What qualifies a fetus as living

The moral status of the human embryo in Peter Singer's 'Practical Ethics'


1 Introduction

2 Singers "Practical Ethics"
2.1 Singer's position in normative ethics
2.2 Preferences
2.3 Pathocentrism
2.4 Personality
2.5 The embryo / fetus
In detail
2.6 Embryos in the laboratory

3 Critical appraisal of some aspects
3.1 Preferences calculus - concrete
Autonomy and Ratio
3.2 Personality
Future or current preferences
3.3 SKIP arguments
3.4 Replaceability
3.5 A future worth living
3.6 Embryo in the laboratory
3.7 Graduality

4 conclusion

5 Bibliography

1 Introduction

At the 2015 phil.COLOGNE philosophy festival, Peter Singer (Princeton and Melbourne) was invited to give a lecture on veganism. Because of "serious indications of massive disturbances"[1] the philosopher was unloaded again at short notice - against the protests of many scientists. This was preceded by an interview with Neue Zürcher Zeitung[2] with Singer, in which he repeated his well-known thesis that the killing of severely disabled newborns was morally permissible. Hardly any other philosopher is as perceived by the general public as Singer with his statements; no one else is publicly attacked in such a way, in Germany even shouted down.[3]

At a time when the pluralization of society also resulted in the dissolution of the previous consensus on moral norms, Singer propagated an ethical theory in his main work that can be applied simply and at the same time comprehensively to the problems and questions of the time.[4] The application of this theory gives rise to some theses that are completely controversial with public opinion; that's why the media like to report about him. Because his reasoning is so clear, the general public understands what he means. Its nuances, however, often go unnoticed. His demands against animal experiments, against industrial animal husbandry and for a global balance of prosperity also take a back seat. Singer's merits in animal ethics are undisputed.

Singer considers the killing of embryos and fetuses to be morally neutral or permitted. A debate has been going on on this topic for decades, the polar positions of which revolve mainly around the beginning of life and seem insoluble. This work aims to present Singer's theoretical foundations and his arguments on fetocide (Section 2) and to test some of them for their consistency (Section 3). The aim is not to test Singer's theory against the multitude of other systems of justification, but to track down contradictions and certain weak points in his own argumentation.

2 Singers "Practical Ethics"

Peter A. D. Singer (* 1946) is an Australian ethicist who describes himself as a preference utilitarian. His book Practical Ethics[5] is "the sketch of a conception [view] of ethics that of reason [reason] acknowledges an important role in moral decisions "(p. 33).

2.1 Singer's position in normative ethics

Singer shows a universal non-religious ethical theory, which sets the consistent consideration of the preferences of all concerned as the yardstick for action; at the same time, it calls for a critical examination and examination of these fundamentals. In the first chapter, Singer sets out a framework of prerequisites: He uses the terms 'ethics' and 'morality' interchangeably (p. 21), he rejects a religious basis for ethics as well as "the assumption that everything natural is good" ( P. 27); He also rejects a society-related relativism, especially an ethical subjectivism. As "plausible approaches to ethics" (p. 32) he mentions emotivism (CL Stevenson), universal prescriptivism (RM Hare), as well as the view of JL Mackie, who thinks and speaks as if there were objective moral standards, see a source of error. Singer himself, however, is concerned with assigning reason an important role in moral decisions and representing this in discourse (p. 33).

As a basic figure of moral action, he points out that one can offer a justification for one's actions that somehow goes beyond self-interest, "because the concept of ethics contains the idea of ​​something greater than the individual." (P. 36). Like many with him, he emphasizes that ethics must be universal, that is, with all possible differences in design, at least that I have to judge my actions and those of others, my interests and those of others according to the same standards.[6] Under the basic premise that moral action must be justifiable in a secular and rational manner, he proceeds from natural hedonistic egoism, which everyone can see and share; With regard to the motivation to act morally, Singer picks up people from their own point of view ("The bottom line is that I count!"[7] ), in order to then generalize to all concerned.

The notion of rights, including the right to life, which is so intuitively obvious, has no proper place in Singer's utilitarian theory:

"I am not convinced that the concept of a moral right is helpful or meaningful unless it is used as an abbreviation to refer to more fundamental moral considerations, [...]." (P. 153)

The aim of the theory should be that not too many problems remain without a solution. Even if a solution against general moral intuition weakens acceptance, Singer accepts this and tries to show that

"that although the principle of balance of interests may conflict with some popular beliefs about an ethical way of life, we should reject these very views, and not the principle of balance of interests." (P. 58)

Four of the application chapters deal explicitly with the subject of 'killing', one of them with "Taking Life: The Embryo and the Fetus" (c. 6). As Singer writes in the preface, the third edition has been completely revised, also to clear up misunderstandings (p. 13), and because he "is now more willing to consider the existence of objective ethical truths regardless of our wishes" (p. 19). In doing so, he marks that he is now ready to go beyond preference utilitarianism on some points.

Singer's central concepts depend on the key words "preferences", "sentience" and "person".

2.2 Preferences

For Singer, the sum of the preferences of all those affected counts as a measure of moral actions. Conceptually, he equates needs, wishes and interests with preferences.

"Therefore, when I think morally, it must be my very natural endeavor that is for my own needs, desires and interests [ needs, wants and desires ] - I will refer to them as 'preferences' from now on - being taken care of, being extended to the preferences of others. "(P. 39)

First of all, it should be considered to what extent the equation of the terms is understandable. "Preference" means according to the meaning of the word (from lat. praefero(I prefer) the preference I give to one of two or more choices; In the utilitarian context, these are the possible consequences of action: Alternative options for action are considered in terms of their consequences and selected according to the aggregated preference of those affected. In an article in the manual, Christoph Lumer states: "The standard way to determine the preferences of others is therefore to simply ask them about their preferences."[8]

A need can be what I need in order to live: air, water, food, warm clothing, protective housing, health care, and at least in phases the caring and loving care of others. In childhood, or due to frailty or illness, there is even an imperative to depend on others. These needs are given to us by our human nature, the choice is extremely limited.

Desires can relate to material goods and services that I want, as well as to affective states and many other things. Desires differ in terms of their duration and strength, they can be fleeting or persistent, weak or strong, burning to the point of desire. Lumer distinguishes wishes either in the everyday language sense as an "emotionally felt longing"[9] or technically as a subjective attribution of value: "s wishes p in measure x."[10] And: "The - quantitative - measure of this desire is that Use."[11] The state of the fulfilled wish is not always predictable in all aspects, it needs a certain amount of information and foresight; therefore one can delimit the true wish from the manifest wish, as it would be manifest if all information were available (p. 43 f.). Even if, in retrospect, I can wish that something would have gone differently in the past, a wish will usually be aimed at the nearer or more distant future. "For most adult people, these forward-looking desires are central to their lives" (p. 146).

Desires, which has the strong connotation of longing desire, is here with interests (from lat. intersum, I'm in between) translated, probably because Singer usually runs through long stretches interests used, especially in the "principle of the same balance of interests". Interests are what I care about, what is important to me; they correspond to all living conditions and my view of the world as my concept of life. The phrase that something is in someone's best interest implies that interests can also be benignly ascribed by third parties.

