20 March 2006

Singer's Argument Against Certain Uses of Animals

Here is the latest version of my student handout on Peter Singer's argument against certain uses of animals. Two things are noteworthy. First, although Singer is a utilitarian, his argument does not presuppose utilitarianism. It is, however, consistent with it. Singer wants to persuade everyone, not just utilitarians. If he asserted or presupposed utilitarianism as a premise, then only those who subscribe to that theory would be persuaded by his argument. Second, as I explain on the handout, Singer is not categorically opposed to harming animals, any more than he is categorically opposed to harming humans. Utilitarians aren't categorically opposed to any action, even the killing of innocent humans. Whether harm is justified, in Singer's view, depends on how much harm is prevented thereby (or how much good produced). This must be determined on a case-by-case basis. What Singer insists on is that the interest of animals in not suffering be put on the scale. Many people, sadly, don't take animal suffering into account at all. They assign more weight to their gustatory pleasure than they do to horrific animal suffering.

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