Step One: Evaluate the Argument Identify the issue

All Animals Are Equal*PETER SINGERIn recent years a number of oppressed groups have campaigned vigorously for equality. Theclassic instance is the Black Liberation movement, which demands an end to the prejudice anddiscrimination that has made blacks second-class citizens. The immediate appeal of the blackliberation movement and its initial, if limited, success made it a model for other oppressedgroups to follow. We became familiar with liberation movements for Spanish-Americans, gaypeople, and a variety of other minorities. When a majority group—women—began theircampaign, some thought we had come to the end of the road. Discrimination on the basis ofsex, it has been said, is the last universally accepted form of discrimination, practiced withoutsecrecy or pretense even in those liberal circles that have long prided themselves on theirfreedom from prejudice against racial minorities.One should always be wary of talking of "the last remaining form of discrimination." If we havelearnt anything from the liberation movements, we should have learnt how difficult it is to beaware of latent prejudice in our attitudes to particular groups until this prejudice is forcefullypointed out.A liberation movement demands an expansion of our moral horizons and an extension orreinterpretation of the basic moral principle of equality. Practices that were previouslyregarded as natural and inevitable come to be seen as the result of an unjustifiable prejudice.Who can say with confidence that all his or her attitudes and practices are beyond criticism? Ifwe wish to avoid being numbered amongst the oppressors, we must be prepared to re-thinkeven our most fundamental attitudes. We need to consider them from the point of view ofthose most disadvantaged by our attitudes, and the practices that follow from these attitudes.If we can make this unaccustomed mental switch we may discover a pattern in our attitudesand practices that consistently operates so as to benefit one group—usually the one to whichwe ourselves belong—at the expense of another. In this way we may come to see that there is acase for a new liberation movement. My aim is to advocate that we make this mental switch inrespect of our attitudes and practices towards a very large group of beings: members of speciesother than our own—or, as we popularly though misleadingly call them, animals. In otherwords, I am urging that we extend to other species the basic principle of equality that most ofus recognize should be extended to all members of our own species.All this may sound a little far-fetched, more like a parody of other liberation movements than aserious objective. In fact, in the past the idea of "The Rights of Animals" really has been usedto parody the case for women’s rights. When Mary Wollstonecraft, a forerunner of laterfeminists, published her Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, her ideas were widelyregarded as absurd, and they were satirized in an anonymous publication entitled A Vindicationof the Rights of Brutes. The author of this satire (actually Thomas Taylor, a distinguishedCambridge philosopher) tried to refute Wollstonecraft’s reasonings by showing that they couldbe carried one stage further. If sound when applied to women, why should the arguments notbe applied to dogs, cats, and horses? They seemed to hold equally well for these "brutes"; yetto hold that brutes had rights was manifestly absurd; therefore the reasoning by which thisconclusion had been reached must be unsound, and if unsound when applied to brutes, it mustalso be unsound when applied to women, since the very same arguments had been used in eachcase.One way in which we might reply to this argument is by saying that the case for equalitybetween men and women cannot validly be extended to nonhuman animals. Women have aright to vote, for instance, because they are just as capable of making rational decisions as*In TOM REGAN & PETER SINGER (eds.), Animal Rights and Human Obligations. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1989, pp. 148162men are; dogs, on the other hand, are incapable of understanding the significance of voting, sothey cannot have the right to vote. There are many other obvious ways in which men andwomen resemble each other closely, while humans and other animals differ greatly. So, itmight be said, men and women are similar beings and should have equal rights, while humansand nonhumans are different and should not have equal rights.The thought behind this reply to Taylor’s analogy is correct up to a point, but it does not go farenough. There are important differences between humans and other animals, and thesedifferences must give rise to some differences in the rights that each have. Recognizing thisobvious fact, however, is no barrier to the case for extending the basic principle of equality tononhuman animals. The differences that exist between men and women are equallyundeniable, and the supporters of Women’s Liberation are aware that these differences maygive rise to different rights. Many feminists hold that women have the right to an abortion onrequest. It does not follow that since these same people are campaigning for equality betweenmen and women they must support the right of men to have abortions too. Since a man cannothave an abortion, it is meaningless to talk of his right to have one. Since a pig can’t vote, it ismeaningless to talk of its right to vote. There is no reason why either Women’s Liberation orAnimal Liberation should get involved in such nonsense. The extension of the basic principle ofequality from one group to another does not imply that we must treat both groups in exactlythe same way, or grant exactly the same rights to both groups. Whether we should do so willdepend on the nature of the members of the two groups. The basic principle of equality, I shallargue, is equality of consideration; and equal consideration for different beings may lead todifferent treatment and different rights.So there is a different way of replying to Taylor’s attempt to parody Wollstonecraft’sarguments, a