If Singer dispenses with such elaborated definitions and combines the terms 'needs, wishes and interests' in a fixed combination, then it can be concluded that he means this term triad in an all-encompassing way without further qualification; in fact, Singer only introduced the triad at this point in the third edition. Before it was simply of interests (interests) the speech with the explanatory addition, "if we define 'interests' broadly enough, so that we count anything people desire as in their interests".[12] Each person concerned assesses for himself what appears to him to be necessary and desirable, but allows everyone else to set values ​​to the same extent. The summary in the term 'preferences' refers to the ethical decision-making situation in which one of several alternative consequences is given preference; without a choice there is no preference and no moral requirement. A principle emerges that should be immediately apparent, because Singer assumes: "We all know what preferences are" (p. 44).

Singer's preference utilitarianism modified classical utilitarianism, which initially pleasures and pains used for a benefit balance.[13] Jeremy Bentham's concern at the end of the 18th century was one of social reform, and for English society at the time of the industrial revolution it was clear what was meant by 'joys and sorrows': it was about establishing a balance between a starving mining and industry -Workers and the indulging upper class. Using a calculation rule with 7 criteria, he quantitatively included every type of joy in a benefit calculation.

With the increasing pluralization of society, the concept of happiness lost its apparent clarity; Under the charge that utilitarianism propagated the fulfillment of lower desires, John Stuart Mill suggested in the 19th century that it would make people happy (happiness) is important to bring their 'higher abilities' into their way of life[14] and made a qualitative aspect strong.

At Singer, instead of happiness, preferences, what is necessary and desirable for each individual, are included in the calculation. Although he admits that Bentham and Mill's concept of pleasure can be understood so broadly that it includes their own preferences (p. 41), at another point Singer refers to Schopenhauer's pessimism that the fulfillment of preferences does not bring "lasting satisfaction, but it a new desire arises that has to be satisfied. " (P. 209) Precisely this is a relevant difference between the "greatest happiness of the greatest number" in Bentham's classical utilitarianism or the qualitative concept of happiness in Mill and the sum of fulfilled preferences in preference utilitarianism: fulfilled wishes do not have to automatically lead to happiness, and Contrary to what hedonistic utilitarians assume, preference fulfillment is not a surrogate parameter for happiness, but an independent ethical standard (p. 43 f.). Maximilian Forschner summarizes: "No longer the production of certain subjective states, but the production of certain world states is therefore the goal of ethics."[15]

From the universalization of self-interest to the interests of all those involved, Singer deduces that utilitarianism in the form of preference utilitarianism is best suited as a starting point for all further considerations (p. 43), also because it is "an uncomplicated ethical theory which implies a minimum of metaphysical presuppositions "(p. 44).


In a consistent continuation of this approach, Singer advocates that the only thing that counts when weighing up interests is precisely these interests, i.e. H. the preferences are. On the other hand, it should not count whose interests they are; Against racism and sexism, he argues that morphological characteristics must not lead to unequal treatment of people. These traits are not morally relevant because they "do not enable us to draw conclusions about intelligence, fairness, depth of feeling, or anything that would empower us to treat him or her unequally." (P. 50) - At this point, Singer's formulation still seems to allow intelligence as the reason for unequal treatment, but in the following he works on this view and clarifies:

"We can reject this 'hierarchy of intelligence' and similar fantastic systems when it is clear to us that the claim to equality is not based on possession of intelligence, moral personality, rationality or similar facts. There is no logically compelling reason for assumption that a difference in the capabilities of two people warrants a difference in the level of attention we pay to their interests. " (P. 51)

Singer also disregards whether the guiding intention behind the interests is possibly reprehensible; he trusts that a balance is given by the preferences of other affected persons (54 f.), analogous to the "invisible hand" (of the market: Adam Smith).

For him it is not about all people being the same, in fact all people are different, but not in a morally relevant way; therefore Singer calls for their preferences to be taken into account in the same way. "Equality is a basic moral principle, not a statement of fact." (P. 51) He deduces the "principle of equal balancing of interests", in which the only essential thing is the interests themselves (p. 53). He takes the consequence so far that he even questions family affiliation as a reason for taking greater account of interests in a counterintuitive way (pp. 52 and 58). In the image of Libra, however, it implies that some interests may be stronger than others.

For one, preferences could be considered the plural successors of Bentham's pleasures be viewed in the sense of a universalized hedonistic utilitarianism, on the other hand, Singer is concerned with the ease of use in many (all?) situations on the basis of a few premises. Singer does not recognize intuitions as reliable moral instructions (p. 26).

"We cannot simply trust our intuitions, even those which we share very highly with others, because, as we have seen, they may be the result of our evolutionary heritage and therefore an unreliable guide to what is right is. " (P. 43)

Singer takes over from Richard M. Hare the distinction between a critical and an 'intuitive' level of observation. This roughly corresponds to the difference between utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism. Note the equivocal use of 'intuitive'. While rule utilitarianism is already at the transition to deontological justifications[16], the emphasis in "following carefully chosen, intuitive moral principles" (p. 151) is simply on making decisions faster in everyday life and with a lower error rate than when calculating the preferences of all those concerned on a case-by-case basis. The burden of justification is borne by the critical level, but Singer assumes that most decisions may be made on the intermediate level of rules and principles, or as Hare puts it, on the intuitive level (pp. 40-150 ).

2.3 Pathocentrism

The most basic of all preferences is the avoidance of pain and suffering. Without considering the biological system, Singer bases his considerations on a clear three-part division of living beings: beings without sensitivity, beings with sensitivity for pain and suffering (conscious but not self-conscious), beings with self-awareness. Sensibility (sentience) is a prerequisite for being able to have interests, namely avoiding the unpleasant and increasing the pleasant. This interest of non-human animals and non-personal stages of humans in not being tormented is to be included in the calculation of benefits in the same way. Singer refers to Bentham; he already distinguished "the ability to suffer as the decisive quality which gives a living being the right to balance interests." (P.101) Using the example of slavery, Singer explains that it is racist to consider the suffering of people of other skin color to be less important. Just as there is now social consensus, at least against open racism, the suffering of other species must also be taken into account in order not to be accused of speciesism[17] to fall victim to. The whole argument in favor of equal consideration is that animals feel the pain just as badly as humans (p. 102). Avoiding pain is a behavior that can be clearly observed in all 'higher' animals and that is so inherent in ourselves that we can easily accept it as a general principle. The norm derived from it was used as a motto for ages[18] found their place in parenting. We regard anyone who violates this in a significant way as brutal. New in the 3rd edition, Singer admits "that lust represents a value and [...] that there are valuable things, regardless of whether a being prefers them." (P. 162) In the foreword he already pointed out his recognition of objective ethical values ​​and explained them more broadly in the context of climate change (p. 213 ff.).

2.4 Personality

Singer first illuminates the doctrine of inviolability (sanctity) of human life[19] as part of secular ethics, and he does not want to understand it - with regard to self-defense and the death penalty - that it must always be wrong to take human life "(p. 138), only to draw attention to an equivocation: 'Human' can be purely in the sense of biological belonging to the species homo sapiens to be interpreted; or 'human' refers to the use of a number of indicators that have to do with self-awareness and rationality. For this, Singer will now use the term 'person', which on the one hand allows him to include self-confident animals (great apes, dolphins; he does not commit to a conclusive catalog, but leaves this to the current state of zoological research) in the term , on the other hand, to exclude certain human development phases (embryo / fetus) or severely disabled individuals (e.g. anencephalus).

