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Video Series: Peter Singer on the Pros and Cons of Defending Controversial Views

Peter Singer has probably done more good than many of us will ever do. Despite this, he has received threats, people have protested to stop him from lecturing, his views have been compared to those defended by Nazis, etc. How has this affected him? Should we ever refrain from defending controversial views? Is it okay if academics avoid working on controversial topics because they’re worried about their reputation or job prospects? Should academics be able to publish their controversial ideas anonymously? Should we engage in a calm and rational way with just any view? Where do we draw the line? These are some of the questions I asked Peter Singer.

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  1. This is illustrative of the problems with academic approaches to controversies such as the Charlie Gard case. Singer insists on “good arguments” before he will even think about an opposing position. Other comments here talked about, for instance, the “ludicrous assertions” of Charlie Gard’s supporters. It is hard to see this as anything other than condescension, especially when we know that there are significant class issues. The concrete example given in the interview, namely priority for whites in transplants, is not even an ‘argument’ as such, it’s a value preference. There are people who hold such preferences, and what’s more, there is an entrenched de facto preference for whites in western transplant policy. Perhaps it is unavoidable that ethics isolates itself from the real world, because of its complexity, but if so, we should should not allow ethicists to intervene or advise on real-world problems.

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