way which does not deny the differences between humans and nonhumans, butgoes more deeply into the question of equality and concludes by finding nothing absurd in theidea that the basic principle of equality applies to so-called "brutes." I believe that we reachthis conclusion if we examine the basis on which our opposition to discrimination on grounds ofrace or sex ultimately rests. We will then see that we would be on shaky ground if we were todemand equality for blacks, women, and other groups of oppressed humans while denyingequal consideration to nonhumans.When we say that all human beings, whatever their race, creed, or sex, are equal, what is itthat we are asserting? Those who wish to defend a hierarchical, inegalitarian society have oftenpointed out that by whatever test we choose, it simply is not true that all humans are equal.Like it or not, we must face the fact that humans come in different shapes and sizes; theycome with differing moral capacities, differing intellectual abilities, differing amounts ofbenevolent feeling and sensitivity to the needs of others, differing abilities to communicateeffectively, and differing capacities to experience pleasure and pain. In short, if the demandfor equality were based on the actual equality of all human beings, we would have to stopdemanding equality. It would be an unjustifiable demand.Still, one might cling to the view that the demand for equality among human beings is based onthe actual equality of the different races and sexes. Although humans differ as individuals invarious ways, there are no differences between the races and sexes as such. From the merefact that a person is black, or a woman, we cannot infer anything else about that person. This,it may be said, is what is wrong with racism and sexism. The white racist claims that whites aresuperior to blacks, but this is false—although there are differences between individuals, someblacks are superior to some whites in all of the capacities and abilities that could conceivablybe relevant. The opponent of sexism would say the same: a person’s sex is no guide to his orher abilities, and this is why it is unjustifiable to discriminate on the basis of sex.This is a possible line of objection to racial and sexual discrimination. It is not, however, theway that someone really concerned about equality would choose, because taking this linecould, in some circumstances, force one to accept a most inegalitarian society. The fact thathumans differ as individuals, rather than as races or sexes, is a valid reply to someone whodefends a hierarchical society like, say, South Africa, in which all whites are superior in statusto all blacks. The existence of individual variations that cut across the lines of race or sex,however, provides us with no defense at all against a more sophisticated opponent of equality,one who proposes that, say, the interests of those with I.Q. ratings above 100 be preferred tothe interests of those with I.Q.s below 100. Would a hierarchical society of this sort really be somuch better than one based on race or sex? I think not. But if we tie the moral principle ofequality to the factual equality of the different races or sexes, taken as a whole, ouropposition to racism and sexism does not provide us with any basis for objecting to this kind ofinegalitarianism.There is a second important reason why we ought not to base our opposition to racism andsexism on any kind of factual equality, even the limited kind which asserts that variations incapacities and abilities are spread evenly between the different races and sexes: we can haveno absolute guarantee that these abilities and capacities really are distributed evenly, withoutregard to race or sex, among human beings. So far as actual abilities are concerned, there doseem to be certain measurable differences between both races and sexes. These differences donot, of course, appear in each case, but only when averages are taken. More important still,we do not yet know how much of these differences is really due to the different geneticendowments of the various races and sexes, and how much is due to environmental differencesthat are the result of past and continuing discrimination. Perhaps all of the importantdifferences will eventually prove to be environmental rather than genetic. Anyone opposed toracism and sexism will certainly hope that this will be so, for it will make the task of endingdiscrimination a lot easier; nevertheless it would be dangerous to rest the case against racismand sexism on the belief that all significant differences are environmental in origin. Theopponent of, say, racism who takes this line will be unable to avoid conceding that ifdifferences in ability did after all prove to have some genetic connection with race, racismwould in some way be defensible.It would be folly for the opponent of racism to stake his whole case on a dogmatic commitmentto one particular outcome of a difficult scientific issue which is still a long way from beingsettled. While attempts to prove that differences in certain selected abilities between racesand sexes are primarily genetic in origin have certainly not been conclusive, the same must besaid of attempts to prove that these differences are largely the result of environment. At thisstage of the investigation we cannot be certain which view is correct, however much we mayhope it is the latter.Fortunately, there is no need to pin the case for equality to one particular outcome of thisscientific investigation. The appropriate response to those who claim to have found evidence ofgenetically-based differences in ability between the races or sexes is not to stick to the beliefthat the genetic explanation must be wrong, whatever evidence to the contrary may turn up:instead we should make it quite clear that the claim to equality does not depend onintelligence, moral capacity, physical strength, or similar matters of fact. Equality is a moralideal, not a simple assertion of fact. There is no logically compelling reason for assuming that afactual difference in ability between two people