Singer describes the species affiliation as morally irrelevant (p. 143). If religious argumentation is ruled out, all moral meaning of species affiliation is lost; on the other hand, the killing of a person should be rejected because of their future-oriented preferences.

"A self-conscious being is aware of itself as a distinct entity, with a past and a future. (This, as we have seen, is Locke's criterion for the person.) [...] For most adult humans, these are in the Future-oriented desires are of central importance for their lives "(p. 145 f.).

So he lays down on the reflection of the self as existing in time and his wishes and plans as essential justifications for a right to life or a prohibition of killing, this is the basis of his concept of person. This gives rise to the thesis, which is counterintuitive for many, that the life of an adult gorilla or dolphin (or dog, pig, chicken?) Is more worth protecting than that of a newborn human.

While all sentient beings have the interest to be spared from suffering, preferences that go beyond this and have an effect on the future, such as conceptual thinking (conceptual thought, P. 179), according to Singer only have persons. The injustice to kill a (willing) person consists in the fact that his preferences are thwarted (p. 152). The terms of person and preference are thus closely linked, person becomes synonymous with who "plays a role in life" (p. 142), or whose interests count beyond the avoidance of torture. At the same time, however, the concept of person is also closely linked to the valuation of a right to life.[20]

The concept of person has been subject to a considerable change in the course of history. In ancient times it was persona (gr. prósōpon) the mask in the theater that gave expression to the role, then also the role itself or its character.[21] By Cicero (106-43) every person became several personae Attributed to (roles): on the one hand the natura universa, that is the participation in reason (as a virtue of humanity), on the other hand the specially assigned properties; furthermore the position that has been assigned and the self-chosen position.[22]

Boethius (~ 480-525) defined the rational or rational nature[23] as a mark of the person in the context of his Christology. Christian dogmatics used the concept of person for many centuries to describe the divine relationships of the Trinity, almost contrary to today's everyday language understanding, which implies the individuality, the isolation of the person from other entities.

John Locke (1632-1704) used the person definition adopted by Singer (p. 142): possession of rationality and self-awareness. Criteria catalogs were drawn up from various quarters, which prerequisites for the attribution of personality must be present, insofar as this is' Person 'criterion "the symbolic summary of an entire ensemble of more specific features"[24]without, however, reaching a consensus on the individual criteria. In addition to Locke, Singer apparently favors Joseph Fletcher, who wrote a list of 20 "Indicators of Humanhood"[25] submitted, from which Singer only quotes a selection of eight:

"Confidence, self-control, sense of the future, sense of the past, the ability to relate to others, take care of others, communication and curiosity." (P. 140 f.)

Singer makes the distinction between homo and person and thus comes to the idea of ​​non-human persons on the one hand and non-personal people on the other (p. 142). In addition to the severely mentally handicapped, these include all human beings during all stages of their prenatal development and newborns. What they have in common is that they have no other preferences beyond avoiding pain, because they do not have a self-concept with past and future at their disposal. This does not mean that the sentient non-persons are of inferior value, but merely that they have other interests; but these should also be taken into account (p. 128).

This subject-theoretical or consciousness-philosophical approach to personality stands - as Frank Kannetzky summarizes[26] - a socio-philosophical approach, in which the self-awareness only from the "common cultural background"[27] her importance is given. Singer does not pursue this direction; he rejects any social conditionality of ethics (p. 27 ff.).

2.5 The embryo / fetus

Singer applies the three main concepts to the consideration of the prenatal person, so the question must be asked: Does he have preferences; is he a person; when can he suffer? With this turn, Singer can ignore the question of the beginning of human life (p. 245); what is of interest is the question of the beginning of the ability to suffer and of personality. On the one hand, he looks at the embryo (1st trimester of pregnancy) or fetus (2nd and 3rd trimester) in utero, so it's about the problem of abortion; he engages with both conservative and liberal arguments in order to then discuss the value of embryonic life, its potential for becoming a person, and the sentience of the fetus. He comes to the conclusion that due to a lack of personality, termination of pregnancy is not morally prohibited if the mother has a given preference. In a remarkable way, Singer takes a stand on the fetus' ability to suffer and demands that in the event of an abortion if the fetus already feels pain, it must be killed painlessly beforehand in order to spare it suffering during the operation (p. 249).

On the other hand, the problem of the embryo in vitro is also addressed, i.e. the diagnostic (preimplantation diagnosis, PGD), therapeutic (in vitro fertilization, IVF) and scientific interventions on the embryo in the laboratory.

In detail

The fact that abortion is regulated by so different legal compromises in different countries suggests that there is no commonly recognized ethical rationale behind these laws; Added to this is the perplexity about how to deal with orphaned embryos frozen in laboratories from IVF; Singer assumes the number for the USA to be 400,000 (p. 225). He postulates that there is a clear solution within the framework of secular ethics. In order to examine and refute arguments against termination of pregnancy, he first deals with a formalized "conservative position":

"First premise: It is wrong to kill an innocent human being.

Second premise: a human fetus is an innocent human being.

Conclusion: Hence it is wrong to kill a human fetus "(p. 228)

The development of the embryo into the 'finished' human takes place "gradually" (gradually, P. 227), so it should be checked very carefully whether milestones can be found that help clarify when a fetus is an "innocent human being" according to the second premise and are thus of moral relevance for a ban on killing.

Although the birth is a turning point in a social and legal sense, it cannot be used for moral assessment because a mature fetus is significantly more developed before birth than a premature baby (p. 229 f.). Could viability be used instead? The stage of development in which a newborn can survive after birth depends on the amount of help given to him. In the last few decades, the survivability of premature babies below the 25th week of pregnancy has been reduced if appropriate intensive care efforts are made. Singer concludes from the variability of this point in time, which used to be different and which can be completely different in other places with different medical equipment, that it cannot be decisive for a ban on killing (p. 230 ff.). The point in time of first movements cannot be relevant either, because it cannot be precisely determined and is independent of consciousness (p. 232 f.).

The consideration of the development of consciousness seems to lead closer to the goal (p. 233 f.). Singer notes that in the seventh week, brain activity was detected and thus the possibility of pain afferents exists. The associated cortical representation, which would correspond to a conscious perception of pain, is tutioristically valid from the 18th week by Singer (p. 248). In spite of this, it was precisely this limit that was never particularly used for argumentation in the abortion debate, because the anti-abortionists focus on conjugation as the beginning of life, while it would mean a "risky game" for those in favor of abortion (p. 234). In 1995 Singer summed up: "Just like our brains death as the end of a person, we should consider the brain Life see as the beginning of a person. "[28] So he indicates this point in time of the beginning function of the cerebrum (18th week) en passant to a central position for his concept of the person, but without further representing this in 'Practical Ethics'.

The premise that a fetus is an "innocent human being" could not be refuted. So Singer turns to the first premise: "It is wrong to kill an innocent human being" (p. 244). Since he considers species affiliation to be morally irrelevant, he applies this premise to the injustice of killing a person, and at the same time states that the fetus has no self-awareness as an entity existing in time and accordingly has no future-oriented preferences. It follows: "Since no fetus is a person, no fetus has the same right to life as a person." (P. 246)

In addition, he discusses the problem of multiple formation and goes into the term 'individual' (p. 263). As long as from the cluster of cells two embryos can still become, i.e. up to the 14th day, he does not consider the arguments identity and continuity to be meaningfully applicable, i. H. For Singer, the beginning of the individual incarnation (individuation) can be on the 14th day at the earliest, because only then no more multiple formation is possible; this also corresponds to the time of nidation and is in accordance with common sensewho leaves the use of nidation-inhibiting contraception unopposed.

