Environmental Ethics: Singer vs Regan Environmental ethics is defined: as a part of philosophy which considers extending the traditional boundaries of ethics from solely including humans to including the nonhuman world (Wikipedia). For example, this includes the preservation of plants and an increase of animal rights. Peter Singer and Tom Regan both argue that animals need a greater voice than their own in the debate of ethical treatment.
Despite their very different philosophical views, Singer and Regan want a similar outcome when dealing with environmental ethics it today’s society. Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher, takes a utilitarian view on nonhuman liberation. In other words actions should be judged strictly by their consequences. For example if an action benefits the largest number of individuals, over a lesser number, then that action must be good.
His central view is that moral consideration should be given to all living things but that “…does not mean treating them alike or holding their lives to be of equal value (Singer p. 58). Singer adds that “We may recognize that the interests of one being are greater than those of another, and equal consideration will then lead us to sacrifice the being with lesser interest, if one or the other must be sacrificed” (Singer p. 58). This as a whole sounds brutal but on the positive end of moral consideration is that interest shared by both humans and nonhumans have to be given equal weight.
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Singer argues that “We can now draw at least one conclusion as to how the existence of nonhuman living things should enter into our deliberations about actions affecting the environment: Where our actions are likely to make animals suffer, that suffering must count in our deliberations, and it should count equally with a like amount of suffering by human beings, insofar as rough comparisons can be made” (Singer p. 59). He adds that the conclusion of making these choices will be controversial but there will be a clear cut winner. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Tom Regan is an American philosopher that takes a much different view.
He argues that not only humans have rights but animals have rights as well. Regan adds that “To be for animal welfare, as distinct from merely being against animal cruelty, is to believe that we may have a duty to improve the quality of animal life, by ensuring – so far as this is possible – that other animals are the beneficiaries of what is good for them not merely that we should avoid being cruel to them” (Regan p. 66). He emphasizes that “The welfare of nonhuman animals is important. But it is not the only thing that is important” (Regan p. 67).
Regan’s aim is to simply abolish, not reform, the current system of human and nonhuman relations. He argues that it is morally wrong for humans to use animals for their needs, stating that this action, as a result, deprives animals of their individual rights. Regan asserts that all animals have intrinsic value because they have feelings, desires, and preferences. As a result of his beliefs Regan feels that the animal rights movement is no different than the human rights movement. Peter Singer and Tom Regan have similar goals concerning environmental ethics but have much different approaches.
Singer takes a utilitarian view stating that the best solution to a moral problem is the one with the best likely consequences for the majority concerned. While on the other hand Regan takes a deontological approach to animal rights. He basis his reasoning on that like humans, animals have an understanding of the world and know what they desire from life. One problem that is worth pointing out between Singer and Regan is the loophole concerning endangered species. Singer does not look at individuals he looks at a group. With endangered species the group is small and therefore does not carry a large voice in conservation.
On the other hand Regan cannot argue for the group that is endangered but only the individual that is in question. As a result endangered species are left is constant feeling of limbo waiting for a definite answer on their place in society. Despite the differences between Peter Singer and Tom Regan they are both in agreement that some action needs to take place. The world would continue to crumble around us if it was not for two great philosophers willing to put their reputations on the line for the greater good for both humans and nonhumans. Environmental Ethics, ed. Andrew Light and Holmes Rolston III.
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