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Peter Singer Honored by Queen Elizabeth

PeterSinger-061212It’s a tradition in Britain and the Commonwealth for the queen to award special honors each year on her birthday. This year, the controversial philosopher Peter Singer becomes a Companion in the Order of Australia.

The award is “for eminent service to philosophy and bioethics as a leader of public debate and communicator of ideas in the areas of global poverty, animal welfare and the human condition.”


Singer is a native Australian who is Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and at the University of Melbourne.

He’s best known for his book Animal Liberation, which many people consider to be what launched the modern animal rights movement.

Singer is a controversial figure. To many, he espouses dangerous, socialistic, revolutionary views. But there are some in the animal protection world who consider his philosophical “utilitarian” approach to be anything but revolutionary since he accepts, for example, that some use of vivisection is in the greater interest.

Other Australians who were also given the award for this year include politicians, a chief justice, and, perhaps ironically, a medical researcher whose work studying HIV, hepatitis and other diseases has involved a great deal of medical experimentation on nonhuman animals.

Singer talked about his honor in an interview with the Australian Broadcast Company:

He says it has been the philosopher’s role since Socrates to force people to challenge their own assumptions that they have taken for granted.

“There will be people in the community who are opposed to [my ideas], but I think that what this shows is that you don’t just have to be a conformist in order to get honored,” he said. “You can dissent, and we respect that, we recognize diversity of opinion and even honor it.”

Professor Singer is currently writing a book about the foundations of ethics, and the problems associated with trying to reason with ethics at all.

But he says today he is most interested in the issues of human suffering, as well as climate change, despite “nobody doing enough about it”.

“That’s a huge moral issue that I plan to go back to,” he said.

“And I want to look at questions about how can we essentially reduce suffering in the world. It seems to me to be one of the key questions – how can we reduce suffering and make both people and animals better off?”