2.6 Embryos in the laboratory

Singer briefly deals with the in vitro embryo (pp. 262-272); at first it seems that his previously broadly elaborated theory can be applied 1: 1 to the laboratory embryo; in short: no sentience - no person - no rights. But "with further possible applications of the IVF procedure [...] there are ethical questions of their own that are of great importance." (P. 272) With the increasing number of different procedures, a distinction would first have to be made according to where from and to where, according to the origin and purpose of the in vitro embryos. The following sources can be considered: On the one hand, the non-transferred embryos left over from the IVF reproductive process, on the other hand, embryos created for research purposes from totipotent stem cells, whereby the stem cells can come from abortions, from older cell lines or from adult somatic cells that are certain Interventions get their totipotency back.

The laboratory measures relating to the embryo can be used for reproduction, including pre-implantation diagnostics (PGD), which is intended to prevent the transmission of diseased genes to the offspring in tragic genetic constellations. On the other hand, research is carried out on stem cells and embryos in order to fill existing gaps in knowledge and, on the other hand, there is an interest in the production of organ tissue for the treatment of certain diseases, in the future also of clones, which are supposed to provide entire organs for transplantation. It is by no means Singer's concern to work through all ethical aspects of IVF and embryo attempts in 'Practical Ethics', because from the simple list one can guess that a multitude of significant ethical questions are urgent here, also in connection with the problem of Overpopulation - each would have to be worked through individually. He expressly includes genetic selection as one of these important questions (p. 272).

3 Critical appraisal of some aspects

Singer chose the preferences as the basis for his theory. While it is immediately obvious to use people's needs as a yardstick, this is not so natural for wishes and interests. Singer does not provide a final justification for their importance; so one has to agree discursively that it should be like that. This can succeed if one remembers that one of his arguments for preference utilitarianism was to motivate people to act ethically: If I want to have taken into account my preferences, I would do well to take note of those of others as well. He notes that it is crucial that the weighing up takes place without regard to the person.

3.1 Preferences calculus - concrete

As plausible as the maxim of the same consideration of interests initially appears, different authors point out[29] to the fact that this does not result from the universality of morality, as Singer insinuates. The general position calls for impartial standards; H. I must not place my own position partially better than that of others. In addition to formal impartiality, Singer also demands equality for all concerned; this is a further step that does not necessarily follow from the first. That the interests of the other A and the other B are to be treated equally is a possibility of morality. But also a standard that I have for a certain group - e. B. my own descendants - imposed more extensive obligations than anyone else is neither irrational nor immoral.[30] Anne Maclean sums up the objection:

Singer apparently thinks that there is a compulsory logical route from his statement:

Your kin are entitled to the same treatment from you as my kin are from me.

to this:

Neither your kin nor mine should be treated by you and by me respectively any differently from the way in which we treat other people.

But there is no such route. "[31]

Maclean interprets Singer's 'mistake' [ mistake ] as an equivocation of impartiality in the logical sense of an uninterested principle that can be shared by everyone, or in the moral sense of avoiding preference-driven preference. In the special case of the family, Singer admits that a priority obligation can be justified (p. 362).

In the picture of the scales (p. 53), Singer assumes different preference strengths, but does not explain how to weigh them. Although pain can be specified on a scale and subjectively compared, it remains open how preferences of different qualities should be weighed against each other in terms of their strength.

In order to specifically test the deliberate approach, consider the following constellation: a family with a father, mother and two growing children; the mother has become pregnant again and is looking forward to the unplanned baby. Father and children have preferences that exclude a baby: the father does not want to invest money or time in upbringing, the siblings do not want to share the future inheritance with a third party. Furthermore, a fictitious device is envisaged that enables the elimination of the womb without the mother being burdened in any way or even being involved, except that she would no longer be pregnant: the preferences are three against one for death of the embryo.

The thought experiment raises several questions. (1) Does the embryo have interests that must be represented? (2) Does the mother have a special position? (3) Who has a say? (4) How should the different strengths of preference be dealt with? (5) Do the preferences require special qualifications?

(1) Since the embryo is neither capable of suffering nor can express current interests, i.e. it is a non-person, it is completely disregarded.

(2) The encroachment on the physical integrity of the mother would run counter to our idea of ​​self-determination, and Singer also assumes that "those most affected - the potential parents or at least the potential mother - actually want the abortion." (P. 279) So if he is ready, here a preference priority ad personam to admit what would be wrong with his basic requirement of equal consideration of interests? In the opposite case - the pregnant woman wants to have an abortion - we have already learned after decades of feminist discussion that the resources that women have to invest in pregnancy and baby care are so significant that they cannot be outweighed by the preferences of others in the calculation. However, if the pregnant woman wants to carry the child against the father's preference, no preference priority is apparent from the point of view of the matter; Singer's dictum would have to apply: "Interest is interest, whose interest it may be." (P. 52)

Two possible solutions to the dilemma are conceivable within Singer's theory. Either the mother's preference is weighted more heavily on the assumption that she, as the most emotionally affected person, has to bear more consequences than the rest of the family, which is not always plausible. Or the preferences of other people affected would have to be taken into account. But that would be a different argument than the priority qua pregnancy. The problem of the intuitive priority of the pregnant woman cannot therefore be resolved at the critical level, especially since Singer does not explicitly address a possible peculiarity of the relationship between the pregnant woman and her womb.

(3) Also from outside the family, other interests can target the expected new citizen, e.g. B. the abstract worry of the threat of overpopulation or the abstract joy about a new child ("The world is 'richer' when this newborn is there than when it is not."[32] ) or more specifically: the hope of a future contributor to the social security systems. Bernward Gesang even cites the interests of anti-abortion demonstrators as considerable.[33] This opens up the fundamental question of utilitarianism, how the total number of people affected by an action can be determined - also with regard to the consequences in the distant future.

(4) The strength of the preference, which is not explained in detail, could be related to whether the preference has existentially significant consequences or whether only marginal interests are affected; Their duration could also play a role; Did it arise in a mood, in fickleness, or does it last for a long time, and: Did it come about autonomously? Singer explains: "People have their own structuring of relative importance of desires, however, and the utilitarian preference should accept this weighting, rather then taking felt intensity as the criterion."[34] Each individual thus defines his own hierarchy of preferences, but the inter-individual consideration remains unclear.

(5) Jean-Claude Wolf even sees the "actually wanting" of pregnant women, in the demand for autonomy, as a third independent parameter in addition to number and intensity; he does not find a reason for this priority of free conscious will in Singer.[35] His basic principle of equal balancing of interests is thereby broken. Singer contradicted Wolf on this point[36], Singer actually deals with "respecting autonomy" (p. 157 ff.) and comes to the conclusion that, on the critical level, a person's autonomy does not have the strength of a moral principle, so it could be outweighed by other preferences. "Yet a utilitarian cannot attach the same weight to autonomy as those who regard autonomy as a fundamental moral principle." (P. 158) But he admits that, on the intuitive level, respect for the autonomy of the person is one of the principles, observance of which usually leads to better results. This applies to the autonomy in the sense of the self-determination of the person, which is to be strengthened against other preferences.

