Thursday, September 28, 2017

Interview: Where does America's ethical compass point in the age of Trump? Peter Singer explains.

Editor's note: This is the final segment of a discussion with Peter Singer. Read the first and second articles.

Story by Joseph Ford Cotto

What does it mean to be ethical? 
The only honest answer to this question might well be another question: What are ethics in the first place?
Many billions of people chalk this query up to god, goddess, or whatever higher power they believe in. For others, though, only more fact-based answers will suffice. Certain individuals devote their entire careers to understanding the hows and whys of, more or less, hows and whys.

Peter Singer is one of these people. His decades-long work investigating morality, how it serves human needs (or perhaps does not), and what the best manner of applying ethical practices are has earned him worldwide acclaim -- though more than a few detractors to boot. (Read more here)

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Joseph Ford Cotto: Absolute certainty is an essential part of life for untold billions. Typically, this is achieved through faith in other people, social institutions, or notions of the divine. What is your ethical opinion about the concept of faith; specifically as it often plays out in America?


Credit: Alletta Vaandering
Peter Singer: As I said in answering the previous question, I don’t think that any view, including religious faith, can give absolute certainty.  And anyway, no thinking person who is religious can have absolute certainty in the truth of his or her religion.  How can they, when they see that other people have just as strong a faith in a completely different religion, and they must realize that if they had been brought up in that culture, they too would believe in the religion of that culture.

Cotto: American society has undergone tremendous social change over the last decade. What do prevailing trends tell you about the American public's ethics?

Singer: It’s hard to say.  The public face of America today is very different from what it was under President Obama.  President Trump talks a lot about putting America first, and given the impact that our actions have on the rest of the world, that is not an ethical stance.  We see it with regard to immigration, but we see it even more clearly with regard to climate change, which is probably the greatest single moral challenge facing the world in the 21st century. But is Trump part of a prevailing trend, or do his abysmal approval ratings show that he is a merely a blip on a line on chart that is moving in a different direction?

Cotto: Beyond traditional social squabbles, a tidal wave of change is sweeping across the United States. Economically, demographically, culturally, and religiously, the nation is traveling at light speed toward a new frontier. What sort of ethics might predominate in the none-too-distant future?  

Singer: Being a philosopher doesn’t mean I have a crystal ball.  I hope that a more global ethics will come to predominate, because we certainly need it if we are going to be able to solve global problems, like climate change and immigration.  But it’s also possible that we will retreat into our national bunkers, and thus fail to solve those problems.

Cotto: Right now, what ethical value does, generally speaking, the American public need; surpassing any other one?


Singer: Benevolence -- long-term, global benevolence.  That means, concern for the well-being of all, American or no

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