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67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, frustrating, and thought-provoking
Peter Singer is a master of taking an idea to its logical conclusion, and sometimes farther. He is controversial because he is willing to examine some of our most basic and cherished beliefs, and find the contradictions in the values which inform our everyday lives. While it is not comfortable to be so challenged, reading Singer with as open a mind as possible will help...
Published on December 9, 2000 by Matthew Cheney

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15 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but not an ethics.
I found this thought-provoking, but there is more to philosophy than provocation. The underlying argument of the book, and its only valid statement as ethics, is that since the only purpose of ethics is to regulate human behavior, the ethics we adopt should reflect the kind of society we want to live in. This results-oriented approach is fine, but Singer doesn't really...
Published on December 26, 2005 by P. Mullaney


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67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, frustrating, and thought-provoking, December 9, 2000
By 
Matthew Cheney (New Hampton, NH USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Peter Singer is a master of taking an idea to its logical conclusion, and sometimes farther. He is controversial because he is willing to examine some of our most basic and cherished beliefs, and find the contradictions in the values which inform our everyday lives. While it is not comfortable to be so challenged, reading Singer with as open a mind as possible will help you clarify your own ethics, whether you subscribe to his or not.
Singer is not a monster, and though some of his ideas are disturbingly cold and mechanical, the majority of his ideas, and his philosophy as a whole, are deeply humane. To understand this, you must read him. Not agree with him, but read him.
How dull our lives would be if we were only exposed to comfortable ideas which reinforced our own beliefs. My beliefs have become clearer and stronger because of Singer's challenges, and I am grateful to his writings for helping me think less hypocritically about the world. I've still got leather shoes, and I still value a newborn human more than a newborn rodent, but I am also much more aware of how I spend my money and about what the choices I make in life really mean. This book is a well-edited survey of Singer's thoughts and ideas, his challenges and critiques, his justifications and juxtapositions, his philosophies.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Misunderstanding Singer, November 26, 2003
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This review is from: Writings on an Ethical Life (Paperback)
I've read many essays from Singer's books, and I can say that many of the reviewers here, I suspect not being formally trained in philosophy, have missed his points in some degree, which leads to their proposed "problems" singer has. First, if let me say this. If Singer has all of the problems that some say he has with the validity of his arguments, he would never have made it to any college, much less Princeton. What I glean from the objections to his arguments is that the readers are not fully understanding his positions, much less the technical but subtle and sound logic in them.
One writer writes that "Are we to believe that animals have a since of I or me" and "Does this mean that when an animal hurts, kills or steals from another that she should be charged with assault, murder or theft?" Of course not. Singer would never make such an outlandish assertion nor would even a first year grad student in philosophy. Another reader objects to infanticide, but the argument Singer gives-one on personhood-is sound and valid. It draws its ideas from both Judith Jarvis Thompson's essay and Michael Tooley's essay on that subject, which are both still preeminent. Singer does have some nice explanations to professional arguments on the other side too that neither Thompson nor Tooley address (because they are writing their own arguments). One of my favorite quotes on personhood and infanticide, for example, pithy, but to the point, is this: "Dropping an egg into boiling water is not the same as dropping a live chicken into boiling water" and this "The fact that Price Charles will be the king of England does not mean that he is now the King of England." In other words, infants are not the same as thinking and reasoning beings, and thinking, reasoning, self aware beings are the only beings we ascribe "personhood" to, and persons are the only "things" that get to claim an ethical right to life. If this weren't true, and Singer makes this point, then everything that lives could be said to claim a right to life. This sound reasoning is not as easily dismissed as some think. (And don't hit me on those two simple examples. Read the essays and do your own research.)
Last, one reader objects because "if one were to take seriously his premise that we ought to do whatever we can in our power to help those in dire need, no one could ethically spend a dime on anything other than "necessities" (which also raises a question about what constitutes a "necessity" versus a "luxury").
First, what he means is that if people are in dire need of no fault of their own, then we should and are morally bound to help them. If that means buying nothing more than necessities, then our moral obligations override luxuries. Think of it this way. Your mother, and I use "mother" here because that brings it right home, has cancer and needs an operation. The only way she can afford it is for you to pay for it. However, you want that new Humvee. Are you morally obligated to pay for your mother's operation rather than buy the Humvee? Singer thinks so. And the distinction between what a luxury `is' means nothing more than that.
For those reading reviews, or anything for that mattter, remeber to always look for examples when a person says X is bad. Look for what comes after that assertion. Look for examples and an explanation of WHY it is bad, and then see if the reasons add up to the objections.
I hope I have provided at least some good examples of why I think many misunderstand Singer and have provided you with at least two essays (Thompson and Tooley) for further reading on the subject of abortion and infanticide.
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30 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Groundbreaking, December 31, 2000
By 
Heany (Annapolis, MD USA) - See all my reviews
The people that have dissed Singer here have distorted his message by oversimplification, the kind that of thing you would expect people from those who have not read him. Singer doesn't want to get rid of retarded people, as one reviewer suggests. Singer bases some of his arguments on the distinction between person-status and mere species memebership, and Singer would definitely rate retarded people as persons.
Anyways, Singer is definitely right that the last edifice of pre-Darwinian (or pre-Copernican) thought is the idea of humnan life as intrinsically more estimable than other life, no ifs ands or buts. Singer explores the implications of this fairly, admitting that he doesn't have all the answers (no dogma here) but offering well-thought-out new proposals for action given the world view we'll have to adopt.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uncomfortable reading, November 20, 2006
This review is from: Writings on an Ethical Life (Paperback)
Singer writes about many subjects which are potentially disturbing to a complacent, wealthy American (such as myself). I found the essays to be a salutary reminder of my effect on the larger world, and refreshingly down-to-earth. These are not academic essays, but journalistic ones which address ethical matters of concern to every political person with a conscience.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A True Visionary, October 4, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Writings on an Ethical Life (Paperback)
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in the past when human slaves existed? Do you ever question whether you would have the knowledge or insight to realize that you were committing a moral injustice? Well, Professor Singer (he was my professor at Princeton University) is simply a man who has such a vision into the future and is able to understand the cruelties of this world and can explain why they are unjustifiable, regardless of popular opinion.
I don't dare to say that his ideas are popular; in fact, 50 mentally handicapped individuals chained themselves to the front gate of Princeton's campus in protest of his appointment. He is a man who argues for the legalization of infanticide, yet has the ability to understand that every American should send a portion of each paycheck to help ease the suffering of starvation in third world countries.
I recommend this book because I think Peter Singer can show us how to put an end to the "slave institutions" that we continue to use in this world. I guarantee you one thing; if you bring an open mind to this book, Peter Singer will change your outlook on life. Period.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and Very Clearly Written, February 28, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Writings on an Ethical Life (Paperback)
This is a passionate, well-argued, and thought-provoking collection of essays. Unlike most contemporary philosophers, Singer writes clearly and expressively. He completely avoids jargon and the ever-popular use of badly translated French expressions and concepts. I would recommend it very highly to anyone interested in topics such as animal rights, abortion, and euthanasia.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ahead of its time and profoundly convincing, September 25, 2011
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This review is from: Writings on an Ethical Life (Paperback)
This book was perhaps the most lucid, convincing philosophical work I have ever read. It's arguments are broad and invigoratingly relevant. It radically changed how I live my life in three major ways:

