John Paul II and Christian Personalism vs. Peter Singer and Utilitarianism: Two Radically Opposed Conceptions of the Nature and Meaning of Suffering
Although Christian ethics and contemporary utilitarianism both employ terms such as love and compassion, they are in fact polar opposite ethical views. This fact is not at all easy to discern. One key to perceiving the radical opposition between them lies in clarifying their respective concepts of suffering. In the Christian view, suffering is always understood as the suffering of individual persons, while in utilitarianism suffering is primarily understood as a quantifiable entity detached from the individuals who experience it. The paper attempts a primarily philosophical elucidation of this difference, including some theological points, by taking as its point of departure John Paul II's presentation of the three-fold sense in which suffering has the potential to unleash of love. Following a presentation of the utilitarian view, it then proceeds to explore the relation between suffering and love by probing the public statements on the experience of Peter Singer in the struggle with his mother s debilitating illness. The paper concludes with the presentation of a premise built into the structure of contemporary utilitarian ethics rendering it inherently self-defeating with respect to its own stated goal.
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Published in: Ethics Education (2009) Vol.15, No. 11