Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Peter Singer Clarifies His Position

Not that it really needed clarifying, at least to those who didn't react hysterically to his hypothetical premise. He seriously considered Benatar's strain of philanthropic antinatalism, and ultimately rejected it because he has 'hope' for the future. No surprises here. He went about as far as a 'reputable' academician can go, misanthropic(sic) exceptions like Benatar notwithstanding.

You can read Professor Singer's response here. It's all fairly self-explanatory, with any commentary on my part probably superfluous, and unnecessary. The only thing I wanted to highlight was this part-

Since readers have the opportunity to recommend comments by other readers, I also asked Ms. Kheyfets to count the recommendations. This yielded a higher score for those with negative views of existence, in part because fewer readers recommended comments that were neutral or undecided. Excluding once again those comments that did not address the issue, 1870 readers recommended comments expressing negative views of our existence or opposing bringing children into the world, which was 29 percent of all recommendations, while 3109 or 48 percent took a positive view of our existence or favored bringing children into the world, with 23 percent of comments neutral or undecided.

None of this allows us to draw any conclusions about the attitudes of people other than those who chose to comment, or recommend comments, but at least among that group, there is more support for a negative view of human existence and against having children than one might have expected.

This at least tentatively supports my belief that there exists a passive support for antinatalism in a not insignificant percentage of the populace. Singer's opening remark is telling-

That so many people were roused to comment on my piece, “Should This Be the Last Generation?” — despite comments being closed at one point — suggests that it achieved this aim.

What's encouraging to me is not only that the article drew such unexpected attention, but that the responses were so polarized; meaning, of course, that an opposite pole to the supposedly indisputable position actually exists! This is very exciting! According to Singer's calculations, a full 52 percent of all responses were either negative or neutral/undecided regarding the continuance of the human race. Wow! These figures fly in the face of those who would marginalize antinatalism as the philosophy of a handful of misanthropic losers. And even if these admittedly limited findings don't perfectly reflect the attitudes of the populace as a whole, neither can an honest appraisal count them as wholly insignificant.

All in all, I'm happy with the results here. Like I said, Singer's ultimate position hardly surprises me, and really doesn't matter much. In fact, seeing that his upbeat closing paragraph is delivered sans ANY logical justification- feels like a lame tack-on, really- what we're left with is a solid outlining and defense of antinatilism without a shred of adequate riposte. I count that as a win.


Compoverde said...

Jim, I must say I am thankful for Peter Singer for raising this important issue. As you know, I have been advocating more publicity in the public arena for our cause, and Singer has done just that for bringing this to the New York Times online. I agree, I think he tacked on a shaky argument why it still is okay to procreate despite giving a strong argument otherwise throughout his essay.
However, as you point out, the fact that he is inspiring many people to respond on both sides, and to at least reflect on the issue, is what is important here.
This brings me to an interesting idea. Do you think it is possible to get some bright minds on board here to have a discussion in detail with our antinatalism community via this blog? For example, do you think one or several of us can get in touch with Benatar, Singer, and others in the academic community to take some time to engage us? I have seen philosophy forums where guest speakers as prominent as John Searle had been invited to make some posts regarding the mind-body issue. So this is not out of the question. Jim, I would think you would have even more legitimacy being that you have a published book on the subject.

metamorphhh said...


It would be great, if they were willing. Whether or not this blog is academically oriented enough to lure them in is questionable, however. We're sort of down in the mud here, and some of us are inclined to use naughty words from time to time :)

CM said...

Jim, I recently saw your post on saying that Benatar knows who you are and has read your book (or part of it, anyway). That's pretty cool. I would imagine he can't be entirely without curiosity about the thoughts of his supporters outside of academia since BNtHB was written for a broad audience. So if you ever lurk, Dr. Benatar, we'd love to hear from you:).

Karl said...

Comrades, I emailed the good professor yesterday to let him know of recent developments on the blog and he replied very promptly to thank me and tell me he'd checked it out and was particularly taken with the Planet Moron guy Jim mentioned somewhere. So there: he is watching!

Chip said...

I always liked the approach that Michael Blowhard took when he interviewed prominent writers and thinkers over at 2 Blowhards. The interviews would usually play out in a short series of posts, with the final round devoted to addressing accumulated reader comments.