On Tuesday, Oct. 18, Peter Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the Center for Human Values, and Robert George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and professor of Politics, engaged in a discussion focused mostly on Singer’s new book, “Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter.” The discussion took place in the bottom level of Labyrinth Books.
Singer’s book consists mostly of op-ed pieces that he has written for various newspapers over the past 15 years.
“What I’ve done for this book is to select some of those columns that seem to me to still have continuing relevance, some of them needed a bit of updating, and I have a paragraph or two at the bottom to update,” said Singer. He then sorted them into categories, according to themes he has been interested in, such as animal rights and the sanctity of life.
Dorothea Dix, owner of Labyrinth Books, says the book “is a bit like bite-sized candy."
"You think you’ll keep it around, and just read a few here and there, but before you know it, you’ve finished the pack of essays,” she added.
Regarding Singer’s book, George said, “I assure you, that you will learn as I did, from his arguments and the good example he sets of reason and discourse.”
Singer and George have been known to disagree on many issues, ranging from religion to the ethics of infanticide. While Singer approaches issues from a secular, utilitarian perspective, George is a conservative Christian thinker. However, throughout their professional careers, both have been known to engage in intellectual debates with each other, according to George.
“It’s not that I agree with the positions that Peter defends, I agree with some, I disagree with others," George said. "Indeed, the surprising thing to many of you is likely that I agree with some of them, but that I believe is because of the accuracy of Peter’s predictions and the truthfulness about himself.”
George has also been a defender of Singer in the past, supporting him when he came under the attack of some disability activists. The activists have protested Singer’s position on the University’s faculty because of his views that infanticide is sometimes acceptable when the child in question was born with birth defects.
While George noted he does not agree with Singer’s perspective, George said that he supports academic freedom in universities and believes in academic discourse. During the discussion, George said that he argued for the value of Singer’s contributions to campus life because Singer operates the currency of academic discourse, setting forth clear positions and defending them with rational arguments.
“I try to keep an open mind, to be responsive to the evidence, and not simply to follow a predictable political line,” said Singer, regarding his views and his works.
The discussion was followed by a question and answer session with the audience and a book signing with Singer.