Animal Cruelty and the Liberation of Nonhumans (Blog 16)

Applied ethicist, Peter Singer, challenges the idea that we have experienced our last liberation movement. The new liberation movement needs to one that liberates nonhumans from this exploitative and slave-like state that husinger quotemans have placed them in. Singer says, “It is a demand for a complete change in our attitudes to nonhumans. It is a demand that we cease to regard the exploitation of other species as natural and inevitable, and that, instead, we see it as a continuing moral outrage.”[1] Singer demonstrates the same argument as Aldo Leopold in saying that we must open up our community and the ethics of that community to include nonhumans. Singer tries to draw the comparison between racism or sexism and speciesism. He rejects the idea that animals other than humans cannot feel pain or that language is a necessary requirement in detecting or expressing this pain. Even people who agree and are disturbed by the details and facts of factory farming are unwilling to consider becoming vegetarians (as Singer argues that humans should be) because they are afraid of changing and don’t want to loose their way of life that they have become so accustomed to.

Singer presents the argument against his idea that humans and nonhumans should be treated equally when he says, “humans and nonhumans obviously are not equal in these respects [intelligence, abilities, etc.]. Since justice demands only that we treat equals equally, unequal treatment of humans and nonhumans cannot be an injustice.”[2] Though Singer criticizes this argument, it is one that got me thinking about whether or not Singer, or even Leopold, considers the idea of proportionality. By this I mean, do they consider the idea that ethics and moral value be given in proportion to the different animals? For example, do we give the same moral weight to a cow or whale that we give to a mouse or an ant? In my opinion, the answer to that question is no. Singer himself admits that it is harder and harder to make the argument of meaningful suffering as you go further animal lawdown the evolutionary scale and get further away from man. Furthermore, Singer ends his article with a weak excuse as to why he didn’t really address situations of moral dilemmas when it comes to animals such as rats. I think that Singer’s argument is one that is going to be hard to digest for most humans because it constantly tries to draw on similarities between different species and humans or “what would you do if the tables were turned” types of situations that I don’t think people will be accepting of. For instance, Singer gives the example of the experiment done on mice that were given electrical shocks in the lab. Though, admittedly, I probably would not be able to watch such an experiment I was not moved very much by it and I certainly could not wrap my head around or agree with the argument that human babies or orphans are less sentient than mice and could therefore be considered test subjects. I also know that this was not exactly the point that Singer was trying to make, but when you make a statement such as the one that he did you have to be able to back it up and I don’t think that he did that very well. I understand and agree with his concept of speciesism; humans cannot keep going at this pace of animal exploitation, it’s not right and it’s unsustainable. However, I still think the question remains of how we are to view all the different types of animals in proportion to the ethics and values we place on them?

Question: Singer talks about the practice of factory farming in terms of its cruelty and ethics but would he ever consider an argument that is based on sustainability?

[1] Donald VanDeVeer and Christine Pierce, The Environmental Ethics & Policy Book (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomas Learning, 2003), 135.

[2] VanDeVeer, 136.


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