A tenured Ivy League professor who defends infanticide and bestiality as ethical acts is suggesting that because a mentally disabled person cannot understand the concept of consent to sex, raping that person might not be harmful.
In a lengthy op-ed in The New York Times on Monday, Princeton University bioethicist Peter Singer defended Anna Stubblefield, a former ethics professor at Rutgers University, who was convicted in October 2015 of aggravated sexual assault of a man who has cerebral palsy.
Stubblefield was sentenced to 12 years in prison because she committed illicit sex acts with a 29-year-old man named D.J. who has cerebral palsy. The sexual relationship took place over a two-year period and Stubblefield reportedly believed that D.J. communicated to her that he loved and wished to have sex with her through the use of a discredited pseudoscientific technique she employed called "faciliated communication" or "supported typing."
Singer argued that Stubblefield "is a victim of grievous and unjust harms," and that her sentence was "disproportionate to the nature of the crime" and "outrageous," because prosecutors failed to demonstrate, in his view, that she had caused him any harm.
While the case was unusual, since the man with cerebral palsy was intellectually unable to understand the concept of consent to sex "it does not exclude the possibility that he was wronged by Stubblefield," Singer and his co-author said in the Times, "but it makes it less clear what the nature of the wrong might be."
"It seems reasonable to assume that the [sexual] experience was pleasurable to him; for even if he is cognitively impaired, he was capable of struggling to resist," they argued.
None of this reasoning is surprising for those familiar with Singer's stated approval of killing newborns and children with developmental disorders and his utilitarian philosophy which prizes cognitive abilities over inherent human dignity. His views are nonetheless "abhorrent," said Alexi Sargeant, assistant editor of First Things, a journal of Christian thought and public life in a phone interview with The Christian Post on Wednesday.
"The things Singer advocates for are often the types of wrongs that no one would even think of if they weren't a specialist. He commits errors that only people who are in the weeds of philosophy who would even think of committing because common sense and regular decency cry out against them," he said.
"I think other ethicists should really condemn his statements and dissociate from him. He really leaves the impression that justifying the unjustifiable is what ethics is for," he added, noting that it's "scandalous" to regard him as a moral thinker given how he advocates for evil things.
To wind up in the place where one calls into question the sexual assault of a mentally disabled person Singer has likely "become interested in taking controversial stances for the sake of the controversy," and is "doing this out a spirit of cranky contrarianism."
"On the other hand, not implausible that he is simply following through with the uncomfortable implications of his broader philosophy," he continued.
All of this amounts to a mockery of the discipline of ethics, which, is fundamentally about discovering a moral framework that can help humans live better lives, Sargeant said.
Writing at Current Affairs Tuesday, editor Nathan Robinson called Singer's line of argument "jaw-droppingly repulsive."
While Singer assumes that the man with cerebral palsy is cognitively impaired, readers should not miss what is actually being said, Robinson stressed.
"Let's be clear on what they are saying: if someone is intellectually disabled enough, then it might be okay to rape them, so long as they don't resist, since a lack of physical struggle justifies an assumption that someone is enjoying being raped. ... Note that his reasoning would also justify sexually molesting infants, who are likewise incapable of understanding the notion of consent."
Such a casual rationalization of sexual assault shows why nobody should adopt a utilitarian philosophy in the first place, he continued.
"Utilitarians are meticulous and Spock-like in their deductions from premises, but their impeccable logic inevitably leads toward utterly horrifying or bizarre conclusions that totally conflict with people's most basic shared moral values," Robinson said.
"[T]he continued presence of Peter Singer in national dialogue about disability shows just how far we have to go before people like D.J. will actually be granted their full humanity, by prosecutors and philosophers alike," he added.