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Discussing infanticide
  1. Peter Singer
  1. Correspondence to Professor Peter Singer, University Center for Human Values, Princeton University, 5 Ivy Lane Princeton, NJ 08544, USA;singerp{at}

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Jeremy Bentham, protesting against the cruelty of inflicting the death penalty on mothers who kill their newborn infants, described infanticide as the killing of a being ‘who has ceased to be, before knowing what existence is.’ He also pointed out that is an offence ‘of a nature not to give the slightest inquietude to the most timid imagination,’ for all those who come to learn of the offence are themselves too old to be threatened by it.1 These points still hold true, and also apply to abortion. They do not, of course, enable one to conclude that there is nothing wrong with either abortion or infanticide, but they do suggest a plausible ground for thinking that these acts should not be thought of as morally equivalent to the murder of beings who are capable of ‘knowing what existence is’ and of learning that beings like them can be, and sometimes are, killed.

Michael Tooley initiated the discussion of infanticide in contemporary applied ethics in his article Abortion and infanticide published in Philosophy and Public Affairs …

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  • i This comment draws on remarks published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 15, 2012.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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