Thursday, September 22, 2016

Peter Singer's Argument for Infanticide

I presented this tonight in one of my MCCC logic classes, as an example of logical argumentation, Peter Singer’s argument for infanticide. Note: I don't advocate infanticide. But Singer's argument is famous, and followed.

Tonight's class discussion was some of the best I've ever had in response to Singer's argument - thank you students!

Singer argues, in his essay “Taking Life: Humans” (1993), that it is morally acceptable to kill, in some cases, disabled infants. (Note: Singer has since refined his views.)

Before I show you the argument, here are some of Singer’s assumptions.

1.   A “person” has self-consciousness.

2.   Fetuses and newborn babies do not possess self-consciousness. They are “merely conscious.”
a. “The fact that a being is a human being, in the sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, is not relevant to the wrongness of killing it; it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings, or any other self-conscious beings.”
4.   “Killing a self-conscious being is a more serious matter than killing a merely conscious being. Killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all.”

5.   Being a member of the human species is irrelevant to a baby’s moral status.

6.   A parent may want to “replace” (the “replaceability thesis”) their defective baby with another baby, hopefully to be born.

Singer’s argument in his own words reads:

Or reframed this way.
1.   If we can morally kill a disabled fetus that has no self-consciousness, it follows that we can morally kill a disabled infant that has no self-consciousness.
2.   We can morally kill a disabled fetus that has no self-consciousness.
3.   Therefore, we are morally justified in killing a disabled infant that has no self-consciousness.

Singer is an atheist. He follows real atheism, like that of Nietzsche, who understood that with the loss of Christian theism's metaphysical foundation we've left "the land" and sail on a sea with an "infinite horizon" (the equivalent of "no [moral] land in sight"). So Singer advocates, among other things, "fourth-trimester abortions, i.e., the killing of infants after they are born." Singer writes:

"My colleague Helga Kuhse and I suggest that a period of 28 days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to life as others... Rats are indisputably more aware of their surroundings, and more able to respond in purposeful and complex ways to things they like or dislike, than a fetus at 10- or even 32-weeks gestation. … The calf, the pig, and the much-derided chicken come out well ahead of the fetus at any stage of pregnancy." (See here, p. 189, fn. 21.)

Surely Singer is right in that, if there is no God, then humans are no different than animals and to think so is to be guilty of species-ism. Ideas like "All men are create equal" and "Human life is precious" make sense on Christianity, but not on atheism.

I've long thought that, were I an atheist, I'd be in the Nietzsche/Singer camp I find it odd and at times humorous when atheists disbelieve in God but co-opt Christian theistic moral values to their advantage, like assuming the special-ness of humans.