Autonomy and Ratio

The demand for autonomy in the sense of "free and rational decision" (p. 307) is touched on briefly by Singer; He calls for freedom of decision (p. 279), but without going into the conditions of freedom of choice beyond that they should be made "on the basis of complete information, in a calm state of mind and with a clear mind" (p. 43). Elsewhere he discusses this problem in more detail, namely in response to Don Marquis' objection that a depressed person who is inadequately treatable should not be killed despite his manifest wish to die.[37] Singer suggests an "'idealized desire' view"[38] before, which means that a decision that is made under false beliefs or false knowledge of facts is to be corrected in the way that would correspond to the preference under conditions of well-informed and rational decision-making. According to Singer, this correction can only be applied to current decisions. The difference to Marquis remains that the latter also draws analogous conclusions from the construction of idealized interests in the fetus; Singer, on the other hand, denies the possibility of idealizing preferences that do not exist. singing[39] elaborates on the problem of rationality and states that the "internal rationality", that is, the preference of the person concerned, as it would exist in the case of complete enlightenment, is the decisive criterion for observing the preference. On the other hand, observing an objective point of view ("external rationality") is conducive to avoiding frustration, but is only considered if it can be internalized by the person concerned. Singer should therefore z. B. not qualify religious motivations as negligible from the outset.

Back to the concrete situation: Singer does not want to justify the right of a lone killer to kill fetuses indiscriminately. Rather, it is about the situation in which a pregnant woman wants an abortion. Even if the replacement of non-existent preferences of the fetus with idealized ones is rejected, it is worth taking a look at the autonomy of the maternal preference, because this should be idealized if it has come about irrationally or on the basis of incorrect information.

Aside from a health threat or pregnancy under violent conditions, the real preferences are often better living conditions for the expected child, but they may not have been an option at all, which is why abortion then serves as a way out. The desire to kill a human being can by all means be manifest and self-sufficient; H. to have arisen with a clear mind without external constraints; and yet this wish cannot be grasped autonomously by a person who has never killed before, because he does not know and cannot take into account how he will feel himself after the action. There are enough examples of mothers who suffered for many years because they could not process their decision to kill their womb.[40]

Singer's preference utilitarianism is based on the image of a rational and self-confident person, which implies that he rationally reflects on his life with future options and makes an autonomous determination of his interests. "With 'autonomy' here is meant the ability to make a choice, to perform an action according to one's own decision. Reasonable and self-confident beings presumably have this ability" (p. 158). This not only implies freedom from external constraints or manipulation, but also the consistency of desires within a life plan over a certain period of time. If it turns out that some of these requirements do not apply to many people most of the time, the basis of Singer's theory will be considerably weakened. In ethics counseling, especially in situations at the beginning and the end of life, it becomes very clear in practical terms how difficult it is to qualify decisions as autonomous.[41] And an entire branch of the economy, the advertising industry, is based on the intention to manipulate the wishes of (potential) consumers.[42]

Jon Elster's explanations on adaptive or counter-adaptive preference formation and change show that desires are not stable even one level below conscious manipulation. What is initially desired can be declared undesirable if it cannot be reached ('sour grape effect', according to a fable by Aesop); at other times it is precisely the inaccessibility that reinforces preferences ('forbidden fruits').[43] It has also been proven that the time pressure under which decisions are made influences preferences.[44]

Many people do not resemble Singer's ideal of rationality. To a far greater extent than by reasons of reason, people are influenced by virtues and vices, by emotions and relationships, and also by the most varied forms of belief in God, against which Singer repeatedly argues. If we look beyond our own society, which is co-determined by the Greek ideal of reason, we can see that rationality and future planning do not necessarily have universal meaning. Singer's ideal may be a requirement rather than a perception of existing conditions.

The insight into the possible irrationality of humans also weakens another important prerequisite for Singer's calculation of interests, the influence of the principle of decreasing marginal utility (p. 56). While for rational thinking, saturation goes hand in hand with a weakening of the preference for one thing in favor of the unsaturated, this corrective does not apply to people who are controlled by greed: The greedy wants to accumulate with strong preference, desires far beyond his own needs Saturation does not occur. If the greedy is at the same time the one who is successful in business, the social balance expected by the calculation goes with certain problems, e.g. B. the distribution of goods, no longer on.

For a simple universal theory, as Singer intends it, its manageability must be demanded. The calculation of interests can only bear the whole burden of the moral decision between alternative courses of action if it is at all possible to establish all those concerned with their interests and to determine the strength of their preferences before weighing them up. Singer does not prove the suitability of preferences to justify the annihilation of life. The inclusion of irrational preferences is not sufficiently clarified and may require a corrective to pure preference utilitarianism.

3.2 Personality

Singer works on the ethical question of which rights must be given to which animals. He bases the answer on definitions of personality and the ability to suffer. On the basis of the balancing of interests, he comes to the conclusion that conscious animals must not be tortured. Animals to which personal characteristics can be attributed (great apes, dolphins and possibly others) must neither be tortured nor killed. This new desirable clarity about the moral status of animals is to be welcomed.

But then Singer transfers the answers he has found to the completely different question of what moral status and what rights the human embryo should have by comparing the early stages of humans with adult animals and classifying them into his criteria of personality and ability to suffer. From an originally animal ethical concern, Singer concludes, in connection with his concept of person, that the embryo does not have an independent right to life. In terms of formal logic, it forms from the original, well-founded implication

Figure not included in this excerpt

the logical implication of the negations:

Figure not included in this excerpt

This logical fallacy is known as the 'negation of the antecedent'. The derivation would only apply if no further criteria could justify a ban on killing, i.e. H. if logical equivalence existed. Singer postulates such an equivalence without, however, proving it.

Dieter Birnbacher recalls that moral rights can be justified not only by personality but also by other characteristics or relationships.[45] Marquis' proposals for the establishment of the right to life are discussed below (3.5). Singer, on the other hand, demands from any other justification of a right to life that it must also be applied to animals; otherwise there is 'speciesism'.

The fact that Singer abandons the consideration of being human as belonging to a species for the ethical discussion and instead considers personality, steers the discussion about the embryo in a different direction. It is no longer about the contested question of when a human life begins. The period of conception and early embryonic development, which is difficult to understand - at least in vivo - loses its significance for moral discussion. On the other hand, more questions arise in the recent discussion: (1) What is the meaning of personality? (2) When and how does a person start? (3) Can the person bear a moral status, or is personality itself just a status or a complex characteristic?

(1) Various authors draw attention to the fact that Locke's concept of person has a legal background[46] and cannot be easily used in ethical debates. The forensic concern revolves around the question of accountability for actions. If someone has a defect in their personal traits or personality, they may not be held responsible for their actions. In the legal context, however, this means that he escapes punishment and that his life is spared. The consequence is exactly the opposite of Singer's view, where a non-personality goes hand in hand with the loss of the right to life. Therefore, the adoption of the legal person term in an ethical theory is at least in need of explanation. The topic of responsibility, which is central to forensic consideration, does not appear in Singer's 'Practical Ethics' at all as the content of personality, but only in connection with the consequences of meat consumption and with the equation of killing and letting die, both in medicine as well as the duty to help the poor of the world.

