The Expanding Circle ePUB ✓ The Expanding eBook

The Expanding Circle ❮Reading❯ ➷ The Expanding Circle Author Peter Singer – What is ethics Where do moral standards come from Are they based on emotions reason or some innate sense of right and wrong For many scientists the key lies entirely in biology especially in Darwinian What is ethics Where do moral standards come from Are they based on emotions reason or some innate sense of right and wrong For many The Expanding eBook ï scientists the key lies entirely in biology especially in Darwinian theories of evolution and self preservation But if evolution is a struggle for survival why are we still capable of altruism In his classic study The Expanding Circle Peter Singer argues that altruism began as a genetically based drive to protect one's kin and community members but has developed into a consciously chosen ethic with an expanding circle of moral concern Drawing on philosophy and evolutionary psychology he demonstrates that human ethics cannot be explained by biology alone Rather it is our capacity for reasoning that makes moral progress possible In a new afterword Singer takes stock of his argument in light of recent research on the evolution of morality.

10 thoughts on “The Expanding Circle

  1. Tom Tom says:

    4 12 stars I had initially planned on giving this book a slightly lower rating mostly due to two factors Singer's strong commitment to the factvalue distinction and the ambivalence he displays in regards to objective normative truths In the new afterword to the edition I have he now repudiates the latter view which is a move I welcome However he doesn't mention that values may be just a special class of facts and I think admitting the existence of objective normative truths entails this view Maybe Singer would agree but he doesn't explicitly mention the factvalue distinction in the afterword so I'm left guessing as to his positionJust a few things I'd like to comment on First the general thesis that our moral circle is expanding and has expanded historically speaking is entirely correct Going off this point the idea that we can use our reason to make sure the circle continues to expand that we are not entirely the slaves to our desires as Hume held is also correct So like most of what I've read of Singer his arguments once again succeed And finally the parts of sociobiology that he is critical of which now seem pretty obvious today are spot on He is careful however not to be wholly critical of the implications an evolutionary understanding of human behavior has for ethics He rightly emphasizes the worth that studying humans from an evolutionary perspective may have for ethical doctrines

  2. Derek Ouyang Derek Ouyang says:

    An excellent introduction to the ethical system of universal well being One of the best ideas Singer presents here is that science is the fulcrum upon which reason exerts leverage on ethics You can find the full text on a uick Google search and I would highly recommend you read this as a foundation for ethical reasoning

  3. Joe Sampson Joe Sampson says:

    Argues that ethics cannot be derived from biology Argues that ethics is based on being impartial but does not justify that ethics should be based on impartiality as he admits in the afterword

  4. Vicci Vicci says:

    This was an interesting analysis on the connect between evolution and ethics and does a good job of arguing that evolution and biology cannot explain everything about morality largely because of the isought distinction which most students of philosophy will already have come across As usual it's written in Peter Singer's accessible style and doesn't take an age to get through To me this book felt a little broad but it's a good introduction to the topic

  5. Kramer Thompson Kramer Thompson says:

    Overall a fairly interesting read I was familiar with most of this before picking the book up but there were two aspects of this book I found particularly interestingFirstly Singer has recently responded to evolutionary debunking arguments by suggesting that moral principles derived from the use of reason are immune to them because these principles derive from a faculty that generally discovers truth and are therefore not debunkable I was previously uite sceptical of this response because it seemed as though reason may be structured such that it provides us with principles which convey adaptiveness and if so then these principles may be debunked on the same grounds as others However his extended discussion of reason in this book makes this concern less significant as he makes a compelling case that although reason is adaptive in certain ways having and using reason produces non adaptive moral principles This seems to bolster his response to evolutionary debunking argumentsSecondly Singer seems in recent years to have endorsed an objective account of morality I am uite sceptical of these accounts for the normal reasons But Singer here seems ambivalent about his metaethical commitments and even seems to lean towards a constructivist view which I believe was his view at the time I think his general account of the demands of ethical justification and reason and his use of these in his response to evolutionary debunking arguments are probably plausible given this view because it allows him to demonstrate how evolutionary debunking arguments fail to debunk all moral principles even if reason does not track objective moral facts

