Last Updated 08 Nov 2018


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In this essay I will try to clarify Singers essential argument and defend it against some common objections. According to Singer, Speciesism is a position similar to racism and sexism. Just as race discriminates against other race, and sexism against the opposite sex, speciesism discriminates against non-human species. Specisists hold that only humans have intrinsic moral worth, and anything that is non-human has no rights and so for Singer, speciesism is not an acceptable position.

He argues that because animals are capable of experiencing pain, and therefore have an interest in preserving themselves, they deserve to be respected and given rights. Singer is a utilitarian which means for him the capacity to feel pleasure and pain is the most important factor for moral consideration. If a being has the capacity to feel pain and pleasure, then Singer thinks we have a responsibility towards them.He rejects moral rights as inherent to every species and proposes that sentience is a requirement for status since he maintains most animals do not care about whether we kill them and use them for our own purposes: they care only about how we treat them when we do use and kill them. Just like humans, animals have interests of their own, a capacity for enjoying things and also for suffering.And “if a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration” (Singer 1975:79) Given the principle of equal consideration of interests, it follows that equal moral concern should be given to the suffering of animals as that of humans. “If only x and y would be affected by a possible action, and if x stands to lose more than y gains, it is better not to do the act” (PE, p21).

If this is the case, then suffering caused to animals as a result of their treatment when we regard treating humans in the same way most count as ‘specisist` behaviour : the only difference between humans and animals is their species, and that has the same moral significance as race i. e. , none. Singer argues for this by pointing to variation among human.Of the characteristics that we say only humans share we always find that there are humans who lack those characteristics: “...

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Humans come in different shapes and sizes; they come with differing moral capabilities, differing intellectual abilities, differing amounts of benevolent feeling and sensitivity to the needs of others, differing capacities to experience pleasure and pain.In short, if the demand for equality were based on actual equality of all human being, we would have to stop demanding equality. ” The only one characteristic all human beings share that animals do not is membership in the human species. It is important to note that Singer does not mention animals when he speaks of the principle of equality or equal consideration of interests, but reminds us the principle is interpreted as giving equal consideration to the interests of all people.Firstly reminds us of the challenges we have overcome throughout history with racism and sexism have expanded our moral horizons which eventually includes the whole human race, and secondly, that following this to its logical conclusion, morality itself demands this extension since the basic principle of equality is a principle of morality. Once we go beyond a self-interested stand point to a moral one, we are bound to adopt the principle of equality and the logic of universality inherent in it. Singer is a utilitarian thinker.

A basic objection to this is that the whole structure of Singers view is utilitarian, that on the one hand, it demeans our existence by saying happiness is the only thing of value in it, and on the other hand, it aims to maximise the total happiness, which allows the sacrifice of the happiness of a minority for the sake of the majority. So there are really two objections here, one to Singers account of value (that reduces all value to happiness), and the other, his account of morality (that makes the ends justify the means).Both of which are mistaken, the maximising theory of morality in Singers view does not depend on a maximizing account of morality at all, it depends on ‘the principle of equality` where he does not talk about value but only says that all sentient beings interests should be considered equally, and that the interests of a being in this case is in the reduction of its suffering, and that its total suffering is to be weighed against the benefits of all beings involved. He does not actually claim that animal lives are equally valuable.Singer holds that animals suffer and like us they have interests, he views the specisist as holding a similar position as a racist or sexist. He considers them equal in the sense that they all think that they have a higher moral status simply in virtue of their sex and race. Each of the instances he describes when drawing parallels between sexism, racism, and spieciesism, the dominant group exploits or excludes outsiders indiscriminately in favour of its own members.

It develops an ideology that justifies treating outsiders in ways that are to its benefit.Form this point of view, the analogy between sexism racism, and speciesism directs our thoughts to the human being as the dominating group that uses other beings for its own ends and not only beings that matter. The analogy is useful because it leads us to humans, not as the only beings who matter, but a dominating group that uses other beings for its own ends, furthermore, it raises questions about mere differences as the justification for differences in how much consideration to give others.Bernard Williams, however, defends speciesism in “The Human Prejudice” objects to Singers analogy, that speciesism is not like racism or sexism, and gives some reasons why this is so. The differences between normal humans and other non-human animals, let’s say, of equal size or shape, are much greater than the differences between people of different races, or between men and women.But Singer has mentioned this, in his first edition of animal liberation he wrote: “There are many areas in which the superior mental powers of normal adult humans make a difference: anticipation, more detailed memory, and greater knowledge of what is happening, and so on. ” So therefore the claim that speciesism is morally objectionable still remains unchanged by such arguments, because Singer defines speciesism as discrimination on the basis or species, not as discrimination on the basis of superior mental powers, even if those powers are processed by members of our species and not members of other species.

According to Singer, Williams’ argument denies the analogy and resorts to ``which side are you on? ’’ - Which is a question that echoes racial, religious or ideological conflicts which have arisen in times of war? This kind of question divides the world in to ``us’’ and ``them’’, the fact of this division demands us to us to transcend ethical issues about what the right thing to do is.Singer mentions another argument that has been made in connection to this in defence of speciesism: the claim that just as parents prefer their own children over others as a special obligation, so we have a special obligation to other members of our species in preference to members of other species. Again, the obvious case lying between the ‘family` and our ‘own`, points to race, ethnicity, etc. Singer gives a good example by referring to Lewis Petrinovich who says that our biology turns certain boundaries into moral imperatives- and lists “children, kin, neighbours, and species. If the argument works at the smaller sphere of family and the larger sphere of species, then why not for the middle case: race. If race is not a morally relevant boundary, why should species be? It is tautological that the principle of equality should apply to sentient beings. There is much debate over what qualifies as sentient.

What I mean sentient to be, can only be worked out in practise as with any other moral boundary. Man here has to be thought of as a moral agent as well as a moral object.I don’t believe we should justify our having a bias or prejudice in favour of human beings over other animals, I would consider it specisist to consider the interests of my own over other species, only in the strictest sense, but if this is the case, I would also favour my own race, religion, class, etc... Our values are necessarily human values but we are not necessarily the only beings worthy of consideration. Nature sustains both animals and humans and for me, complimenting nature, at the very least, preserving it, is more worthy of consideration.Bibliography Practical Ethincs, Peter Singer The Human Prejudice, Bernard Williams

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