All Animals Are Equal
After providing a brief history of the attention given to animal rights, Peter Singer launches into an extended argument for the equality of all animals. First, he discusses Thomas Tyler’s argument against women’s rights. Tyler’s argument is that if you can claim equality for women, by analogy, why not claim equality for dogs, cats, horses, etc. Singer’s critique of Taylor’s argument brings forth an important point about the extension of equality beyond certain specified categories, in this case humans. Singer emphasizes that the definition of equality he is using is not mathematical or identical equality. Rather, “(T)he extension of the basic principle of equality from one group to another does not imply that we must treat both groups in exactly the same way, or grant exactly the same rights to both groups.” (p. 295) For example, because humans, in democratic societies, have the right to vote it does not follow that the same right should be extended to dolphins (although in some cases dolphins might do a better job.) But what is required between the two groups is equal consideration. “Equal consideration for different beings may lead to different treatment and different rights.”
Next, Singer suggests that if we want to extend moral consideration to non humans it would be helpful to examine the reasons why racial and sexual discrimination are morally wrong. For instance, in egalitarian societies justify their policies by claiming that humans are not all created equal. Some lack important attributes essential for political participation, i.e. rationality, power, emotional stability, etc. But as we learned – at least many of us – after repeated painful disappointments, you can infer nothing about an individuals capabilities from their race or sex. That is way racism and sexism are morally wrong. Singer concludes, correctly, that “Equality is a moral idea, not and assertion of fact…The principle of the equality of human beings is not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans: it is a prescription of how we should treat human beings.”
Now, how do we move to the extension of equality to non humans? Singer introduces the concept of “interest.” Following Jeremy Bentham “The question is not, Can they reason? Nor Can they talk? But, Can they suffer? If a being has the capacity for feeling pleasure or pain, then it is a being that has a right to equal consideration. That is, it is in that beings interests to avoid suffering. (As Singer points out equality is the central moral concern not rights
Conclusion, there is no moral justification for not taking the suffering of animals into consideration. But it does not follow, as we saw earlier, that identical consideration should be given to humans and non humans.
Torturing Puppies and Eating Meat: It’s All in Good Taste
Alastair Nor cross offers an interesting, if tongue and check, thought experiment to demonstrate eating meat is morally equivalent to torturing puppies. Fred tortures puppies for a gustatory experience that satisfies his craving for chocolate. Now what can be said of those meat eaters,
who claim their experience of a meat-filled diet is necessary to satisfy their craving for the taste of meat, while knowing the inhumane conditions at the agribusiness farms?
If we condemn Fred can’t we also condemn your chicken-mac-nugget eating roommate?
And it won’t due to claim that if Fred gives up his chocolate addiction puppies will stop being tormented, but if your roommate stops eating chicken there will still be hundreds of millions of people that continue consuming chicken. In other words, my stopping to eat chicken makes no difference; billions of chickens will continue to suffer.
Do Animals Have Rights?
Against an impressive literature to the contrary, Tibor R. Machan argues that animals do not have rights! “This essay will maintain that animals have no rights and need no liberation. I will argue that to think they do is to make a category mistake – it is, to be blunt, to unjustifiably anthropomorphize animals, to treat them as if they were…human beings.” The argument can be summed-up as follows: The traditional and widely accepted notion of rights bequeathed to us by political philosophers John Locke and Robert Nozick, claim that only beings that are rational and endowed with free will – the ability to make choices and be held responsible for those choices – can be bearers of rights. Since animals (even those high-up on the evolutionary scale) do not possess these characteristics, they have no rights. (Note: what I offer here is an extremely condensed version of the argument. You should read it in full so you are able to properly critique it.)
• Singer has a highly nuanced definition of equality. What is it?
• Singer is more interested in equality than rights. Explain?
• According to Norcross, puppies and factory farm chickens deserve equal moral consideration. Do you agree?
• How would Singer respond to Tibor’s argument?
If we accept the above conclusion, doesn’t it follow that we must accept infanticide? That is, if the degree of personhood of a late term aborted fetus is not much different than a day-old infant, and a late term abortion is justifies, isn’t infanticide justified? No, according to Warren! “But there is an obvious and critical difference between the two cases: once the infant is born, its continued life cannot…pose any serious threat to the women’s life or health…” (p. 338) And in a situation where the child is unwanted there are institutional arrangements (adoption) that are available.
In the end, a women’s right to protect her own live justifies abortion!
Why Abortion is Immoral?
According to Don Marquis, the current pro-choice and pro-life arguments are at a standoff; as such there can be no resolution. The standoff can be seen in their respective arguments: the pro-life argument is too broad, while the pro-choice argument is too narrow. Marquis’s solution is to ask a fundamental question: “…is it wrong to kill me/us? Why is it wrong? (p. 343-344) After analyzing two obviously inadequate responses, Marquis suggests that what makes killing us wrong is its effect on the victim. “The loss of one’s life deprives one of all the experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one’s future.” (p. 344) So, eliminating one’s future is what makes killing us morally wrong.
The advantages of this solution is 1) it bypasses the claim used by some pro-choice advocates that it is always wrong to kill all beings that are biologically human 2) the value of a future could include the killing of non-human mammals 3) it is compatible with some forms of euthanasia.
So it would seem that the characteristic of the loss of the value of one’s future has relevant consequences for the ethics of abortion. If it is wrong to kill human beings after they are born, then it is wrong to kill fetuses: “…it follows that abortion is prima facies seriously morally wrong.”
• What is Warren’s argument against infanticide and how does it correspond to her overall argument for abortion?
• Would Marquis justify an abortion under the circumstances that the mother’s life is in danger?