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William P. Alford, The Discordant Singer: How Peter Singer’s Treatment of Global Poverty and Disability Is Inconsistent and Why It Matters, 1 Am. J. L. & Equal. 194 (2021).

Abstract: Peter Singer is well known for having made a powerful case for a vastly greater commitment, by each of us individually and by society, to the alleviation of global poverty. He is also well known for his views regarding the lives of “profoundly intellectually disabled humans,” going so far as to make the case that [t]here will surely be some nonhuman animals whose lives, by any standard, are more valuable than the lives of some humans. A chimpanzee, dog, or pig, for instance, will have a higher degree of self-awareness and a greater capacity for meaningful relations with others than a severely retarded infant or someone in a state of advanced senility. The case Singer makes for global poverty alleviation is in sharp tension with his treatment of disability in three important interrelated respects. First, Singer’s argument for poverty alleviation exemplifies well his call for a reason-based ethics grounded in an equal consideration of the interests of all parties affected by one’s decisions. However, his treatment of disability is troublingly imprecise as to matters of life and death. At times, he seeks to parry opposing positions more rhetorically than substantively, and he also evidences rigid preconceptions, impervious to the experience of persons with a disability, that lead to self-reinforcing conclusions. Second, whereas he readily and admirably challenges conventional constructs in discussing poverty alleviation, he embraces them when considering disability. And third, although he clearly states that he expects his writing to spur concrete action with regard to poverty alleviation, when taken to task for the implications of his writing about disability, he resists engaging with consequences it may have. This is not only concerning for those who urge greater attention to dignitarian concerns but also raises questions about the manner in which he has applied his own utilitarian analysis. This article proceeds by first laying out the rationale for and essence of Singer’s argument that there is an obligation to do what one can to alleviate global poverty. In Part 2, it sets forth the foundations for his treatment of disability, culminating in his conclusion that, should parents wish, “killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all.” Part 3 examines tensions between these two positions before concluding that Singer might better advance his goal of global poverty alleviation were he to approach disability with a blend of rigor, imagination, and concern for the impact of his work comparable to that which characterizes his treatment of poverty.