(2) About the beginning of personality, Singer only goes so far as to state that at some point in childhood, self-awareness begins. To be on the safe side, however, he lets the ban on killing apply after the first month of life has expired. This late point in time contradicts his suggestion that the person could get on with their "brain life"[47] start. The decisive developmental steps from the conscious to the self-conscious child and the type of this phenomenon (emergence, supervenience?)[48] seem as uninteresting to him as a method of measuring self-awareness. It remains unclear how many of the person criteria must be met and to what extent.Fletcher has kept his list open for discussion and has already created individual indicators on a gradual basis; He also emphasizes the role of empiricism: "Divorced from the laboratory and the hospital, talk about what it means to be human could easily become inhumane."[49] This can be understood as a plea to test general definitions of terms on specific cases.

(3) Is 'person' an ontological status or (a set of) qualities and abilities? To what extent can a property bear a moral status?

Anton Leist criticizes Singer's ethics: "It is also 'conceptually fundamentalist' in that it sees no problem in placing the full burden of proof on the conceptual decision."[50], on the other hand, Singer is saying: "The ethical permissibility of abortion is a substantial question, the answer to which cannot depend on an agreement on the use of the word." (P. 141 f.) Birnbacher also complained about the use of the term person because of its ambiguity and diversity and stated: "For this reason, among other things, the suitability of this term for the establishment of bioethical norms has been questioned by various authors"[51]. Singer, however, defined his use of the term so clearly that it can simply be read as the short form for the connected properties of 'rationality and self-awareness'; then the question would arise in a more acute way how a complex property can bear a moral status.

Future or current preferences

Michael Hauskeller has verified Singer's thesis that "a being that cannot see itself as an entity with its own future cannot have any preference for its own future existence" (p. 152). Prepared by a complicated sequence of formal arguments, he proves that the most important preference, because all others enable, is not that future not to be killed, but rather now not to be killed. The preference for the present now also includes all beings like the fish on a fishhook (p. 152) who feel danger.

"Can a being threatened and in danger be, let alone feel it, if it has no preference, to go on living ? [...] The fish certainly doesn't have any conscious Preference to go on living, but human persons only have that in exceptional cases. "[52]

Hauskeller does not rule out a gradation of the moral dubiousness of killing different beings, but wants to state that this cannot be justified on the basis of personality.

Since many desires are subconscious or unconscious (Singer does not explicitly state how far such unreflected preferences are to be taken into account), it must be discussed whether preconscious desires, i.e. implicit preferences, before reaching the level of self-awareness that qualifies the person , can exist and must be included in the interest calculation.

3.3 SKIP arguments

The four arguments denoted by the acronym 'SKIP' are standard arguments in the bioethical debate: species, continuity, identity, potentiality. They are also used on a subsidiary basis, possibly in combination, in order to establish the right to life for people who are not assigned any personal characteristics.


Singer rejects any ethical relevance of biological species affiliation by equating judgments that favor the human species ('speciesism') with racism. He justifies this with the principle of the same balancing of interests, which, independently of the species, only considers the interests themselves. (P. 98 ff.)

The concept of race as part of a biological system includes fixed genetic trait constellations that have been selected and stabilized in adaptation to geographical requirements. In biology, this race concept is no longer used, especially for humans. The prevailing view is that phenotypic characteristics in groups, nations or tribes at most as ecotypes consist; This means that individual traits have predominated in geographically isolated locations, but are not permanently linked to other traits, rather the genetic inventory of Homo sapiens is very uniform.[53]

In contrast to this, the ethnic concept of race means to ascribe a group of other characteristics to a group of people on the basis of a morphological characteristic in the counterfactual assumption that morphological and character characteristics are subject to a genetic linkage. Often a value judgment is associated with it. This collective attribution of values ​​and characteristics is what racism means.

Belonging to a biological species, on the other hand, characterizes a reproductive community - only members of the same species can produce fertile offspring. This is not associated with an addition of value. With this clarification it should first be shown that the comparison of speciesism with racism is factually incorrect. The question of whether there should be generic solidarity is more controversial. It should not be about curtailing the interests of nonhuman animals or excluding the preferences of nonhuman people from the calculation, nor about humans alone to be preferred because of their species affiliation[54], but the question is whether, in addition or in addition to the same balancing of interests, people have a special interest in members of the same species as a principle of solidarity[55] may exist or, in other words, whether the reproductive community and its genetic diversity have moral relevance. Such can lie in the preferences of future generations. Assume a fictitious future situation, e.g. B. the impending uninhabitability of the earth, then it could be of interest to meet the challenge that the unique genetic makeup of a person or family line with a special, now required ability was not eliminated before times with its first carrier.[56] Within the framework of the free choice of preferences he has allowed, Singer cannot categorically rule out such solidarity.

Since all persons have developed on the way through an embryonic stage, it is conceivable to grant the development phases solidary, albeit graduated, protection, as long as the interests of animals are not affected. If one wants to concretise the speciesism argument in the case in question, abortion, then it would have to be compared whether it is more permissible to abort an animal fetus than a human. But that is not the alternative course of action at all; Abortion of (non-human) animal fetuses has not yet been one of the major animal ethical challenges, and pregnant women willing to abortion do not have the alternative of killing that of their pet instead of their own womb. This consideration shows that Singer's speciesism argument is not very robust in the concrete question; it is too weak to be used to end the debate.


Human development does not offer a cut to which one could assign the 'turning on' of personality, as Singer himself argues.

"The discussion so far has made it clear that the liberals' search for a morally decisive dividing line between the newborn and the fetus has been unsuccessful. [...] The conservatives, on the other hand, are on safe ground when they emphasize that the development of the embryo to the infant a gradual process [ gradual process ] is. "(p. 234)

With regard to rationality it is obvious that it is subject to lifelong development. B. in everyday language in the talk of 'lifelong learning' and the 'wisdom of old age'; however, the development often resembles a parabolic curve that decreases again towards the end. Instead of a natural 'connection point', one would have to define a level of rationality from which the fulfillment of the criterion would be assumed by the continuously developing individual, which would, however, be arbitrary. Dennett points out that, from a normative point of view, 'person' is an ideal that people try to approach throughout their lives.[57] The continuity has its own meaning with regard to the diachronic identity of the person, that is, the question of whether the adult is identical with the child of his childhood or even with the embryo from which he has become.


Since Locke, the question of diachronic identity or persistence has in particular been the question of psychological continuity.[58] E.g .: As a 40-year-old, can I remember how I thought and acted as a 20-year-old. Singer notes, "when I think of myself as the person I now am, I realize that I did not come into existence until some time after my birth. "[59] But even if no adult can remember his or her thinking in the first year of life, according to the transitivity of identity it is sufficient to remember the day before every day; this creates "the primarily psychological criterion of a chain of 'memory' states that can be linked backwards in time"[60]. Singer adopts Michael Tooley's assertion that only conscious beings, including newborns, have no sense of their own continuity beyond sleep; "From his subjective perspective, it is as if a new being with new preferences has come to life" (p. 162). Yet it is the case that the newborn is comforted by the voice of its mother and only by the voice of its mother.[61] It remembers being comforted by this voice yesterday and prefers to be comforted by this voice tomorrow. It has already heard this voice as a fetus (after 'waking up' in the 30th week, p. 248). The mother's voice is recognized from all other voices and processed in a special way.[62] The memory of them carries the diachronic identity of the infant in the last fetal period and in the very first phase of life. Singer himself admits: "There are many species of birds and some mammals in which the connection between males and females is maintained for life." (P. 192) This contradicts the above. Thesis of the daily awakening "as if it were a new being". Either many more animals are self-conscious persons than we have previously assumed, or there are the degrees of personality that are necessary for a being to recognize someone other than in relation to itself throughout life (and vice versa).


