Catholic Medical Quarterly

The Journal of the Catholic Medical Association (UK)

Building knowledge. Building faith. Protecting the vulnerable.

Book Review

Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization

Charles C. Camosy
Cambridge University Press, 2012
ISBN 9780521149334

Book CoverCharles Camosy, Assistant Professor of Theology at Fordham University, attempts to find common ground with atheist philosopher Peter Singer. This is quite a task given that Singer is in favour of abortion, euthanasia and infanticide. Singer also holds that new born infants are non-persons.

With great clarity, Camosy shows that Singer has a poor understanding of Christian theology and, therefore,of Christian ethics. This is by far the best section of the book.

Less satisfactory are his attempts at trying to show that Singer is really not that far from the Catholic Church in his beliefs. Singer himself would surely be surprised by this claim. True, both Singer and the Catholic Church respect the rights of the human person but they have very different ideas about personhood. Yes, Singer and the Catholic Church have concerns about the poorest of the poor, but Singer writes :

" It would be impossible to get agreement on universal sterilization but just imagine we could...We could defend it because it makes us better off."

The most likely candidates for mass sterilization programmes have been the poorest of the poor.

At best, it could be said that Catholic social teaching bears a superficial resemblance to the thoughts of Singer, but the foundations are altogether different. In his zeal to find common ground, Camosy appears not to see this at times.

That being said, this book is readable, well presented and well informed. Camosy may not have intended it but we are left wondering how on earth Singer came to be so highly regarded.