justifies any difference in the amount ofconsideration we give to satisfying their needs and interests. The principle of the equality ofhuman beings is not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans: it is aprescription of how we should treat humans.Jeremy Bentham incorporated the essential basis of moral equality into his utilitarian system ofethics in the formula: "Each to count for one and none for more than one." In other words, theinterests of every being affected by an action are to be taken into account and given the sameweight as the like interests of any other being. A later utilitarian, Henry Sidgwick, put thepoint in this way: "The good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point ofview (if I may say so) of the Universe, than the good of any other.”1 More recently, the leadingfigures in contemporary moral philosophy have shown a great deal of agreement in specifyingas a fundamental presupposition of their moral theories some similar requirement whichoperates so as to give everyone’s interests equal consideration—although they cannot agree onhow this requirement is best formulated.2It is an implication of this principle of equality that our concern for others ought not to dependon what they are like, or what abilities they possess—although precisely what this concernrequires us to do may vary according to the characteristics of those affected by what we do. Itis on this basis that the case against racism and the case against sexism must both ultimatelyrest; and it is in accordance with this principle that speciesism is also to be condemned. Ifpossessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one human to use another for hisown ends, how can it entitle humans to exploit nonhumans?Many philosophers have proposed the principle of equal consideration of interests, in someform or other, as a basic moral principle; but, as we shall see in more detail shortly, not manyof them have recognized that this principle applies to members of other species as well as toour own. Bentham was one of the few who did realize this. In a forward-looking passage,written at a time when black slaves in the British dominions were still being treated much aswe now treat nonhuman animals, Bentham wrote:The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which nevercould have been witholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have alreadydiscovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandonedwithout redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognized that thenumber of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasonsequally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it thatshould trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps the faculty ofdiscourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as amore conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. Butsuppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor,Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?3In this passage Bentham points to the capacity for suffering as the vital characteristic thatgives a being the right to equal consideration. The capacity for suffering—or more strictly, forsuffering and/or enjoyment or happiness—is not just another characteristic like the capacityfor language, or for higher mathematics. Bentham is not saying that those who try to mark "theinsuperable line" that determines whether the interests of a being should be considered happento have selected the wrong characteristic. The capacity for suffering and enjoying things is aprerequisite for having interests at all, a condition that must be satisfied before we can speakof interests in any meaningful way. It would be nonsense to say that it was not in the interestsof a stone to be kicked along the road by a schoolboy. A stone does not have interests becauseit cannot suffer. Nothing that we can do to it could possibly make any difference to its welfare.A mouse, on the other hand, does have an interest in not being tormented, because it willsuffer if it is.If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering intoconsideration. No matter what the nature of the being, the principle of equality requires thatits suffering be counted equally with the like suffering—in so far as rough comparisons can bemade—of any other being. If a being is not capable of suffering, or of experiencing enjoymentor happiness, there is nothing to be taken into account. This is why the limit of sentience1The Methods of Ethics (7th Ed.), p. 382.For example, R. M. Hare, Freedom and Reason (Oxford, 1963) and J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard, 1972); for abrief account of the essential agreement on this issue between these and other positions, see R. M. Hare, "Rules of Warand Moral Reasoning," Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 2 (1972).3Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, ch. XVII.2(using the term as a convenient, if not strictly accurate, shorthand for the capacity to suffer orexperience enjoyment or happiness) is the only defensible boundary of concern for theinterests of others. To mark this boundary by some characteristic like intelligence or rationalitywould be to mark it in an arbitrary way. Why not choose some other characteristic, like skincolor?The racist violates the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the interests ofmembers of his own race, when there is a clash between their interests and the interests ofthose of another race. Similarly the speciesist allows the interests of his own species tooverride the greater interests of members of other species.4 The pattern is the same in eachcase. Most human beings are speciesists. l shall now very briefly describe some of the practicesthat show this.For the great majority of human beings, especially in urban, industrialized societies, the mostdirect form of contact with members of other species is at mealtimes: we eat them. In doing sowe treat them purely as means to our ends. We regard their life and well-being as subordinateto our taste for a particular kind of