-I am now a vegetarian with vegan ambitions
-I have pledged to donate at least 30% of my life's income to developing countries
-I have changed my career path to concentrate on global human health
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great material for discussion, whether in a classroom or book club., October 25, 2011
This review is from: Writings on an Ethical Life (Paperback)
Even though I agree with most of what he says, I still feel vaguely dissatisfied, like his thoughts aren't the last word on any of the topics he covers. I feel that beyond his very simple and straightforward arguments, there are further complications and subtleties that he doesn't touch on. I'm supportive of the mission of utilitarian thinkers to set up rational foundations for our practices and decisions, but I feel like there is much further work that needs to be done in this area to bridge the still wide gap between utilitarian theories and the infinitely more complex world and society it seeks to understand. I guess I'm looking for an approach that combines the pragmatism and clarity of analytic philosophy with the richness and sophistication of continental philosophy, and I haven't found it yet, neither here nor anywhere else.
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15 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but not an ethics., December 26, 2005
By 
P. Mullaney (Atlanta, Georgia USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Writings on an Ethical Life (Paperback)
I found this thought-provoking, but there is more to philosophy than provocation. The underlying argument of the book, and its only valid statement as ethics, is that since the only purpose of ethics is to regulate human behavior, the ethics we adopt should reflect the kind of society we want to live in. This results-oriented approach is fine, but Singer doesn't really build any philosophical argument from it. Virtually all of Singer's arguments about particular issues rest upon emotional premises that the reader either does or does not accept. If you accept the premise you are likely to find merit in the argument; if you don't accept the premise, it's hard to follow Singer to a useful conclusion. This is not ethics but politics - the politics of someone who is too smart for standard political discourse and not interested in limiting his thoughts to philsophy as a discipline. How useful you find this is up to you. I don't know Singer from Adam and I hadn't been indoctrinated in his "groundbreaking-ness" before I bought the book; as a result, I don't see what people are so excited about.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking, March 16, 2014
This review is from: Writings on an Ethical Life (Paperback)
While I tended to agree with most of Singer's conclusions... This book challenged (and still challenges) my own presumptions about morality and ethics. I haven't reconciled the ethical standpoint of meat eating... I find myself KNOWING that I probably should refrain from consuming meat, especially in relation to the treatment of those animals, and yet I still readily will eat most meats put in front of me. :/

This is an excellent book and one worth reading to challenge yourself.
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Writings on an Ethical Life
Writings on an Ethical Life by Peter Singer (Paperback - September 18, 2001)
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