A Quick Report from ‘Christian Ethics Engages Peter Singer’ this Past Week at Oxford
There is much more to say about this past week’s amazing events at Oxford than I can fit into this blog post, and I will try to do so in a more systematic way once I’ve had some more time to think about everything. For now, let me just share some thoughts along with a a few pictures.
Here are two shots from where John Perry took me to ‘high table’ dinner at Christ Church College on Tuesday night. For those of us who have never been there before, and only seen this room in the movies, it was an amazing experience…especially given that so interesting people were sitting around the table. It certainly ‘set the scene’ for the special event that was about to unfold:
The next day, John organized a manuscript colloquium for me, and I got a ton of helpful feedback from his graduate students and various faculty that attended. Rob Vischer, of Mirror of Justice fame, happened to be at Oxford for the month, came to the colloquium, and (after asking me some good, hard questions) blogged about it soon after. I have some serious revisions to do, but I’m so glad for the feedback from everyone there…and to John for setting it up.
On Thursday the conference began. John Perry did a great job planning and executing every aspect of it. Here is he wrapping up the session with Lisa Cahill and John Haldane:
Of particular interest was the huge contribution made by John Hare, the son of Singer’s mentor at Oxford, R.M. Hare. His important work presses utilitarians on how they are to jump ‘the Moral Gap’ without traditional Christian understandings of grace, providence, forgiveness, and happiness. Here is John Hare at his session with the utilitarian philosopher Brad Hooker, moderated by Robin Lovin:
Thursday night Singer graciously had a long dinner at a local Thai restaurant with a bunch of Christian ethicists looking to press the very tired atheist utilitarian even further. Here he is flanked by conference organizer John Perry and Fordham graduate student Sigourney Giblin:
On Friday we finished with two sessions: one on global poverty and then a 90 minute round-table with audience question and answer. It was the perfect way to end the conference. At the end, Singer himself admitted that he saw important common ground with Christianity on non-human animals, global poverty, and ecological/climate issues.
These are important practical issues on which both approaches to ethics need to work (in some measure) together, but from a theoretical point of view perhaps the most interesting insight that seemed to come from the two days was that Christians and utilitarians, while having important differences, are not mortal enemies…and certainly not polar opposites. To the extent that Christianity is teleological, it already has a consequentialist ethics…with important qualifiers about what kinds of acts can and cannot be offered to God, of course. Furthermore, the internal debate that Singer and other utilitarians are having about whether to consider ‘objective goods’ when doing moral calculations (pushed impressively by the utilitarian philosopher Tim Mulgan) is something that was highlighted to good effect by Christians throughout the conference. ‘Objective goods’ is something we do very well!
Like I said, more later. But wanted to get a few thoughts and images out there.