  6. Otto Lehto Otto Lehto says:

    Singer's book feels strikingly contemporary in 2017 as other reviewers have also pointed out The expanding circle is a wonderful metaphor of how we can improve our ethical rules by being inclusive in who we include in our moral calculations And it also makes for a wonderful book which provides plenty of interesting arguments in defence of the careful and conservative integration of the insights of evolutionary psychology and sociobiology into moral philosophy Singer's book came out just a few years after EO Wilson's Sociobiology and Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene and it suffers a little from the comparison since it is summative than groundbreaking However Singer's work also benefits from the comparison in other respects For one it is perhaps the shortest introduction to the topic of sociobiology to the lay reader even today It is written in an engaging and probing manner unlike the dry tomes of most philosophers For the educated reader the important distinction is that Singer's philosophical skills are very sophisticated compared to the often crude and amateurish remarks on naturalistic ethics made by Wilson and DawkinsSinger not only summarizes a lot of the groundbreaking work on kin altruism group altruism and reciprocal altruism as also discussed by Dawkins Wilson and others but he also exposes many of the logical fallacies and philosophical dilemmas that naturalists often leave unexplored For example he points out how deriving an ought from an is is no simple matter as philosophers since Hume have known A merely descriptive analysis of human psychology can shed light on why we act in ways that we do but it still leaves open the possibility that we have radical freedom I'm not sure I completely agree with Singer's existentialist and libertarian emphasis on the uestion of free will but it serves as a powerful challenge to the naive derivations of the sociobiological canonSecondly Singer elouently defends the rationalist impulses of human nature and he ties them up to the radical freedom mentioned above as the possibility of moral progress and expansion He argues that while the capacity to reason has evolved to allow us to publically defend our actions to the members of our in group in an effort to further reciprocal group and kin cooperation it has also allowed us to care about logical consistency and unbiased obedience to valid argumentation Thus our rational capacities while kept in check by a rainbow coalition of passions and intuitions have allowed human cultures and literate societies to develop political institutions where public discourse has expanded the concern of selfish interests towards the concern for the interests of others There exists a march of reason towards an ever expanding circle of consideration for the welfare of others Singer calls this the principle of the eual consideration of interests Our passions and reason can coincide he claims when we try to alleviate our cognitive dissonance from purely self interested motivations and to spread our moral concern to all sentient beings euallyThe resulting framework should not surprise anyone who is familiar with Singer's prior or later work He advocates for egalitarian humanitarian ethics which calls for the maximization of the greatest happiness of the greatest number regardless of their gender race ethnicity country age sexual orientation or even species membership But he also prudently advocates for a public allegiance to simple systems of ethics that incorporate easy and fast rules of practical reason He claims that universal ethics is the end goal but we need to be efficient in moving towards it and simply ignoring human nature of the sort that evolutionary psychology explains will lead to counterproductive conseuences His discussion is remarkably prescient and tantalizing and I wish contemporary advocates for evolutionary ethics would take Singer's admonitions seriouslyIt still seems to me that sociobiology is a work in progress and the integration of Darwinism into moral philosophy has barely begun The New Ethics faces many hurdles that need to be overcome It forces us to rethink our intuitions and customs about how we organize our social institutions what principles we rely on to guide our private decisions and what it means to be rational human Not all of its answers are simple or straightforward and Singer's analysis is one of the most foresighted among the bunch in this regard but all of its uestions cut to the very core of our humanity If we take the metaphor of the Expanding Circle seriously and set our goals on reworking our lives around the central insights of evolutionary ethics we can use Singer's work as a point of departure for an ethical revolution that might take many centuries to complete