Since it is undisputed that the real personal characteristics do not apply to the embryo, the potentiality is cited as a justification figure to still grant it the right to life, usually in combination with the two arguments discussed above. With normal development, the embryo will have the personal characteristics within a few months and then be protected from the ban on killing. Singer refuses to derive a ban on killing the potential person from the potential. He uses three analogies to reject "that a potential X has the same value or all rights of X" (p. 251). The comparison of a germinating acorn with a "venerable" [ venerable ] Oak (p. 251) obviously aims at emotions beyond reason, in fact the planting or tearing up acorns and the felling of oaks mostly follow economic, at best landscape conservation rules, but not an abstract protection of life for the mature oak. He compares dipping an egg and a live chicken in boiling water; this analogy addresses the difference in sentience, but the killing of chickens - hopefully less cruel - is carried out a million times, and they fare no differently than the eggs. Finally, he leads the British Crown Prince, who does not yet have the rights of a king. This consideration is also not convincing: Marcus Düwell points out that Prince Charles nevertheless already has a completely prominent position (laconically: "a different status than a London taxi driver"[63] ); Reinhard Merkel would like to see the 'prospective right', a figure of German civil law, adopted for ethics.

"With it, the status potentialis of a future legal position is protected, which can continuously strengthen from a quasi embryonic stage to full law, namely from a certain point of its development, from which the future legal power is by no means granted, but the chance that is already showing contours We guarantee the acquisition of full rights [d.] "[64]

Merkel sees a general idea of ​​justice behind this regulation; Or in the language of preferences: "that the interests of the newborn that can and must be taken into account also include all of the objectifiable development opportunities."[65]

In the following, Singer argues against the idea that it is the genetic uniqueness of each embryo that justifies a special protection right (p. 253 f.). He asks whether one of two identical twin embryos can be killed or whether one embryo can be divided and only one half can be researched, while the other is further developing, and whether research can be carried out with totipotent stem cells. This possibility, suggested by Singer only for the sake of discussion, that only one individual needs to develop from each genetically unique constellation, is worth considering and in no way refutes the meaning of uniqueness. The transfer of the protection requirements to stem cells is also not mandatory.

However, it must also be asked whether the embryo is really just a matter of potentiality, namely to develop into a person. That would mean that the developmental potency slumbered in the embryo until it was updated by whatever event. But actually the embryo is developing in actu, the process of realizing a human person is on-going. This is why Singer's comparison of the potentiality of the embryo with that of a gamete pair (p. 268) comes to nothing: the gamete pair has the potency of becoming a zygote at the moment when it will unite. On the other hand, what needs to be developed is what the zygote or embryo resulting from the conjugation actually does, and precisely this development takes place in a continuous process towards the goal of being born and growing up, if it is not through a traumatic intervention (or a pathological one Fault) is canceled. This has a certain effect:

There is a situation in which a fetus is to be killed. Now it has to be checked on which level of development of his morally relevant properties he is - in comparison with whichever comparative entities or catalogs of properties. This will not be easy because the ways to test a fetus' rationality and awareness are not very mature, if they exist at all. By the time this test has been completed and the killing has been prepared, the fetus has already developed further, so that the test must now be re-entered with regard to the current developmental progress, and so on, the killing cannot therefore take place in a morally responsible manner without further weighing up of interests.

Singer would reject such an approach and instead commit himself to certain stages of development that exclude or enable rationality and self-awareness. That may be acceptable as long as there are definitely no neural structures in place; Singer gives the 7th week for "brain activities" (p. 234) and the 18th week for cortical activities post conceptionem (P. 248). To attribute to the embryo beyond this date solely on the basis of the characteristic of a certain developmental age general and unchecked further characteristics or their lack would be at least as comparable to racism as Singer postulates it for speciesism. The potentiality argument cannot therefore be regarded as completely refuted.

3.4 Replaceability

Singer calls the consideration of the two ways of increasing joy in the world a "confusing problem" (p. 164): Either the approach to increasing joy aims at "only taking into account beings who already exist or who, independently of it, what we do will exist "(p. 165), Singer calls him the prior existence view. The other possibility is that we could "increase the number of those who lead joyful lives" (total view, P. 165), and vice versa, not to bring children into the world who will have a negative balance of happiness. In classical utilitarianism, this roughly corresponds to the distinction between average utility and total utility.

The total view includes a moral duty to father children when they will lead predominantly joyful lives and to eliminate suffering beings. Singer's substitutability argument (p.194 ff.) Is closely related to this view; It claims that non-personal animals without future-oriented preferences are basically interchangeable, especially those with a negative balance of happiness for those with a positive balance, because they are quasi "containers for experiences of suffering and happiness" (p. 204); He also transfers this to non-personal human developmental stages, which means that an embryo, e.g. B. will develop a stressful illness or which was simply conceived at the inappropriate time, can be aborted in a morally neutral manner if it is replaced by a future pregnancy.

in the prior existence view There is no duty to increase, which seems more plausible to Singer, but also no duty to prevent the birth of children who will most likely have a full, unfortunately, life, which he considers necessary. He would like to resolve this asymmetry. If one takes a closer look at Singer's definition mentioned above, then the decision about reproduction does not lie in the scope of the prior existence view, because it does not refer to beings who will only exist depending on our decision, i.e. H. the problem of asymmetry is resolved by the fact that the obligation to multiply from prior existence view not at all, neither approving nor disapprovingly, is taken into account. This means that the compulsion can be dispensed with total view to join, which was viewed critically by Singer because of the moral duty to increase. Looking back on 1975[66] he writes: "I thought it was absurd to talk as if you were showing a favor to a being because when you show that favor there was no being at all." (P. 198)

3.5 A future worth living

With the intention of refuting him, Singer cites an article by Don [ald B.] Marquis in the 3rd edition (p. 256 ff.), "Why Abortion is Immoral". Marquis is particularly interesting for the discussion because Singer acknowledges that "it is important to note how much common ground there is between Marquis and myself."[67] Marquis tries to move between the apparently irreconcilable positions Pro Life and Pro Choice to find a solution. He derives his argument from the question of what makes it wrong to kill an adult; The reason for this injustice is that the future of the dead is stolen, not only as a life span, but with all activities, projects, experiences and pleasures that would have constituted the future personal life. On the one hand, this thesis means a generalization of the preferences - the Marquis mentions them accidental - on the essential, namely the future worth living in itself with all its contents. [68]

On the other hand, the Marquis can now universalize with regard to the group concerned; it is also wrong, in accordance with intuition, to kill infants, as well as (regardless of species) other beings who are likely to have a future worth living (future like ours) will be granted. But if, according to the Marquis, it is wrong to kill adults because one is robbing them of their future and for the same reason it is wrong to kill small children, then this must also apply to the fetus. Singer himself emphasizes in his chapter on environmental ethics (c. 10): "The most fundamental of such ethics is the development of consideration for the interests of all sentient beings including the following generations into the distant future." (P. 446) Hence, he includes the interests of even future, as yet ungenerated beings in the scope of his considerations, albeit with restriction to those who will then actually be born.

