Peter Singer on bin Laden, God and moral truths

I’m at a conference in Oxford, with Peter Singer in dialogue with various Christian ethicists. Full story in due course, but a couple of headlines from the first session.

Singer on the killing of bin Laden. We don’t have the full evidence of just what was ordered but a ‘serious attempt should have been made to take him alive.’ Why? The moral example to the world is bad if the order was to kill.

Singer on not believing in God. There’s a part of him that ‘regrets’ the absence of a divinity as that would give his position a moral coherence that the egoist or amoralist is always able to undermine. In this, he’d be like Henry Sidgwick, who Singer has called ‘the greatest utilitarian’, his utilitarianism being founded on belief in a benevolent God.

Singer on objective moral truths. His thinking is in a state of flux right now, but in the third edition of Practical Ethics, just out, he feels persuaded by Derek Parfit’s recent arguments that some moral statements are self-evidently true, and so objective. An example would be ‘suffering is intrinsically bad’. For the ethics geeks amongst you, this counts as big news. (UPDATE: I see that this week’s TLS has Singer’s review of Parfit’s new book, On What Matters, describing it as ‘the most significant work in ethics since 1873’, the date Sidgwick published The Methods of Ethics.)