Peter Singer Interview

From What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher?:

Peter Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and a Laureate Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne…

Where did you grow up?

In Melbourne, Australia, in a typical Australian suburban home, single-story, with what Americans call a yard, but Australians call a garden, and for my father, it was definitely that – he spent a lot of time planting a garden with trees, flowering shrubs and annuals.

What did your parents do?

My father had a small business, importing coffee and nuts. My mother was a doctor, a general practitioner.

Was your family, were you, religious?


Did you ever seriously consider it?

Not really. There were periods when I was open to the idea that there might be a god, but I never got further into religion than that.

In general, how did your family, or where you grew up, shape your worldview, you think?

My parents were of Austrian-Jewish origin. When the Nazis took over Austria, they soon realized they had no future there, and as a result of a chance meeting with an Australian who had come to Austria to ski, were able to get visas to go to Australia. Their parents stayed, and only one of them survived. Obviously, that family history had an impact on me. It led to strong support for racial equality, the rule of law, democratic government, a cosmopolitan outlook, and an abhorrence of violence and cruelty.

Crazy. Did you encounter discrimination in Australia?

Australia was still largely an Anglo-Celtic community. I came from a different background. I also looked different – I had darker hair and skin than most other kids. Most of my parents’ friends were also Jewish refugees from Central Europe, so the culture around my home, and the food we ate, was different from that of my schoolfriends. At a local swimming pool, I remember a group of boys picking on me and telling me “go home.”

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