Tag Archives: Morality

“Should This Be the Last Generation?”

THE LIFE YOU CAN SAVE by Peter Singer

In a recent online essay on The New York Times Opinionator Blog, Peter Singer, author of The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty,  posits a simple yet profound question: should this be the last generation?

Citing the work of philosophers Schopenhauer and Benatar, Singer considers human existence and follows these philosophers’ logic to the conclusion that “continued reproduction will harm some children severely, and benefit none”.  And so he makes a modest proposal for “universal sterilization” that will end the cycle of suffering, and the feelings of guilt that come with wrecking an environment for future generations.  “If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to fell guilty about.”  However, Singer’s optimistic side eventually prevails and he comes to value a universe filled with sentient beings over one without. 

What do you think?  What kind of moral obligation do we have to create future generations?  On the other hand, what kind of responsibility do we bear for the suffering they will endure as a result of our bringing them into existence?  Would future generations paradoxically benefit from having never been brought into such a troubled existence?  Would the universe be better off without us?

Consider these questions and the ones posed in Singer’s piece and post a thoughtful comment here.  Then email us for your free copy (this offer is open only to educators at accredited institutions.  Please be sure to include your full school mailing address).  To read an excerpt from Singer’s book, which will be out in paperback this September, please click here.

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The Right Answer, And Other Nonexistent Things

THE LAST TOWN ON EARTH by Thomas Mullen

by Thomas Mullen, author of  Last Town on Earth (Random House, 2007).

When reading works of fiction, students often think that there’s a right answer for how they’re supposed to respond to the book.  Surely (as they’re sometimes taught in high school) there’s a specific meaning F. Scott Fitzgerald had in mind with The Great Gatsby’s “green light,” and therefore there’s a right way to read the book and a wrong way.  A novel is a riddle, just a more creative version of a math problem, and students need to figure out the right answer, explain it in a paper, and then they’ll earn their A.  At which point they’re free to put the book away and never think about it again.

But English isn’t Algebra, and sometimes there are lots of right answers.  Or maybe—gasp—there’s no right answer.  Or perhaps it isn’t the answer that’s so important as the journey the reader takes to get there.  The travels with the characters, the experience of viewing the world through someone else’s eyes, the various lessons this act imparts—these will all lead different readers to different opinions, emotions, revelations.  This is true not only with our interpretations about whether a literary symbol has a certain meaning but also our determination as to whether characters did the “right” thing or not. Continue reading

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