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Rethinking Life & Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional Ethics Hardcover – April, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In these brilliant essays, Singer (Animal Liberation), a founder of the Australian Animal Rights Movement, argues persuasively for a change in attitudes toward abortion, euthanasia, fetal transplants and animal rights. He considers that 20th-century advances in medicine, technology and anthropology have made traditional Judeo-Christian ethics irrelevant and hypocritical. He offers five new commandments: "Recognise that the worth of human life varies" because all life is not of equal value; "Take responsibility for the consequences of your decisions" because the old commandment "never intentionally to take innocent human life" is too absolutist to deal with all the circumstances that can arise; "Respect a person's desire to live or die" because "incurably ill people who ask doctors to help them die are not harming others"; "Bring children into the world only if they are wanted" because being fruitful and multiplying now causes serious overpopulation; "Do not discriminate on the basis of species" because what is "human" can no longer be demonstrated to apply to Homo sapiens alone. Singer analyzes the history of traditional arguments about life and death, with man as the center of the universe, and makes a forceful case for his new ethic.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Singer (Animal Liberation, LJ 3/15/90. 2d ed.) calls for a revolution in ethical thinking about life and death. Human beings, in his view, form merely one species among others, and obligations to humans do not always outweigh those to animals. Within the human species, not all life has equal worth. Singer's position has radical applications in practice, which he is at pains to spell out. In his view, people whose brains no longer function may have their vital organs removed, even if they are not legally dead. Abortion is almost always morally permissible and active euthanasia often justifiable. Even infanticide receives a sympathic hearing. Singer writes well and offers a detailed discussion of important issues in medical ethics. But he fails to address seriously objections to his brand of utilitarianism and inclines too readily to dismiss ordinary morality as "speciesism." For academic collections.?David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., Ohio
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: St Martins Pr; 1st U.S. ed edition (April 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312118805
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312118808
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,941,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Singer is sometimes called "the world's most influential living philosopher" although he thinks that if that is true, it doesn't say much for all the other living philosophers around today. He has also been called the father (or grandfather?) of the modern animal rights movement, even though he doesn't base his philosophical views on rights, either for humans or for animals.
In 2005 Time magazine named Singer one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute ranked him 3rd among Global Thought Leaders for 2013. (He crashed to 68th the following year, after GDI changed its methodology, which just shows how fleeting fame can be.) He is known especially for his work on the ethics of our treatment of animals, for his controversial critique of the sanctity of life doctrine in bioethics, and for his writings on the obligations of the affluent to aid those living in extreme poverty.

Singer first became well-known internationally after the publication of Animal Liberation in 1975. In 2011 Time included Animal Liberation on its "All-TIME" list of the 100 best nonfiction books published in English since the magazine began, in 1923. Singer has written, co-authored, edited or co-edited more than 40 books, including Practical Ethics; The Expanding Circle; How Are We to Live?, Rethinking Life and Death, The Ethics of What We Eat (with Jim Mason), The Life You Can Save, The Point of View of the Universe (with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek), and, most recently, The Most Good You Can Do. His works have appeared in more than 25 languages.

Peter Singer was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1946, and educated at the University of Melbourne and the University of Oxford. After teaching in England, the United States and Australia, he has, since 1999, been Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. Since 2005 he has combined that position with the position of Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne, in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies. He is married, with three daughters and four grandchildren. His recreations include hiking and surfing. In 2012 he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia, the nation's highest civic honour.

Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By DLJ on August 15, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I never would have thought that I would come across a work of non-fiction that I couldn't put down, but here it is!

Fascinating and thought provoking, in Rethinking Life and Death, Singer shows how and why the western world has already started moving away from the Judeo-Christian sanctity of human life ethic. He sites the emphasis on 'brain death' and the acceptance of Galileo's discovery that we (humans) are not the center of the universe as the beginnings of the break down of this ethical system.

Singer reports where many western nations currently fall both legally and in mainstream medical practice with regard to controversial topics including abortion, infanticide, stem cell research, euthanasia, and assisted suicide. Furthermore, Singer uses well-reasoned logical arguments to show why these current interpretations of the sanctity of human life ethic are unsustainable.

In the last section of this book, Singer presents a working model for a new quality of life ethic and effortlessly shows how they would apply to situations in which our traditional ethic yields unsatisfactory results. Additionally, Singer shows the practical and moral justification for his most controversial stance - acceptance of infanticide.

One thing I really thought was magnificent about this book is that, while Singer obviously supports a shift to whole-hearted acceptance of a quality of life ethic, he doesn't insist that as a reader you agree with him. Singer leaves perfectly open the door of maintaining a sanctity of (all) life ethic; he just makes sure the reader understands the consequences of such an ethic in its pure and unadulterated form.

Once again, I have to compliment Singer on his amazing writing style.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Eric Lunt on February 26, 2004
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Peter Singer is a modern philosopher that's not afraid to drive down some dark moral alleys. In this book, he tackles the topics of brain death, organ harvesting, abortion, infanticide, and animal rights. For the most part, he does a fantastic job of establishing a premise and then logically progressing to a conclusion that may leave our traditional ethics in shambles.
Dr. Singer's arguments related to quality of life, the rights of a fetus, and examining "brain death" for what it really is were persuasive and effective I thought. When he got to discussing the rights of animals as they relate to humans, though, I thought he got a little sloppy. Instead of leading you from A to B to C as he did earlier, he kind of goes from A to C to F, and ignores that there may be a G. His "consciousness equation" that he applies to infants born with only a brain stem, adults in a persistent vegetative state, and gorillas as a case against "speciesism" seems inappropriate and ignores the sum potential of each species. In my opinion, invalid generalizations lead to untenable conclusions.
This is not to say that I believe that animal testing is justifiable or that pro-life advocates that aren't vegans aren't hypocrites: my personal beliefs are beside the point. It just seems that Singer's past as a founder of the Australian Animal Rights Movement betray him a little bit here and reduces the effectiveness of the argument as a whole. It is, however, refreshing to see an author tackle such pregnant topics without fear.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Chris Sandvig on July 21, 2004
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I am a great fan of Peter Singer and this book has further strengthened my respect for him. The book starts by examining the inconsistencies and weak ethical foundations of the "sanctity of human life" ethic. He provides numerous examples of situations that have occurred since the invention of the respirator in the 1950's where the application of this ethic has led to disastrous outcomes. He describes the many inconsistent and arbitrary "patches" that we have applied to shore up this ethic, concluding that a new ethical standard is needed. He proposes a new ethical framework based upon factors such as quality of life and how the decision to end a life will affect the interests of the individual, family members and society as a whole.

His arguments are clear and well supported and his writing style is lively and easy to read. This book is informative and provocative. I highly recommend it.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By J. Mackenzie on May 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book adresses some serious questions about human acceptance to the the putting to sleep of brain dead and other humans that have no capacity for life. The ethical considerations and implications are discussed and argued well. The extension to the abortion issue and where to draw the line (if any) between abortion and murder is discussed. as well as with regards to malformed foetus'. Well written
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 14, 1996
Format: Paperback
The author gives many examples of situations which make one think about when a being is actually human or deserves the rights we commonly associate with humans. Singer discusses both ends of the question: when should medical personnel be allowed to terminate the life of a patient without hope of recovery, and when should a woman be allowed to abort her pregnancy. He also argues that non-human animals deserve more thought as to whether are subject to the same ethics as we apply to humans. In all the book is quite fascinating and well worth reading
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