Peter Singer: ‘There’s no reason to say humans have more worth or moral status than animals’
I don’t think the species of a being is a reason for counting more than another being. What is important is the capacity to suffer and to enjoy life. We should give equal consideration to the similar interests of all sentient beings.
ZOE CORBYN: Australian philosopher Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation, published in 1975, exposed the realities of life for animals in factory farms and testing laboratories and provided a powerful moral basis for rethinking our relationship to them. Now, nearly 50 years on, Singer, 76, has a revised version titled Animal Liberation Now. It comes on the heels of an updated edition of his popular Ethics in the Real World, a collection of short essays dissecting important current events, first published in 2016. Singer, a utilitarian, is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University. In addition to his work on animal ethics, he is also regarded as the philosophical originator of a philanthropic social movement known as effective altruism, which argues for weighing up causes to achieve the most good. He is considered one of the world’s most influential – and controversial – philosophers…
What progress have we made in our treatment of animals since the original book? And what have we learned about animal sentience?
There have been some improvements in factory farming practices in some regions of the world, but in others we have hit new lows. China now has enormous factory farms and lacks any national standards for raising animals for food. Extreme forms of confinement also still dominate the US states with the most pigs and laying hens. Animal experimentation is now regulated in many developed nations, but what’s notable is how minimal it is in the US, where the vast majority of animals used in experiments aren’t covered. On animal sentience, we now have strong evidence that fish too can feel pain. There are also good reasons for thinking the same of some invertebrates – the octopus but also lobsters and crabs. How far sentience extends into other invertebrates is unclear.
Can you explain your position against speciesism, the belief most humans hold that we are superior to other animals? Shouldn’t humans count more?
Just as we accept that race or sex isn’t a reason for a person counting more, I don’t think the species of a being is a reason for counting more than another being. What is important is the capacity to suffer and to enjoy life. We should give equal consideration to the similar interests of all sentient beings. Defenders of speciesism argue that humans have a special rational nature that sets them apart from animals, but the problem is where that leaves infants and the profoundly intellectually disabled. Instead of defending the idea that all humans have rights but no animals do, we should recognise that many things we do to animals cause so much pain and yet are so inessential to us that we ought to refrain. We can be against speciesism and still favour beings with higher cognitive capacities, which most humans have – but that is drawing a line for a different reason. If there are animals that have higher cognitive capacities than some humans, there’s no reason to say that the humans have more worth or moral status simply because they are human.
The chapters in Animal Liberation Now about animal testing and factory farming are upsetting to read. Were they upsetting to write and rewrite and what pulled you through?
I found them very upsetting, both 48 years ago and as I’ve worked on them over the past year. But I also felt driven to complete them so people know and can help stop it. I’ve had to develop a thicker skin and sometimes have had trouble getting to sleep, but it needed to be done. I do steer away from emotive language. I’ve never considered myself an animal lover and I don’t want to only appeal to animal lovers. I want people to see this as a basic moral wrong. SOURCE…