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The President of Good & Evil: Questioning the Ethics of George W. Bush Paperback – August 3, 2004


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This book by controversial ethicist Singer (a founder of the animal rights movement) is both broader and narrower than it purports to be. It offers a look at almost every significant policy the administration has taken a position on yet offers little in the way of new philosophic inquiry. Singer pits Bush's rhetoric and prescriptions against his actions, going from the topical (terror detainees, the war in Iraq) to the abstract (utilitarian theories of government). Singer's arguments are often reasonable and well documented: he asks whether an administration that emphasizes smaller government should be intervening in state right-to-die cases and whether someone so vocal about the value of individual merit should be rewarding birthright by eliminating the estate tax. But anyone who has followed recent critiques of the administration would learn nothing new from these familiar arguments and conclusions, such as that the justification for the Iraq war might have been problematic. Singer's logic can also be mushy. A chapter that decries the influence of religion on Bush's policy dissolves into vague, emotional language better suited to a TV pundit than a philosopher. Singer's most intellectually adventurous chapter involves stem-cell research, where the author exposes fissures in Bush's "compromise" to allow research on existing stem-cell lines. But mostly Singer's critique does little to distinguish itself from other anti-Bush books.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

A president's vocabulary of moral judgment comes in for harsh scrutiny from a prominent ethicist. Whether examining the rhetoric with which Bush has explained the war against terrorism or parsing the justifications the president has marshaled to cut taxes and restrict stem-cell research, Singer identifies inconsistencies in ethical reasoning. Repeatedly, Singer accuses Bush of relying on moral terms that reflect only raw intuition, not systematic reflection. But in indicting Bush for an imperialistic foreign policy and for an incoherently religious domestic agenda, Singer must also criticize media commentators who have supported the president and a popular culture that has echoed his slogans. Readers who find their own views under attack may complain of authorial bias, especially since Singer's leftist premises guarantee a negative evaluation of almost any Republican. More cynical readers may question Singer's expectation of theoretical rigor in the real-world maneuvering of a politician from any party. In any case, the ideological controversy that Singer's critique will spark should only intensify public interest in this book. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (August 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452286220
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452286221
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,835,267 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

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Matt Sigl on April 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
If you belive that this country and the world would be a much better place if people took the time to think through their opinions and try to maintain consistent ethical beliefs then this book is for you. Singer is a revolutionary philosopher not because he espouses any new ethical theories but rather for the thorough manner he extrapolates innteresting moral conclusions from basic ethical principles. In this book he cuts through any and all political mudslinging and spin, leaving only the facts and reason as a guide. Not only is Singer systematicaly logical in his condemnation of the President he is also not without humility. When Bush deserves credit, he gets it (like his action towards AIDS treatment in Africa.) Singer seeems to have no agenda toward the President when the book begins. No axe to grind. Because of his persistent fairness Singer has written the Presidents most damning and justified condemnation. Critics might call Singer simplistic, deconstructing complex moral questions into simple black and white principals. This criticism is not in itself substancial unless someone could cite a specific example of incorrect ethical reasoning on the part of Mr. Singer. They would be hard pressed to do so. Critics be warned, Singer is no simpleton. His simple writing style is a deliberate choice on his part to make the arguments as clear and consise as possible. He understands that tax policy is a complicated and thorny issue but he avoids the numerous tangents that could arise from this issue and sticks to his subject, the ethical consistency of GW. Because of his logical and forceful arguments Singer has shown more conclusively,and with much less bile, that our President is very, very, ethically troubled.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A. Hufnal on December 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is the first Peter Singer book I have read, and I now plan to read more. Unlike a lot of anti-Bush books that appeared before the election, I believe this one is still worth reading. It retains its value because it focuses on ethics, morals, and philosophical thought (or the lack thereof), not simply politics. Singer doesn't come out and shout, "Bush is lying!" or "Bush is wrong!...". He instead uses several methods to point out inconsistencies between the president's words and deeds. I believe that the result will more than stand up to any objective review, and may serve to change the opinions of an open-minded reader on any number of the subjects addressed. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in philosophy, ethics, political science, or current events.
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74 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Tom Moran on April 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As a sort of corrective to such recent books on the current occupant of the White House as David Frum's "The Right Man" and John Podhoretz's "Bush Country," noted ethicist Peter Singer's book "The President of Good & Evil" takes a dispassionate but quietly devastating look at George W. Bush's ethical failings in office. It should be required reading for all Americans who are planning on voting this November.

Singer doesn't get angry and heated over the way that Bush has handled the events of the past few years. His is a very subdued, rational approach, and as such it is more effective (and, incidentally, more devastating) than fire breathing rhetoric would have been. He simply subjects Bush's statements to intense ethical scrutiny, and it will surprise no one who doesn't get their opinions from Fox News that, time after time, even when Singer goes out of his way to give him the benefit of the doubt, Bush comes up short.

My favorite example of this is when Bush is pre-taping a radio address the day before he's scheduled to go to California. The text of the broadcast read: "Today I am in California," but Bush kept petulantly saying, "But I'm not in California." Singer's comment on this inane behavior is priceless: "Taking the obligation to be truthful so literally suggests an arrested moral development." And the analysis that flows from this insight, inspired by the work of Harvard psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, is not only plausible, it's pretty terrifying to consider the very real possibility that we have been led into war and hundreds of Americans have lost their lives because the man running the country is morally retarded. But I wouldn't bet against it.

Regardless of whether you support George W.
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78 of 100 people found the following review helpful By David C N Swanson on March 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Because this book bends over backwards to be fair to Bush, it may make a good present of persuasion. Giving a copy to a Republican friend might create a good deal of cognitive dissonance. Bush comes off as a serious threat to the planet, and not the slightest exaggeration is used to make this case.
Ultimately, however, the book holds Bush to standards he would find alien, and charges him with inconsistency where he would no doubt insist there is none. Not everyone will be converted, not withstanding Singer's references early and late in the book to rational argument and universal standards.
The first 200 of the 225 pages take us on a tour of Bush's ethical pronouncements and behavior, in search of consistency or meaning. This is extremely well done, and each section constitutes a perfect primer on what is wrong with this president and why we need to vote him out.
Predictably, the contradictions are legion and the findings of hypocrisy plentiful. At times, I wish Singer had focused less on Bush's hypocrisy than on the damage done by his behavior.
The one instance in which Singer goes beyond commonly accepted standards to critique an ethical problem in Bush's behavior that most Americans would let pass comes when he suggests that Bush's religious habits of thought constitute a handicap for someone in a position requiring a questioning and discerning mind. Singer suggests that someone who bases his beliefs on faith may not be ideally qualified for a position of power.
Of course every other American president ever elected has been a theist, or at least a deist, or at least has professed to be. But Bush is especially clear about connecting his religion to his decision-making process.
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