  7. Miles Miles says:

    This is an intelligent highly readable piece of philosophy that for the most part is still relevant to modern discussions about the tension between biology and ethics Written as a direct response to EO Wilson's texts Sociobiology and On Human Nature this book is a good primer for anyone interested in the longstanding debate concerning whether we ought to look to science or philosophy to resolve our deepest moral uandaries Like any balanced author Singer proposes a hybrid approach we need to couple scientific facts with philosophically derived ethical principles While this position isn't very novel today I imagine it was probably much so in the early '80s when most of the world was still busy demonizing EO Wilson for his incredibly insightful and regrettably inflammatory work Before reading this Singer was known to me as someone who achieved notoriety by advocating a rather harsh form of utilitarianism but I've come to understand that unsurprisingly his approach is nuanced than that Singer essentially argues that we shouldn't give up on the notion that our ethical ideals about euality and fairness have merit simply because biology and psychology might reveal humans to be a generally brutal and selfish species It's arguable whether or not science actually does this but in my opinion recent insights from numerous fields have gone a long way in debunking many of the rosier elements of modern liberal thinking It's not that we aren't capable of genuinely good acts but rather that our potential benevolence is often obstructed by the one two combination of our routine use of motivated reasoning and our incredible tolerance for apathy toward those we perceive to be outside of our in group Singer doesn't deny these facts but like a good philosopher he also won't accept that the facts are the end of the story He makes a cogent argument that an increase in the use of sound reasoning will not only allow individuals to behave in ethically appropriate ways but will also aid societies in imagining and implementing structures that nudge people in the right direction without dictating morals in a top down fashion In general I agree with Singer's perspective and think that despite the numerous problems faced by the 21st century world we have made demonstrably positive progress since this book was first published Still there were many points in this book where I felt like Singer was expecting far too much of average people His final chapter ameliorated this problem somewhat but I still felt that many of his claims amounted to something like people will be better if they become reasonable To Singer this means achieving an objective perspective that allows us to see that our personal desires and needs aren't truly any important than those of strangers anywhere in the world And while I agree with Singer on this point theoretically I also think that hell would have to freeze over for people to actually start living this way Additionally I think Singer often misrepresents and makes a straw man out of EO Wilson but I am perhaps biased here as Wilson is one of my all time favorite writers I think Wilson's ability to cut through the cultural noise and state matters clearly and directly has often been misconstrued as hubris Singer is certainly not the only offender in this regard and unlike some of Wilson's other critics Singer does a good job of occasionally giving Wilson credit where credit is dueMy other big complaint is that for someone concerned with social justice Singer makes no mention in this text of socioeconomic or racial privilege It seems to me that the ability to engage in the kind of ethical reasoning Singer promotes is almost entirely dependent on the availability of education and basic resources which are in no way evenly distributed throughout the world So while he does a good job of advocating generally for bettering the lives of impoverished people Singer doesn't situate our ability to effectively pursue this project within the proper context of euitable distribution of wealth andor opportunity This seems like a big piece of the puzzle that is missing from this text Perhaps Singer addresses the issue elsewhere Overall this is a uick smart journey into the mind of one of the most respected and readable philosophers out there

  8. Aseem Kaul Aseem Kaul says:

    A fascinating exploration of the relationship between ethics and science especially sociobiology Singer argues that certain kinds of altruism kin reciprocal even group may result in an evolutionary advantage so that these traits may come to be strongly coded in our genes The fact that these forms of altruism are 'natural' however does not by itself make them ethical Singer is especially good in Chapter 3 on drawing a distinction between the ability of science to understand and predict the behavior of human beings and the likely conseuences of their actions; and its inability to help us decide which of those behaviors is ethical while retaining our responsibility for our own actions As reasoning beings humans must either reject or defend their instinctive choices through the use of reason specifically through a reference to the principle of impartiality where everyone else's interests count as much as our own The appeal to this principle which may begin as a way of codifying and justifying our instinctive choices soon takes on a life of its own however For one thing the codification of the conclusions arrived at through these principles helps to strengthen and enhance our natural altruistic ie social tendencies at both the individual and group levels while making such ethical choices both cognitively less taxing for the individual and easier to coordinate across the group At the same time the application of these principles naturally leads to an expansion of the circle of altruism as our definition of 'everyone' expands beyond our family friends and neighbors to include our community our nation human beings and eventually all sentient living things Singer suggests that this process of expansion is driven by the cognitive dissonance we experience as rational beings when we apply the principle of impartiality to some cases but not to others and is made compatible with evolution precisely because this kind of ethical expansion is associated with higher reasoning powers so that the evolutionary disadvantage of generalized benevolence is offset by the evolutionary advantage of better reasoning That said Singer is uick to recognize that for an ethical code for society to be viable it must not run entirely counter to our natural impulses even though it may not and should not be entirely dictated by them A social code that insisted on complete impartiality and denied our natural tendency to give primacy to our family and friends would serve as little purpose as one that fully justified these impulses as being natural The former code would not only be too onerous for the majority of people to follow it would if followed impose large costs by disrupting behaviors we currently take for granted The solution then is a kind of compromise a social moral code that allows for the primacy of kin and reciprocal loyalties while pushing us to reason impartially towards others when these loyalties are not threatened And an individual ethic that encourages us to consider forms of generalized altruism that we would not penalize others for not attempting and tied to a recognition that for those of us living comfortable modern lives the genetically coded imperatives to limit the circle of altruism no longer make sense

  9. Rob Haas Rob Haas says:

    Singer is his usual self He sets up a lot of argument's he still uses now in this book This was not uite the page turner I was hoping for but he has several shining moments in this whereby his philosophy becomes poetic and that's why it earns three stars A heart felt argument for the inclusion of animals rights into our daily lives

  10. Jani-Petri Jani-Petri says:

    Singer argues very convincingly on the tendency of ethics to become universal and less parochial once reasoning is involved I find his line of thinking very appealing It is not inconsistent with our evolutionary tendencies but still explains how morality may expand beyond narrow boundaries of self kin and tribe

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