Critical Analysis of a Case Study In his argument “All Animals Are Equal,” Peter Singer builds his case upon the principle of equality, which holds that equal consideration should be given to the interests of all beings affected by an action. The only prerequisite required for an entity to receive equal consideration is the capacity for suffering; such capacity necessitates that its interests be counted equally to any entity with an equivalent degree of suffering. Having accepted this principle as sound, Singer uses two premises to argue that equal consideration should extend beyond our own species. 1. “Concern for others ought not to depend on what they are like, or what abilities they possess,” and 2. “The fact that some…are not members of our race does not entitle us to exploit them, and the fact that some…are less intelligent does not mean that their interests may be disregarded. Thus, he concludes that “the fact that beings are not members of our species does not entitle us to exploit them, and the fact that other animals are less intelligent than we does not mean that their interests may be disregarded.” As such, he provides that it is not morally justifiable to use animals for food or as experimental test subjects in non-vital medical studies. The consumption of animals as food, Singer continues, serves no essential role in good health or longevity, and it is thus a luxury, not a necessity. If the interest of an animal’s life and wellbeing were weighed against the minor interest of human satisfaction, the equality principle would not permit the sacrifice of important animal interests for our interest of less importance. He resolves, then, that we should abstain from consuming animal flesh if said animal incurred any suffering in the process. Singer supports this by comparing animal consumption to slaveholding, raising the question, “if we do not change our dietary habits, how can we censure those slaveholders who would not change their own way of living?”
In order to understand Peter Singer’s article “All Animals Are Equal”, one has to look at his viewpoint and perspective. Singer is a utilitarian, which is someone who believes that best outcome is something that causes that greatest amount of pleasure (or the least amount of pain) for the greatest number of people. However, in this definition the word ‘people’ is used, as to mean only humans. This is the point that Singer is trying to argue. Who is to say that animals don’t feel pain or experience happiness? Singer believes in the equal consideration of interests, and that we should extend this basic principle to other species.
In Singer’s first point on extending equal consideration, he poses the question, if a lesser intelligence cannot be used to morally discriminate against humans, then how can it be used to discriminate against animals? Singer explains that he’s not saying both groups should be treated exactly the same, because there are differences between species, therefore they should have different rights. Singer states, “The interests of every being affected by an action are to be taken into account and given the same weight as the like interests of any other being” (LaFollette, 110). For a being to have interests, they must have the capability to enjoy life and suffer. He points out that any animal would have an interest in not being tormented, so it does not suffer. We could be sure that animals feel pain based on the fact that they show the same signs used by humans that show they feel pain. For example, if a person would to step on a dog’s tail he might bark, the same as if a human had their hand slammed in the door they would yell.
Singer brings up the issue of sexism and racism. No matter how we may try to look at it, not all humans are equal. He argues, “…a person’s sex is no guide to his or her abilities, and this is why it is unjustifiable to discriminate on the basis of sex” (LaFollette, 109), and the same goes for racism – basing a person’s abilities based on the color of their skin is just as absurd. Racism and sexism are both morally wrong, therefore so is speciesism.
Another point the Singer brings up is how humans let their own interests take priority over other species. The fact that we eat animals shows that we think of them as nothing more than a “means to our ends”. This is true because there are other, more nutritional, ways to meet our needs. By doing this we cause additional suffering for animals. Moreover, the cruel behavior that we put these animals through before they are killed for us to eat. Yet another type of discrimination we perform on these animals is experimentation to see the affects of substances and if they are safe on humans. Basically, animal experimentation and consumption is wrong except if we were willing to perform the same acts on a human with similar capabilities.
Singer reasons that, “a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month” (LaFollette, 110). He argues that if we cannot experiment on humans with severe brain damage or defective infants, then we should not experiment on animals. Furthermore, killing animals for food would be the same as killing these humans for food. Singer is saying that if instead of treating these defective infants that don’t stand a chance, we should use them to test medical treatments, which in the end is the greater good for more people.
The last aspect of speciesism that Singer talks about is philosophers trying to draw a distinct, clear line between the equality of humans and animals. However, in order to include all humans it would have to be a broad generalized definition, which could not go without including some animals also. Though an infant may not have superior characteristics to that of a dog, doesn’t mean that we can research on the infant; though it is looked at as quite all right to do research on a dog.
Singer presents a sound argument on the rights of animals. As I have pointed out, all of his premises are true, and well backed up. For the most part I agree with his argument, except for the point he made on experimenting with infants or disabled humans. Though he did present his point well and backed it up, that just seemed to be the most controversial statement. I can understand his point of view of experimenting on a perfectly healthy animal who can feel pain, so why not a person who doesn’t have much of a future ahead, however I don’t agree with it. It comes down to quality of life. It might work as a hypothetical situation about some unknown infant, but what family would actually give up their child for experimentation? Or even a loved one who may be disabled? There is an emotional standpoint that I think Singer needs to address.
Furthermore, I agree that since there are other means of getting the nutrition that we need, people should make an effort to eat less meat. Nonetheless, people will continue to eat meat due to the fact that they ignorant as to what exactly the animals go through before they are killed for us to eat. Personally, I believe that that is how people like it. Then that way they don’t have to feel guilty every time they pick up a hamburger, and they can just go on enjoying it. This is a controversial topic, and Singer proved his point that animals should be extended the equality of consideration that a person shows his own species.
LaFollette, Hugh. Ethics in Practice. Published 1997. Copyright 1997, 2002.
“Singer’s Utilitarian Animal Rights”. April 20, 2004.