Peter Singer and the “Why be Moral” Problem

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 6:00 PM
Room: 304
Oral Presentation
Naoya TAKAHASHI , Graduate School of Humanities, Tokyo Metropolitan University, Tokyo, Japan
The aim of this presentation is to point out the fatal flaw in Peter Singer’s thinking by analyzing his discussion about the “Why be moral” problem.

  Peter Singer is one of the most influential ethicists today. He studies theoretical ethics and also engages in social practices in order to address moral issues like animal rights, bioethics, environmental problems, etc. The “Why be moral” problem has been one of the topics he is passionate about since his master’s thesis.

  “Why be moral?” has two meanings: “Why should we be moral?” and “Why should I be moral?” The former means, “Why do societies need moralities?” The latter means, “If societies need moralities, why should I accept them?” This problem is connected with the discussions about civil societies because it also asks us whether civil societies are necessary.

  Ethicists submit some valid answers to the former question but no ethicists have submitted answers to the latter. Peter Singer tries to answer the latter. In his opinion, the ethical life is better than the unethical life because ethical people can realize the consistent meaning of their life but unethical people can’t. In other words, ethical people are happier than unethical people. So we, individuals, should be moral. This answer is invalid. For example, there are people who are satisfied with being egoistic. Therefore he fails to solve the problem. This is the fatal flaw in his argument.

  Some say trying to solve the “Why be moral” problem is nonsense, worthless or useless. In fact, even though we don’t solve the problem, we can do many social practices. Nevertheless, solving it is important for Singer because his opinion is too radical to accept for ordinary people. That Singer doesn’t solve the problem becomes an excuse for people not to act morally.