are largely reviled in Catholic bio-ethical circles, especially among pro-life advocates.

   You may have heard of Peter Singer, moral philosopher and professor of bioethics at Princeton University and an influential thinker in the world of secular ethics. He is a proponent of utilitarianism, an approach to ethics in which decisions are evaluated based on what accomplishes the "greatest good of the greatest number."

Peter Singer
   Singer also argues against what he calls "speciesism," the idea that human beings occupy a privileged position when it comes to evaluating the consequences of moral decisions. For Singer, there is no fundamental or ontological "right" to life, for humans or other animals, and that our moral ability to take the life of another is based not upon nature but upon doing the greatest good based upon a strict cost/benefit analysis.

   Sentience--the capacity for sensing, feeling, and awareness--has primary value in Singer's ethical reasoning, thus a fully grown dog may have greater sentience than a newborn child and thus deserve greater consideration in ethical decision making. Singer is quite forthright--and hauntingly consistent--in his assertion that not only is abortion morally permissible, but even infanticide.

   Dr. Wicks has agreed to a phone interview during the Thursday's show, beginning about 5:15pm. We'll discuss Camosy's advocacy for greater rapprochement with Singer, and why Wicks considers Camosy's arguments largely dubious, even while agreeing that Christian ethicists must continue to engage Singer's ideas, in order to "better understand their disagreements" with him. We'll also discuss why utilitarianism seems like an attractive ethical framework for a growing number of people.


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