Peter Singer - Ethics Term Paper

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Peter Singer - Ethics

Peter Singer's Ethics of Animal Exploitation

Peter Singer is acknowledged as the father of the animal rights movement. His book Practical Ethics (1979) actually does not argue for animal rights, but rather for animal welfare. Singer's philosophy is utilitarian. His utilitarian approach is to judge right and wrong behavior on the basis of the behavior's consequences. The right act is the one that maximizes positive or beneficial consequences for all parties involved. The good or bad effects an action produces provide the basis for judgment of the action itself. The consequences of the individual specific act are what matter -- and not what would happen if everybody acted the same way. This view is called act-utilitarianism. Applied to animals and their treatment, it requires the decision-maker to look at how a certain act will benefit and/or harm the quality of the animal's life as well as the human's.

As to judging the consequences, in classical utilitarianism, such as practiced by Jeremy Bentham, pleasure was valuable and pain was not valuable (Singer, 1979). Pleasure was a benefit and pain was harm. So if an act produced pleasure for all parties, it was ethical. If it produced pain, it was not.

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Singer, however, modifies his utilitarianism in what he calls interest-utilitarianism. When you further the interests of those affected by a decision, you have found intrinsic value. The desires and preferences of the parties involved are interests. So are pleasure and pain interests because both humans and non-humans either prefer or seek to avoid them. In making decisions about animal welfare, then, the animals' interests should be given equal consideration in terms of whether pleasure, happiness, preference satisfaction, and health will be maximized for them. To consider human interests alone is unethical because the animal's interests are not considered and thus, are de-valued.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Peter Singer - Ethics Peter Singer's Ethics Assignment

Singer (1979) points out that many human beings are speciests; that is, they consider only the interests of the human species and exclude animals from the scope of their moral concern. Singer points out that when people try to justify how animals are treated, they often point to supposed "defects" of animals. They cannot speak. They cannot reason as human beings do. They don't have moral values. Therefore, their interests don't matter. However, when humans produce children who are mentally handicapped and cannot speak or reason in a normal manner, nobody thinks they should be kept in crowded cages or used for food. This belief in species differences -- that the human species is far superior to other species and the only thing that is important -- is really the only justification for what is presently happening to animals. And speciesism, according to Singer, makes no more sense than racism or sexism does. It is an assumption of superiority/inferiority that is used to justify discrimination, cruelty, and brutality.

Singer's theory is not a theory of animal rights. Rights involved legal protections. For example, citizens in the U.S. have a right to peacefully assemble. The government is not allowed to prevent them from exercising their right. A right is like "a moral trump card that cannot be disputed" (Singer cited in Animal Rights and Animal Welfare website). Singer is not suggesting that animals should have a right to live without pain and not be used for food or clothing. The fact that it is called "The Animal Rights Movement" is a political choice and irrelevant to philosophy. What he really seeks is equal consideration for the interests of animals where decisions are made involving them. Equal consideration is not the same as equal treatment. He is not demanding that human beings stop exploiting animals. But he is demanding that the consequences for the animals be seriously considered and that positive consequences be maximized.

For example, using utilitarian theory one need not necessarily be opposed to killing animals for food. Human beings have done that for thousands of years, and most people do not believe it is immoral for parents to feed their family or a farmer to raise animals for meat. The ethical problem lies in how farm animals are now raised and in the quality of their lives. Domesticated animals like chickens and pigs, lambs and cows became associated with human beings thousands of years ago. In a sense there was an unspoken contract. Human beings provided regular food and safety in return for ending the animal's life sooner than if the animal were allowed to go naturally. One benefit to the animal was that it had a longer lifespan than it might have had if it had lived on its own in the wild. Part of the deal was that animals were allowed to live in a manner consistent with their animal natures and thus, to experience satisfaction and fulfillment of their animal natures.

In some parts of the world food-animals still do live natural lives that are consistent with the behavior of their species. For example, in Italy up in the mountains of Tuscany where the vineyards are, wild pigs take up residence under a slab of rock on the farmer's property. The farmer may make the spot inviting, and the pigs come there willingly to live. The farmer sets out food and water for them, but otherwise the pigs live their own lives.

When pork is wanted for a meal, the farmer kills one of them. In utilitarian theory this is ethical because the positive consequences of the pigs living at the vineyard outweigh the consequence of being eventually killed for food. Their lives are pleasant and natural to them. They do not suffer.

Moreover, Singer points out that many non-humans do not "have desires for the future" or a "continuous mental existence." They do not have an understanding of what it is to live over a period of time and do not try to attach meaning to existence. They just are until they aren't anymore. Therefore, an early death does not cause them anguish, as long as the killing is humane and as painless as possible. In this view, "it is not easy to explain why the loss to the animal killed is not, from an impartial point-of-view, made good by the creation of a new animal who will lead an equally pleasant life" (Singer cited in Animal Rights and Welfare website).

Likewise, from a utilitarian standpoint, it follows that it is all right to eat meat from an animal that was raised on an organic farm where it was allowed to live its life pleasantly. This would be a similar to an animal's life on the family farm prior to the 1950s when farmers managed their land and provided food, shelter, and care for their animals. Pigs, for example, slept in the barn on straw beds, socialized and ate in pigpens, rolled in mud on hot days to cool their bodies, and rooted around in fallow fields, which they aerated and fertilized it at the same time. On many farms once a year pigs were moved into the apple orchard where they cleaned up all the fermented apples on the ground and spent a few hours in happy, drunken pleasure.

Likewise, chickens pecked and scratched around in the barnyard, socialized, established a natural pecking order, mated, hid their nests, and raised baby chicks

All of us are familiar with these friendly images of farm life. As children, we read about farm animals in our storybooks, and these are the kinds of images we still see on television in commercials for food. But the painful truth is that less than 2% of animals still live this way (Scully, 2003).

The family farm is gone, swallowed up by giant, heartless agribusiness conglomerates. They are not farmers. Their only concern is profit, and they feel no responsibility to provide for the welfare and well being of animals. There is no ethical consideration of the animal's interests whatsoever. Animals are raised in factories, and the quality of their lives has not merely deteriorated -- all quality has been completely obliterated. Most people don't know. The meat industry is very careful to keep its factories, cages, and slaughterhouses out of the public eye (Atlantic Monthly, 1993).

Pigs, for example, are now raised in cement enclosures that can be automatically hosed down. Cement, coupled with a lack of fresh air, promotes an overwhelming stench. Close confines, no exercise, and overcrowded conditions produce mental illness in pigs. They bite each other's tails and get nasty infections. A pig raised this way is depressed and apathetic and will not fight off another pig that bites into its flesh. The "remedy" is to cut off its tail, but not the whole tail, as you might think. The tail is chopped halfway in order to produce an intensely painful and tender stump. This rouses the pig being bitten to fight off his attacker. Multiply this by several thousand animals all crowded in together, and you start to get the picture (Scully, 2003). The fact that they are experiencing so much… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Peter Singer - Ethics.  (2007, June 16).  Retrieved September 26, 2021, from

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"Peter Singer - Ethics."  16 June 2007.  Web.  26 September 2021. <>.

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"Peter Singer - Ethics."  June 16, 2007.  Accessed September 26, 2021.