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Animal rights

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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.


1 Comment

  1. shaunmiller says:

    Peter Singer was on Point of Inquiry for the last two weeks talking about Ethics, Darwin, and Vegetarianism.

    It comes in two parts. In Part I, he talks about various ethical issues. This comes from the site:

    Peter Singer explores how controversial or compatible his views are with religious thought and in what sense his ethics is informed by a naturalistic or Darwinian understanding of the origins of life. He discusses the value of human life as regards end-of-life questions such as doctor-assisted suicide, and offers justification for the involuntary euthanasia of severely disabled infants. He details what it means to be genuinely “pro-life.” And he shares his views on stem cell research and abortion, arguing how that even though abortion is killing a human life, it is not unethical. He also explains what qualities of life would make killing it unethical.

    In part II, he talks about Vegetarianism specifically. Here’s the summary from the site:

    Peter Singer defends vegetarianism, arguing that we should give equal consideration to all “beings who have interests.” He draws ethical distinctions between human fetuses and animals, such as dogs and cats. He argues against “dominionism,” which is the idea that humanity is special, and that other animals were made by God for humanity’s benefit. He attacks “specieism,” and explains why he did not sign the Humanist Manifesto 2000. He describes factory farming, and the commercial imperatives that he says cause animals to be treated as mere property. He talks about the decision to become a vegetarian, and what keeps secularists and scientists from making the decision, in terms of the question he posed to Richard Dawkins at a recent Center for Inquiry conference. And he considers how working with the religious may advance vegetarianism in society.

    Whether you agree with him or not, you must say that he has done a lot to philosophy.


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