Philosopher and Professor Peter Singer discusses market ethics at Mudd lecture

Peter Singer questions the morals behind the markets for kidneys, sex and meat in his lecture in Lee Chapel on Thursday.

Tracy Wang

Australian philosopher Peter Singer challenged the idea of a free market in his keynote address for the Mudd Center’s 2016-2017 Distinguished Lecture in Ethics in Lee Chapel on Thursday evening.

In his lecture, “Permitting the Sale of Meat but Not Kidneys or Sex?,” Singer argued against the prevailing ethics behind the legal market for meat and the illegal markets for kidneys and sex.

While the market for meat is currently an open market, the livestock industry produces an extreme amount of green gas emissions. These emissions largely contribute to climate change, which Singer said has dire effects on third parties.

However, when it comes to free markets for kidney and sex, society generally takes more conservative view, even though Singer argued that many people suffer from the restriction that has been put upon those markets.

According to Singer, 7,000 people on The National Kidney Foundation’s waiting list died each year either because of failed treatment or the limited availability of kidneys. Singer argued that half of these deaths could be eliminated by a free kidney market.

“Why is using people as a means to offer them the opportunity to sell organs rather than offering them the opportunity to work in a dusty polluted factory unacceptable to society?” Singer asked the audience.

Singer pointed out that the waiting list for kidneys has been eliminated in Iran ever since they legalized the kidney market, and cases of rape and violence against women reduced significantly in countries that legalized sex work.

Nonetheless, Singer asserted that markets should never be entirely free. According to Singer, free markets needs to be operated in very restricted ways to avoid social chaos.

Singer emphasized that all steps should be taken to “let people do what gives them long term benefit.” A regulated market for kidneys should provide donors a secure and substantial means of donation and compensation, and a regulated market for sex should be built on the premise of age and consent in order to protect the rights of sex workers.

Students had different opinions on the content of Singer’s message.

“I don’t want my kids to grow in a society where you can make money by selling organs or sex legally,” Joe Wen, ‘19, said. “Even [if] it is for a good cause allegedly, it would easily exploit the poor and it will not make their lives any better.”

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. He specializes in applied ethics and approaches ethical issues from a utilitarian standpoint.