<p>It’s a big leap from interviewing a series of comedians to talking to one of the world’s most influential philosophers.</p>
It’s a big leap from interviewing a series of comedians to talking to one of the world’s most influential philosophers. It involves your parachute failing to eject, as your desperate flapping arms somehow levitate you to a kind of intellectual safety. From this point, sanctity is provided by a very kind philosopher, who will laugh with you about Tofurkey, rather than illuminate your failure to complete any readings throughout your entire undergraduate degree.
Peter Singer is to tofu what vegemite is to toast. He’s a man controversial enough to squeeze the sweat out of Tony Jones’ forehead. He kick-started the Animal Liberation movement in 1975 with his book of the same title. He may very well be the Jesus of the vegie burger.
Peter Singer was a student at the University of Melbourne in the ‘60s. Peter was a co-editor at Farrago and politically active in lobbying against the Vietnam War and for the reproductive rights of women.
I asked Peter what prompted him to g vegan, perhaps a lamb being hit by a bus or something similar? Peter laughs off my joke, telling me that he first considered vegetarianism when he met a Canadian studying at the University of Melbourne, who he describes as, “The first ethical vegetarian I’d ever met.”
It was this encounter that would set off a chain of events eventually leading to Peter Singer being the world’s key voice in animal liberation movement.
Peter is a utilitarian, which roughly means when approaching ethical problems, he seeks the greatest good/utility for the greatest number. He applies utilitarianism across all his major fields of academia, including animal liberation and effective altruism.
Peter speaks his mind and urges the current generation to do the same. When I ask him how students should react to the current Trump administration, Peter says, “There should be a big reaction to a lot of bad things that are happening…the biggest of which is climate change, the great moral issue of today.”
Peter sees similarities between his political lobbying against the Vietnam War, and the current necessity for students to urge governments to act on climate change. “As bad as the Vietnam War was, climate change could kill many more people,” Peter said solemnly.
I try to perk Peter up with a soy hot chocolate, as we get to the conversation of effective altruism. A movement for which Peter has been a major proponent. Peter has often urged people in the first world to spend parts of their disposable income donating to charity.
“For instance, this soy hot chocolate,” Peter says with a smile. I quickly become aware that my heartfelt gift is about to be ripped apart by one of Australia’s greatest philosophers.
“I didn’t really need it, which shows we make purchases without thinking many times a day. And when you think there are 700 million people living on less than two dollars a day, that can make a real difference to their lives,” Peter says, all the while staring at the cup of hot chocolate.
“I guess that soy hot chocolate doesn’t taste so sweet anymore,” we both laugh. Myself more than Peter.
Peter’s plight for effective altruism has seen the founding of his organisation, The Life You Can Save, and similarly, GiveWell in America, which are both organisations that look to guide people in being effective when donating to charities.
We close the interview with Peter talking about happiness. Peter tells me that surfing has provided him with a joy and respite from the often-heated philosophical debates he engages in daily. I cannot help but giggle at the notion of Peter Singer gliding past on a G-Board at the Torquay Back Beach, but then, this just further paints an image of a man with a wealth of wisdom about life, and how to live a happy one.
I enter the Farrago Office after the interview, love-struck. Peter is one of Australia’s greatest academics, and someone who, despite controversy, has always sought to live the most ethical life he possibly can – and furthermore, looks to inspire others to act accordingly.
You can find more about Peter Singer’s ideas, organisations, and projects at www.petersinger.info.
You can listen to the podcast of this interview by searching ‘The Ferg Neal Show’ on iTunes.