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Contemporary ethics sets values that are used by social politics. Moral philosophy is an important guide to achieving social justice and harmony. Main concerns of contemporary ethics are issues of abortion, sex outside of marriage, pornography, euthanasia, environmental pollution, and animal treatment.
Peter Singer is one of the most influential utilitarian ethicists of the 21st century. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory stating that people should act is such a way that their actions maximize the expected satisfaction of the majority of interests in the world. He is one of the most popular living philosophers. His most known books are “Animal Liberation” (1975) and “Practical Ethics” (1979). These books had a tremendous impact on shaping the arguments of a contemporary animal rights activism. In “Practical ethics”, Singer discusses the ethical standards, seeks to prevent those who belong to a majority group from exploiting those from the minority groups. “Animal Liberation” is the collection of essays devoted to the topic of animal treatment.
In the 70th, the idea of animals having rights was not taken seriously. No animals’ liberation movements by the animal protection organizations have yet taken place. The situation is very different today, however. Unfair treatment of animals is widely discussed in the media. Numerous organizations protecting animals keep appearing all over the globe. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is one of the biggest animal-protecting nonprofits in the USA. This group currently numbers over 750,000 members and supporters.
Singer’s View on Animals
Singer’s claim “all animals are equal” is the title of the first chapter from “Animal Liberation”. His thesis rests on the principal of equality and consideration. Singer stated that human and non-human animals share the same ability to suffer, thus, they have interest in life. According to the writer, the principle of equal consideration of interests is the fundamental idea of human equality (Singer 2011). Peter Singer is convinced that the rights of both humans and animals should be equally respected despite the obvious differences. He doesn’t state that their rights should be equal, but he does insist that non-human animals should have their own rights.
He presents strong reasons why human interests should not take precedence over those of animals. Discrimination against animals on the basis of intellectual capabilities should not be tolerated. Discounting their interests would be the same as colonialism or racism, when slave owners neglected their slaves’ humanity simply because they were of different color (Singer 2011). Just as exploiting people simply because they belong to a different group is not justifiable, so is the neglect of animal rights. Singer’s concept of “speciesism” means prejudice against animals. One of the brightest examples of such prejudice is the fact that humans make non-human animals suffer simply to test drugs’ or household products’ safety. Science has proven that animals react to pain in the same way humans do. Therefore, it is reasonable that one takes animal interests seriously.
The principal of equal consideration says it is morally wrong to exploit the members of another species simply because they are different. According to this principal, the interests of other living beings deserve equal consideration with those of men (Singer 2011). This principal requires that all sufferings should be seen as equal, whether experienced by animals or men. However, the principal of relativity ought to be applied, since man is more conscious of what is happening to him, and, therefore, his mind can aggravate the pain. Singer uses the example of torturing a lab rat. He says that since the animal suffers, there is no moral reason why his/her interest should be ignored.
Peter Singer acknowledges the fact that the pain felt by animals is different, because humans are aware of the events happening to them, and, therefore, feel pain at a much higher degree. To illustrate, this is true for a cancer patient, who suffers significantly more than a lab rat, since he is more aware of what is going to happen to him. Singer insists the principal of equal consideration is to be applied in such case. Humans should work towards relieving animals from serious sufferings.
The other argument Peter Singer gives concerns the sanctity of life of both animals and humans and the issue of using animals for food. While many animals are kept in miserable conditions, people enjoy the luxury of animal food. This goes against equality, because interests of non-human animals are sacrificed for unjustifiable human interests in meat (Singer 2011).
Other forms of animal rights’ violation that P. Singer considers include using animals in experiments, especially those that may lead to their death, yet have little value to the overall human well-being. Singer notes that, although people believe in the sanctity of human life, they attribute very little importance to animal life. He defines a person as one who is rational and self-conscious (Singer 2011). The fact that animals are self-conscious and rational was proven when apes were taught to communicate using about 250 signs and could ask questions relevant to certain events. Thus, they had certain expectations of the future just like humans, and this proves that they are self-conscious (Singer 2011). Peter Singer noted that qualifying an animal as a person based on the ability to speak was wrong.
Considering the fact that some animals exhibit signs of human behavior, Singer argues that their lives should be given the same special values and claims. He considers that non-human animals should get protection similar to that of men. He notes that some animals, such as pigs and dolphins, demonstrate more intellectual abilities than humans with congenital mental disability. Thus, there is no moral justification in killing animals who are sometimes even more intelligent than infants or imbeciles.
After reading Singer’s arguments regarding the issue of animal rights and testing, I should say that I strongly support his ideas. Being a staunch supporter of animal rights and an avid viewer of Animal Planet, I have come to the conclusion that animal rights are not sufficiently protected. The science has proven that, although we view animals as non-conscious creatures, they experience pain and fear similarly to humans. They convey their thoughts and emotions through their actions, the fact that only a cold-hearted beast would choose to ignore.
Many opponents of Singer’s idea (David Carruthers, Carl Cohen) imply that animals are irrational beings and, therefore, cannot be compared to humans. It is stated that animals are not aware of their actions, feelings, or experiences. Thus, they are assumed to be irrational beings without any possible way of controlling their own thoughts, emotions, or actions in contrast to humans. Obviously, there is tremendous difference between men and animals, but I believe that animals actually do have some code of honor amongst themselves just like human beings. The animal kingdom also functions according to its own set of survival laws just like men. Notice that animals who hunt for food in groups do not steal each other’s prey. Instead, they share their food after the hunter is full. Clearly, honoring the hunter’s rights and the eventual food sharing is a major human trait. Animals are in control of their actions at any given time and function according to the logic set that is clear to the kingdom members. Just because we do not understand how their kingdom functions and how they implement their rules, it does not mean that chaos reigns in their realm.
That is why I have decided to support Singer’s perspective on animal rights. In my opinion, he provided convincing ground to give animals the same rights humans have. Observing chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans to be able to communicate their needs and laws through non-verbal expressions, I would say that they are obviously conscious. And language, according to Singer, is the primary definition of being a human.
Animals clearly function in many ways similar to human beings. It is probable that even humans are not sophisticated enough to comprehend their actions fully. Poor understanding of animal rules and laws does not mean that they are less conscious than humans. Therefore, they require not only our understanding, but also our protection from experiments and other kinds of human harm.
A danger of dividing all living beings into species brings us to another ethical issue – euthanasia. People express different opinions regarding the rights of so called “human vegetable” (those who are unconscious for a long period of time). Then Singer says that humanity may gradually consider intellectually disabled or demented to be unequal to other humans. Then humanity can accept the idea that anyone who is a burden to their family is not needed in the society. Thus, eventually unconscious human beings might just be denied a right to life.
Everybody is morally bound to avoid killing a being if it possible. Killing a living being, whether human or animal, would cause his/her pain and will negatively affect other animals within his/her social circles. The general rule that should be applied when dealing with all living beings is that no species deserve to be treated as less significant. While racism is strongly opposed by all the developed countries, “speciesism” is still supported by many educated people and nations. There are no strong arguments against Singer’s ideas. The main thought behind ideas of numerous opponents is the moral obligation to protect humans as a family. But thoughtful attitude to our own species while sacrificing other living creatures is highly immoral. There are certain arguments in favor of human race being superior to others. Human ability to provide reasons, a sense of justice and self-awareness are among the most popular ones. Obviously, the problem with all those features that supposedly distinguish humans from non-human animals is that there are certain individuals are completely lacking these superior qualities. Peter Singer has emphasized that although species differ, there is no ethical ground to view animal interests as inferior to human interests. (Singer 1974).
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