Contemporary ethics sets values widely used in society politics. Moral philosophy is an important guide to achieving social fairness and harmony. Main concerns of contemporary ethics are issues of abortion, sex outside marriage, pornography, euthanasia, environmental pollution and animal treatment.
Peter Singer is one of the most influential utilitarian ethicist 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 interests of 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 tremendous impact on shaping the arguments of contemporary animal rights activism. In “Practical ethics”, Singer discusses the ethical standards, seeks to prevent those who belong to what may be called a majority group not to exploit those of the minority group. “Animal Liberation” is the collection of essays that were devoted to the topic of animal treatment. “All Animals are Equal”, the first chapter of the book, became a manifesto of several generations of animal lovers.
In 70th the idea of animal rights was not taken seriously. No animal liberation movement or animal protection organization existed. The situation is very different today. Unfair treatment of animals is widely discussed in media globally. Numerous organizations protecting animals appear all over the world. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is one of the biggest organizations in the USA. Over 750,000 members and supporters participate in this popular animal rights group.
Singer's View on Animals
Singer’s claim “all animals are equal” is the title of the first chapter of “Animal Liberation” book. His thesis is founded on the principal of equality and consideration. Singer stated that human and nonhuman animals share the same ability to suffer thus they have their interests in life. According to the writer, the principle of equal consideration of interests is the fundamental idea for equality of all humans. He compares the idea of animals rights protection to women rights in his essay. (Singer, 2002) Peter Singer is absolutely convinced that the rights of humans and animals should be respected despite the obvious differences. He doesn’t state that their rights should be equal, but he does insist they non human animals should have their rights. While women won their right to vote, no animals need voting since they do not comprehend a significance of voting. (Singer, 2002)
He presents strong reasons why the interests of man 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 owner’s neglected of the rights of their slaves simply because they were of different color. Peter Singer states that all humans are equal disregarding their sex, race or creed (Singer, 2002). Just as exploiting people simply because they belong to a different group is not justifiable, so is neglecting the rights of animals simply because they belong to another species. Singer’s idea of “Speciesism” means prejudice against animals, he compares it to racism and sexism. One of the brightest samples is the fact human make nonhuman animals suffer simply to test drugs or safety of household products. Science has proved that animals react to pain in the same way humans do. Therefore it is justifiable that one takes their interest seriously.
According to Singer, “equality is a moral ideal” (Singer, 2002). The principal of equal consideration says it’s morally wrong to exploit the members of another species simply for the reason they are different from those of your own. According to this principal, the interests of other living beings deserve equal consideration to those of man (Singer, 2002). This principal requires that all suffering be seen as equal whether of animals or man, but 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 tormenting a lab rat. The writer says that since the animal suffers, there is no moral reason why its 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 level. This is true of a cancer patient who suffers significantly more than a lab rat since he is more aware of what is happening to him. Singer insists that in such a case, the principal of equal consideration of all species interests is to be applied. (Singer, 2002). Humans should work towards relieving the greater suffering felt by animals.
The other argument which Peter Singer gives, concerns the sanctity of life of both animals and humans and the issue of using animals as food. While many animals are brought to miserable conditions, so the people can get their food as a luxury product. This goes against equity because the interests of nonhuman animals are sacrificed for unjustifiable interests of people for meat (Singer, 2002).
Other forms of violation of animal rights, that P. Singer considers, include using animals in experiments and eating their flesh. Singer notes, that although people believe in the sanctity of the life of humans, they place very little emphasis on the life of animals. Singer defines self consciousness, dignity and rationality to be the main traits of personality (Singer, 2002). The fact that animals are self conscious and rational was proved when apes were taught to communicate using about 250 signs and could ask questions relevant to certain events. Thus they had certain expectation of the future, just like humans, and this shows that they are self conscious (Singer, 2002). Peter Singer noted that qualifying an animal as a person, basing on the ability of speaking, was wrong.
Considering the fact that some animals exhibit signs of human behavior, Singer argues, their lives should be given the same special values and claims. He considers that nonhuman animals should get protection similar to that of man. 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, which are sometimes even more intelligent than infants or imbeciles. (Singer 2002)
After reading the arguments set forth by Singer, 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 animals rights are not protected enough. The science has proven that although we view animals as non-conscious creatures, they experience pain and fear like humans do. 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 the animals are irrational beings and therefore cannot compare 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 the way humans do. Obviously, there is tremendous difference between man and animals. But I believe that animals actually do have some code of honor amongst themselves just as human beings do. The animal kingdom also functions with its own set of laws of survival as we do. Notice, that animals who hunt for food in packs do not steal each others’ prey. Instead, they share their food after the hunter has had his fill. Clearly, honoring the rights of the hunter and the eventual sharing of food is a major human trait. Animals are in control of their actions at any given time and function on a set of logic that is clear to the members of their kingdom. Just because we do not understand how their kingdom functions and how they implement their rules does not mean that chaos reigns in their realm.
And that is why I have decided to support Singer's approach to the animals rights. In my opinion, he has successfully argued the cause for giving animals the same rights as humans have. Considering chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans to be examples of animals who are able to communicate their needs and laws even without using verbal expressions, I would say that they 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. Probably humans are not sophisticated enough to comprehend their actions fully. Poor understanding of their 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 harm and experiments.
Another danger of dividing all living beings to species bring us to other ethical issue, euthanasia. People argue the rights of so called “human vegetable,” (those who are unconscious). Then Singer says, the humanity may gradually consider the intellectually disabled or the demented to be unequal to other humans. (Singer 2002)Then, humanity can accept the idea that anyone who is a burden on their family is not needed in the society. So, finally unconscious beings will be denied a right to life.
Everybody is morally bound to avoid killing a being if they can do so. Killing a living being, whether human or animal, will cause it pain and will significantly affect other animals within its social circles. The general rule that should be applied, when dealing with all 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 of protection of humans as a family. But thoughtful attitude to our own species while sacrificing the others is highly immoral. Other approach of putting the special significance of human beings is often offered. Human ability to provide reasons, our sense of justice and self-awareness are among the most popular arguments. Obviously, the problem with all those marks, that are supposed to distinguish humans from nonhuman animals, is simply that there are some humans who are completely lacking these qualities. Peter Singer has emphasized, that although the species are different, there is no ethical ground for less consideration to the interests of animals than we give to the interests of humans, our own species. If the attitude to animals doesn’t change it may lead to transferring some discrimination to humans like performing painful tests on mentally retarded. Elevating humans over other species means lowering the other groups. (Singer 2002)