CRF Blog

Interview of Peter Singer

by Bill Hayes

The website What Is It Like to Be a Philosopher? interviewed noted philosopher Peter Singer.

As a teen, did you start thinking about what you wanted do for a living, or college? If I asked you back then what you would end up doing, what would have been your best guess?

Early on, my best guess would have been that I would go into my father’s business.  From the age of about 14, I would work in his office for part of the summer holidays.  He had mixed feelings about whether I should be his successor. On the one hand he would have liked the business to stay in the family; on the other, the financial risk caused him a lot of stress, and he often said that there is no future in small business, the big players will push you out.

My sister, my only sibling, is six years older than me, and studied law (which in Australia you do straight after secondary school) so that was the most plausible alternative to going into my father’s business, and when I was in my final year of secondary school, that is what I decided to do.

In college, what were your least favorite classes?

I went to the University of Melbourne to study law.  But an enrolment advisor there looked at my results in the final high school exams, and thought I might find the law degree insufficiently stimulating.  He suggested I do a combined Arts/Law degree — a longer course but one that leads to both a Bachelor of Arts, and a Bachelor of Laws.  That was fateful advice, because without it, I doubt that I would have ever taken a philosophy course.

Favorite classes?

I enjoyed both philosophy and history more than the law subjects.  I got quite engrossed in twentieth-century European history, especially in trying to understand the rise of fascism.

Did you figure it out?

Well, there wasn’t just one factor, but I felt that I understood some of the causes, anyway, and also how Hitler’s rise to power could have been prevented, if only the communists had been willing to work together with the social democrats.

What attracted you to philosophy?

I was attracted to philosophy because I had always enjoyed an argument, and on Friday evenings you could go to the pub across the road from the university and get into an argument over a beer with some of the lecturers and more senior students who would be hanging out there. [more]