The Expanding Circle
by Peter Singer

An argument for extending altruism to include all sentient life, based on reason and sociobiology. He criticizes Edward Wilson's theory that there is a biologically determined cardinal ethical value to have one's DNA survive in the human gene pool. Singer's theory is that the altruism inherent in our genes (as a social species) is the basis of ethics, and that when people use reason to defend the morality of their actions, they have to appeal to the interests of others (altruism) rather than to self-interest. This produces ethics that expand from the individual to the family, the kin group, the tribe, the nation, the brotherhood of man, and finally to all beings capable of experiencing pleasure and pain. He simply assumes that altruistic instincts are ethical. He offers no argument to support this assumption as opposed to selecting another instinct as the cardinal ethical value.

Overall, this is a good attempt to rationalize the bleeding-heart position with the scientific evidence. I don't understand his quick rejection of Kropotkin's position. He should have drawn support from it.

Year Read: 1983


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