by UnHerd Staff
Wednesday, 29
September 2021

Academics try to cancel Peter Singer (again)

His critics called his views are “dehumanising and dangerous”
by UnHerd Staff
Peter Singer has faced multiple cancellation attempts in the past

Peter Singer is a world famous moral philosopher and bioethicist. Today, he’s due to speak at an online event hosted by the philosophy department at Rhodes College.

However, other academics at the college are outraged. It’s not topic of the event — pandemic ethics — they object to, but the involvement of Singer himself.

The Daily Nous website quotes from one of the protest emails, which accuses Singer of advancing “philosophical arguments that presume the inferiority of many disabled lives.”

This is presumably a reference to Singer’s longstanding and highly controversial argument in favour of euthanising profoundly disabled infants.

His Rhodes critics say that his views are “dehumanising and dangerous” and therefore “urge the college to withdraw the invitation.” They add that they “cherish and advocate for freedom of speech and expression as long as it does not deny others their humanity.”

The question, of course, is who gets to apply this condition on free speech? Pro-life campaigners would argue that abortion denies humanity to a category of “others”, in this case the unborn child or ‘foetus’. So would a group of Catholic academics, say, be justified in demanding that a pro-choice speaker be cancelled?

If the decision ultimately comes down to how influential the no-platformers are, then the real condition that’s applied to free speech is who’s got the power (and is sufficiently offended and censorious to use it). That’s something that advocates for the powerless might want to think about.

When he was interviewed for UnHerd back in June, Peter Singer declared himself to be “an advocate of freedom of speech” adding that free speech “has been something that the Left traditionally has championed.”

The irony is that an ultra-liberal like Singer now finds himself under attack from his fellow progressives. This was his explanation for that:

They see themselves as defending people who are underprivileged, marginalised, disadvantaged. They want to extend that defence, not just to improving their social and economic position and preventing discrimination against them, but also making sure that they’re not offended by remarks that are made.
- Peter Singer, UnHerdTV

Meanwhile, it looks like the Rhodes philosophers are defying the no-platformers.

On the Leiter Reports philosophy blog, the event organisers are quoted as saying that “serious intellectual exchange about matters of significance cannot avoid sometimes causing anger, offense, and pain and no one should be cavalier about that fact.” Nevertheless, to cancel speakers on this basis would be “incompatible with our mission to teach students how to engage in productive dialogue even, and indeed especially, with thinkers with whom they vehemently disagree.”

On this occasion at least, free speech has prevailed.

Join the discussion

  • The bit that I find intriguing about Singer’s views on the topic of disabled babies is that there’s a hairbreadth between what he says & the guidance issued to doctors who perform late term abortions on the grounds of disability.
    In fact the guidance goes to some length to ensure that the subject of the procedure (the baby) must not be born alive because then it will be impossible to kill it.
    However a few moments before, while in the birth canal it seems it’s ok to extinguish the same life.

    Singer shines a light on things we’d rather not talk about, because they’re profoundly uncomfortable.

    I guess that’s why liberals don’t like him very much.

  • One would have thought Peter Singer would be regarded as at the forefront the woke movement. His book Animal Liberation suggests a future where woke Animal Liberationists want to tear down virtually all statues on the basis that they depict men and women who ate animals. Ironically, if there were statues to Hitler they might survive as a professed vegetarian – although he didn’t seem to practice vegetarianism consistently. Of course there are no statues largely because Hitler disapproved of statues of himself rather than because they were destroyed post-war.
    Indeed Peter Singer apparently gives away an admirable 40% of his income to good causes – although that may simply reflect a large enough income to make charitable deductions from income tax.
    His views on the ethics of parents killing their disabled offspring would certainly fit in well with National Socialist programs but he is not really in the same league as Julius Streicher and Pol Pot etc.
    At the end of the day all these cancellation efforts are reminiscent of heresy hunters where religious and semi-religious beliefs are enforced by punishments and silencing because the beliefs can’t be upheld on grounds other than belief itself.

  • I would not deny a platform to any of them.
    Even the war crimes tribunal let Streicher speak, which shows how low our standards of tolerance have fallen since.

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