Evaluate an Argument and Create a Counter Argument
In the article by Peter Singer, All Animals are Equal, he makes an argument that we should all respect animals both human and non-human. In this article, Singer states that speciesism is the attitude of bias towards a one’s species and have an opposite bias towards members of other species. In the article he some claims; capacity for suffering is an immediate prerequisite for rights; equal consideration is the basis of equality and equality is a theme that is based on morality but not facts. The thesis in Singer’s argument is that we need to extend to non-human the same kind of equality that we showcase to our fellow human beings.
In the article Singer’s argument develops in the following manner;
• Being a member of the Home sapiens species is the only way or criterion that manages to include all the human beings and exclude all non-human species. Singer points out the fact that human beings have variations in their characteristics even though we belong to the same species, Homo sapiens. Variation, as he states, is brought about by the fact that there are some human beings who have some characteristics that others do not have (Singer, 1989). Some of the variations that he points out include; intellectual ability, different feelings and sensitivity towards other human beings, different capacities to experience pleasure and pain and various moral capacities.
• He goes ahead and states that the criterion of using membership to the Homo sapiens species as the method of determining moral importance in the world is entirely arbitrary. He argues that if there is no difference between your group and another group then there is no relevant reason to think that those members who belong to your group have greater moral consideration than those members who belong to another group, such as animals (Singer, 1989). Singer goes to the extent of stating that there seem to be some obvious parallel of this thinking to racism.
• Another significant criterion that can be used to classify beings into moral importance is sentience. Sentience is defined as the ability to experience pain and pleasure, this approach, he considers, as a plausible method of determining moral importance. Here he uses the example of intelligence, he states that there are some human beings who are not very intelligent and some human beings, such as those suffering from dementia might have lesser intelligence that the average animal. However, this does not mean that these human beings have a lesser moral importance. This means that mental capacity cannot be used as a significant criterion for moral importance. In order to speak of interests in a meaningful way then sentience should be a prerequisite. Extending moral importance to a being that is not sentient makes no sense. This statement is important in Singer’s argument mainly because he criticized other criteria that ended up excluding some human beings; hence he is trying to show that exclusion of some human beings as a consequence of the approach is not problematic (Singer, 1989).
• Sentience brings about the ability to extend moral importance from human beings to other non-human beings since they have senses and can feel. Singer advocates that we extend the same amount of moral importance that we give to human beings to animals too. However, this should not be misunderstood to mean that in practice we treat both animals, and human the same and also not all the interests are comparable. Singer contends that all infants are not persons, but all chimpanzees are persons mainly because they are aware of their existence. He argues that persons have significant issues that sentient non-persons do not have.
• Sentience ultimately is the best criterion that can be used to classify moral importance, hence, human beings and other non-human beings/ animals have the right of being treated with equality, non-human beings have the same equality consideration as human beings.
An argument can be termed as unsound if its logical reasoning has errors and if the argument puts into use any premises that are false. In the reading of Singer’s argument, I noticed that he did both of these things. The first issue that I noted in Singer’s argument is that these interests that all sentient beings have can be equated with the same interests that we human beings have. The second issue and problem I noticed is that he stated all the sentient beings have interests.
There is obscurity in Singer’s use of the word ‘interest’. There are various aspects where the term can be used. An animal A may have interest in B, this way we can say that animals have interests since B will provide or add on to the well-being of animal A. Animals and other organisms have interest in sunlight and other resources found in nature, therefore, this kind of interest is in itself essential to the existence of livings things but not in any way morally relevant (Cohen & Tom, 2001). Moral obligation is a pre-requisites for moral importance. I believe that animals instinctively avoid pain mainly because it is a direct representation of harm, which will consequently affect their ability to grow, reproduce and survive. Animals lack the ability to reason conceptually and are not evaluating beings mainly because of their limited mental capacity.
It is quite problematic for Singer to state that the interests that animals have is equal in measure as the interests that human beings have. Singer’s analogy that he puts across by using the example of racism and sexism has a gross error that comes from the fact that this argument does not come with support for this discrimination among the human beings. Distinctions in terms of sex and race are never morally justified like the distinction we have between the different species (Steinbock, 1978). Slavery and other racial or gender-based discrimination are unethical and are considered barbarous. Expanding the analogy Singer asserts that human beings with low IQ would be unwilling to serve as slaves for people with a higher IQ hence putting intellectual capacity at the same level as sex and race. However, this is not a significant way to explain that the interests of animals are the same as the interests of human beings. For example we cannot say that a donkey is analogous to a person with a low IQ percentage, declaring this will be a willful way of ignoring the significant differences that exist between animals and human beings (Fox, 1986). We may claim that animal interest are significant in the moral circles, but we but Singer cannot use his present reasoning to make a conclusion that animal rights are equal to those of human beings
Cohen, C. & Tom R,. (2001). The Animal Rights Debate. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Fox, M. (1986). Case for Animal Experimentation, The: An Evolutionary and Ethical Perspective. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Singer, P. (1989). All Animals Are Equal. In T. Regan & P. Singer (Eds.) Animal rights and human obligations (pp. 148-162). Retrieved 12th May from http://spot.colorado.edu/~heathwoo/phil1200,Spr07/singer.pdf
Steinbock, B. (1978). Speciesism and the Idea of Equality. Philosophy 53.204: 247-56.