dish. l say "taste" deliberately—this is purely a matter ofpleasing our palate. There can be no defense of eating flesh in terms of satisfying nutritionalneeds, since it has been established beyond doubt that we could satisfy our need for proteinand other essential nutrients far more efficiently with a diet that replaced animal flesh by soybeans, or products derived from soy beans, and other high-protein vegetable products.5It is not merely the act of killing that indicates what we are ready to do to other species inorder to gratify our tastes. The suffering we inflict on the animals while they are alive isperhaps an even clearer indication of our speciesism than the fact that we are prepared to killthem.6 In order to have meat on the table at a price that people can afford, our societytolerates methods of meat production that confine sentient animals in cramped, unsuitableconditions for the entire durations of their lives. Animals are treated like machines thatconvert fodder into flesh, and any innovation that results in a higher "conversion ratio" is liableto be adopted. As one authority on the subject has said, "cruelty is acknowledged only whenprofitability ceases."7. . .Since, as l have said, none of these practices cater for anything more than our pleasures oftaste, our practice of rearing and killing other animals in order to eat them is a clear instanceof the sacrifice of the most important interests of other beings in order to satisfy trivialinterests of our own. To avoid speciesism we must stop this practice, and each of us has amoral obligation to cease supporting the practice. Our custom is all the support that the meatindustry needs. The decision to cease giving it that support may be difficult, but it is no moredifficult than it would have been for a white Southerner to go against the traditions of hissociety and free his slaves: if we do not change our dietary habits, how can we censure thoseslaveholders who would not change their own way of living?4I owe the term speciesism to Richard Ryder.In order to produce 1 lb. of protein in the form of beef or veal, we must feed 21 Ibs. of protein to the animal. Otherforms of livestock are slightly less inefficient, but the average ratio in the United States is still 1:8. It has beenestimated that the amount of protein lost to humans in this way is equivalent to 90 percent of the annual world proteindeficit. For a brief account, see Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet (Friends of The Earth/Ballantine, NewYork 1971), pp. 4—11.6Although one might think that killing a being is obviously the ultimate wrong one can do to it, l think that theinfliction of suffering is a clearer indication of speciesism because it might be argued that at least part of what iswrong with killing a human is that most humans are conscious of their existence over time and have desires andpurposes that extend into the future see, for instance, M. Tooley, "Abortion and Infanticide," Philosophy and PublicAffairs, vol . 2, no. I (1972). Of course, if one took this view one would have to hold—as Tooley does—that killing ahuman infant or mental defective is not in itself wrong and is less serious than killing certain higher mammals thatprobably do have a sense of their own existence over time.7Ruth Harrison, Animal Machines (Stuart, London, 1964). For an account of farming conditions, see my AnimalLiberation (New York Review Company, 1975) from which "Down on the Factory Farm," is reprinted in this volume[Animal Rights and Human Obligations].5The same form of discrimination may be observed in the widespread practice of experimentingon other species in order to see if certain substances are safe for human beings, or to testsome psychological theory about the effect of severe punishment on learning, or to try outvarious new compounds just in case something turns up….In the past, argument about vivisection has often missed the point, because it has been put inabsolutist terms: Would the abolitionist be prepared to let thousands die if they could be savedby experimenting on a single animal? The way to reply to this purely hypothetical question is topose another: Would the experimenter be prepared to perform his experiment on an orphanedhuman infant, if that were the only way to save many lives? (I say "orphan" to avoid thecomplication of parental feelings, although in doing so l am being overfair to the experimenter,since the nonhuman subjects of experiments are not orphans.) If the experimenter is notprepared to use an orphaned human infant, then his readiness to use nonhumans is simplediscrimination, since adult apes, cats, mice, and other mammals are more aware of what ishappening to them, more self-directing and, so far as we can tell, at least as sensitive to pain,as any human infant. There seems to be no relevant characteristic that human infants possessthat adult mammals do not have to the same or a higher degree. (Someone might try to arguethat what makes it wrong to experiment on a human infant is that the infant will, in time andif left alone, develop into more than the nonhuman, but one would then, to be consistent,have to oppose abortion, since the fetus has the same potential as the infant—indeed, evencontraception and abstinence might be wrong on this ground, since the egg and sperm,considered jointly, also have the same potential. In any case, this argument still gives us noreason for selecting a nonhuman, rather than a human with severe and irreversible braindamage, as the subject for our experiments).The experimenter, then, shows a bias in favor of his own species whenever he carries out anexperiment on a nonhuman for a purpose that he would not think justified him in using ahuman being at an equal or lower level of sentience, awareness, ability to be self-directing,etc. No one familiar with the kind of results yielded by most experiments on animals can havethe slightest doubt that if this bias were eliminated the number of experiments performedwould be a minute fraction of the number performed today.Experime…

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