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Ernesto Rodriguez

Philosophy 12: Ethics

Summer 2004


Final Question 10


Out of everything you studied this term, what or who had the most impact on your thinking and may have actually impacted your life in some way?


The two philosophers that impacted me the most through this course were undeniably Gandhi and Peter Singer. Ironically, they impacted my thought and my life in completely opposite ways. After studying their ideas on ethics, I see Gandhiís ideas as philosophy at its best and I see Singerís ideas as philosophy at its worst.


I originally thought that reading Gandhiís book would be a painstaking and laborious affair. As always my assumptions could not have been more wrong. There is much to be said about the fact that Gandhiís ethical theory is found in his autobiography, the story of his life. I cannot emphasize this enough, Gandhi carries an ethos unparalleled by any other philosopher that I have read. From Platoís dialogues to Nietzscheís rants, no argument that I have yet to come across commands as much of my respect as the ideas of Gandhi, for this simple reason: Gandhi did not sit down to write his ethical theory, instead he lived his life according to his ethical theory and it is his life, not his words, that describe his ethics. We do not have to ask if Gandhi would live by his own theories, this we know as a fact.


Socrates, and many philosophers after him spoke of an absolute truth that exists in an abstract form. As humans, our senses both physical and rational are imperfect and thus our understanding of this abstract truth is limited. But we do not exist in the abstract, and when we commit a moral or an immoral act the consequences are not abstract but rather concrete. An ethical theory grounded completely in abstract logic still has concrete implications, for if we live by that theory the consequences shall be seen in concrete. This I came to realize after reading about the life Gandhi, and after considering this, it strikes me that Gandhiís is the only theory I have read that was not written in an ivory tower.


Which brings me to Peter Singer, whom I think is an example of good philosophical ideas run amok. Singerís book brought me to the realization that certain philosophical ideas taken to the point of absolutism have dangerous implications. Each time I read Singerís idea on a certain issue, I found that I would agree to a certain extent, but would find myself appalled at the degree to which Singer would take those ideas. Unlike Gandhi, I honestly question whether or not Singer would live by the ideas he puts forth in his books. Would Singer choose the life of animal over the life of his wife or his mother? If he had a child born handicapped would he consent to euthanasia? If he would in fact choose euthanasia, would he carry it out himself? Can Peter Singer be held to live by his theories?


There really is no such thing as free speech, even if we are allowed to say anything we want our words still carry a heavy responsibility. We can never escape accountability for words. Gandhiís words followed his life and his life followed his words. Can the same be said for Peter Singer?