It isn’t everyday that you see a fairly substantive philosophical argument make its way into the mainstream media. But Peter Singer has an article on animal rights in Newsweek. Students who have taken the PHIL 1120 Social Ethics course will be very familiar with his argument.
To motivate the argument a bit:
Forget for a moment about the moral status of animals. Everyone thinks child abuse is wrong. But why is it wrong, what makes it wrong? I suspect that most people answer that question by saying something like: ‘Well, it is wrong because the child suffers’. It is noteworthy that they do NOT say ‘It is wrong because it stunts the child’s rationality’ or ‘It is wrong because it stunts the child’s language’. In other words, our gut reaction to the wrongness of something (in this case, child abuse) has to do with suffering. We might then conclude that it is the capacity to suffer (and the interest in avoiding pain) which makes someone a member of a moral community (rather than an appeal to some special feature of humanity, like intellect or language).
So far probably nothing too controversial, right? But … animals have a capacity to suffer too.