02 January 2004

James Rachels (1941-2003) on Peter Singer

The impact of Peter Singer's writing is due as much to his gift for moral rhetoric as to the quality of his arguments. Reading his 1972 paper 'Famine, Affluence, and Morality,' one felt intellectual interest in the argument, but also guilt for not having contributed more money to relieve starvation. Many otherwise sober citizens, after reading his 1975 book Animal Liberation, became vegetarians. It is difficult to say just how this effect is achieved. There is no preaching; somehow a sense of moral urgency is conveyed through the statement of the theoretical arguments themselves. I know of no other writer whose work combines intellectual analysis and moral persuasion so compellingly.

(James Rachels, "Sociobiology and the 'Escalator' of Reason," review of The Expanding Circle: Ethics and Sociobiology, by Peter Singer, The Hastings Center Report 11 [October 1981]: 45-6, at 45)