Peter Singer ‘disinvited’ from German philosophy festival

Peter Singer is in hot water in Germany again over his controversial views.

The Australian utilitarian philosopher began his royal progress through Europe well. In late May he added another two honorary doctorates — from the Universities of Athens and of Bucharest — to his extensive collection of awards and distinctions. From there he went to Berlin to receive the inaugural “Peter Singer Prize for Strategies to Reduce the Suffering of Animals”. He was introduced in glowing terms by Maneka Gandhi, Indian Minister of Women and Child Development, who is president of People for Animals in her own country. A German politician explained why he was so popular: “Peter Singer’s ideas are logical, free from religion and easy to understand”.

However, these encomiums were lost on a gathering outside where about 250 people had assembled to protest the invitation. Their message was that Singer believes in killing babies.

The protest may have unnerved the organisers of an eight-day (only in Germany!) philosophy festival in Cologne called phil.Cologne. Singer’s invitation to speak on May 31 was cancelled — a bit odd, considering that he had been described in the conference programme as “one of the world’s most influential philosophers”. “How can you call yourself a philosophy festival, if you are too afraid to discuss issues that bother some people?” an exasperated Singer told the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger afterwards. “Hasn’t that always been the role of philosophers since the days of Socrates?”

What happened?

While the organisers were aware of Singer’s stark views on infanticide and euthanasia, they must have hoped that the public would focus on his role as the foremost theorist of animal liberation.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.