The advantage that Marquis finds in his theory is the combination of the apparently irreconcilable positions of the inviolability of life and the right to life qua personality; "It seems, that this value of a future-like-ours theory of the wrongness of killing shares strengths of both sanctity-of-life and personhood accounts while avoiding weaknesses of both."[69] He avoids using the concept of person for his theory, because he recognizes it is-ought-gaphow it gapes between a biological species and its moral relevance, as well as between a psychological personhood and its moral meaning: "it seems, that the pro-choicer will have as much difficulty bridging the gap between psychological personhood and personhood in the moral sense"[70].

The 'contraceptive objection' is raised against this; Singer states that the difference between the contraception of a fetus and the termination of existence of a fetus before any conscious experience is "too small to be able to base the distinction between an immoral behavior and one that is morally harmless" (p. 258), but cannot convince without further evidence that the difference between existence and non-existence is "small". This objection is - as shown above (3.4) - in any case not in the scope of the prior existence view, and it actually seems more plausible to Singer that there is no moral duty to father children even if they have a good future.

As Merkel notes, the objection that killing a fetus would not lead to a future stage of life that is capable of preference is a clear circular argument. The killing, which is only a question of moral judgment, cannot itself be the reason that it is morally unobjectionable. "Because such an act of killing would have the unsettling quality of imposing its own legitimacy on itself when it is carried out."[71]

So not only Singer's attempt, Marquis' future-like-ours -To refute the theory, to be regarded as a failure, but the Marquis succeeded in his argumentation in completely avoiding the reference to the controversial terms personality and potentiality, as well as speciesism. By defining individuality in the sense of indivisibility, i. H. Protection from nidation, he bypasses the multiple objection and counterintuitive demands such as the protection of cell cultures (totipotency objection) and maintains a clear distance to it sanctity-of-life -Doctrine.

3.6 Embryo in the laboratory

Singer correctly points out that the potential of the laboratory embryo cannot be updated through natural development, but that the transfer into the uterus must first be carried out (p. 265 f.). Singer then provides some empirical data on the likelihood of IVF success. He wants to show that in contrast to natural procreation and embryonic development ("mere unfolding of its inherent potential", p. 266) the "IVF procedure [...] ultimately reduces the difference between what is about the embryo , and what can be said about egg and semen while they are still separate but are considered to belong together "(p. 267). In doing so, he introduces the analogy that if there is no protection for eggs and semen, which is not even demanded by the pro-life movement, then there can be no protection for the IVF embryo in vitro either. On the one hand, the comparison of numbers is statistically misleading, because the IVF predominantly couples who cannot reproduce naturally at all; Above all, however, Singer derives normative conclusions from observational data.


While the Anglophone debate focuses heavily on individual moral decision-making, in Germany more social rules are emphasized: "there has been a greater, and useful, emphasis on social rules"[72]as Singer acknowledges. The emphasis on social inclusion affects the concept of the person. The human person is not alone in the world, where he suddenly appears after a number of properties have been actualized, but is created in the relationship of the parents, develops as an embryo and fetus into a bodily relationship, initially with the mother, grows up as a child in social relationships in the family, the neighborhood, the school community, has to prove himself as an adult in relationships of working life and society and is supported in aging and dying by relationships with partners, children and friends. Many authors consider it legitimate for this relationship perspective to superimpose the pure status question and demand ethical consideration.

The close relationship between the mother and the fetus in particular is answered by the latter with an emotional interest in continuation that goes far beyond the need for 'warm - dry - full'. Of course, the mother, like all other caregivers, can refuse this claim, but not without it having an effect on her.[73]

At this point only one consideration should be picked out. Offspring arise from a relationship and into a relationship, an aspect that is largely absent from Singer. If the egg and sperm donors do not accept their parenting role in relation to a certain embryo, but give it up, the question arises whether someone should not be responsible for or represent the interests of this orphaned entity. Who can use them for what purpose? Can it be used as a tool for ambitious purposes? Is it outlawed if it is not used for destruction but is used in research projects? Even if Singer denies the need to represent interests due to a lack of interests, the question will become more acute as soon as it is possible to allow such a being to mature to the point of sensitivity. If the technical possibilities determine the moral rules of laboratory action as a matter of course and guided by interests, one could speak of 'technical fallacy' in analogy to naturalistic fallacy.

3.7 Graduality

The discussion about personality is usually carried out from the perspective that there can only be personality traits according to the all-or-nothing principle.[74] Singer also discusses this for a long time. He then presents research reports that show that the great apes are self-aware and can relate to the past and the future, that is, they are persons, and he admits that a gradual concept might possibly be more appropriate than a sharp one Separation person - non-person, "depending on whether the killed being is a person in the full sense of the word or whether it is a potential person, whether it has any self-confidence at all, to what extent it is, according to our best estimate, in the future has directed desires and how significant these desires are for his life. " (P. 191)

Some of the person criteria are gradual (rationality, ability to think, self-control) and thus also suggest a graduality of personality. The range of preferences also grows in the future; while the infant is still aiming for his needs for the next few minutes, the young person makes plans for his career choice, and the adult ponders the chances of future generations. The above considerations suggest that starting with a low protection status from conjugation onwards, the worth of protection of the embryo / fetus gradually increases and can only be weighed against the strength of a killing preference on a case-by-case basis. From a biological point of view, important milestones are the appearance of neural structures from the 6th week and the completion of the organogenesis at the 10th to 12th week, after which the development is essentially of growth and function absorption (Singer takes the 18th for the connection of cortical synapses Week on; p. 248) and learning shaped. The time of birth is a milestone in social and legal terms. Beyond a certain level of development can great facie full personality can also be assumed from an ethical perspective.

4 conclusion

There is widespread agreement that there is no ultimate justification in morality that has been agreed by everyone. Singer puts forward a theory which, due to its simplicity and the absence of highly metaphysical, i.e. H. even on religious, assumptions could be adopted by many. To do this, however, it would have to be meaningful and free of contradictions, at least for the most common ethical questions. For the moral status of prenatal human life, this work tried to point out some inconsistencies.

What exactly is the status of the embryo, what rights does it have, if any? Singer assigns the concept of person a central role in these considerations, but there is no consensus on its meaning. 'No right to life and not capable of suffering' is insufficiently described: what is the embryo then? A thing or a non-personal person who at an unexplained point in time becomes a person in an unexplained manner? Since Singer only looks at the status of the embryo from the point of view of a lack of self-awareness, hence a lack of future-oriented preferences and a lack of personality, the image of the embryo remains deficient. He makes no other positive statements about his status than that he can be the object of the preferences of others. Nor is there any justification for the fact that the comparison of a developmental stage of a being - as a kind of flash photograph - with the final stage of another being is legitimate. In addition, fulfilled preferences form only a partial view of a life worth living.

As a result of the considerations presented here, the following can be stated:

- Singer does not prove the equivalence of personhood and right to life.
- Singer does not prove the suitability of preferences to justify the annihilation of life. The calculation problems known from classical utilitarianism have not been solved. Certain difficulties may require a corrective to sheer preference utilitarianism.
- The speciesism argument is too weak to be used to end the embryo debate.
- The potentiality argument has not been completely refuted.
- Personality can be understood in terms of degrees and in the third edition Singer opens his argument for this possibility, reinforced by the fact that he now brings the beginning of 'brain life' into the discussion as a relevant milestone in fetal development.

So Singer can not meet his claim to have proven the lack of any rights of the fetus. Rather, he recently opened up his previously strict theory a little and recognized the sense of preference-independent values.

5 Bibliography

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