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Peter Singer, “A Utilitarian Defense of Animal Liberation”, philosophy homework help

Peter Singer, “AUtilitarian Defense of Animal Liberation”

Hereis a reconstruction of Singer’s Argument:

P1:At least some nonhuman animals, like human animals, have interests.

P2:Any being that has interests is entitled to moral consideration.

P3:Therefore, any nonhuman animal that has interests is entitled to moralconsideration.

P4:Every genuine interest should be given the same consideration as other likeinterests,

  regardless of whose interest it is.

C: Therefore, those nonhuman animals that haveinterests are entitled to equal moral


Why believepremise 1?

Atleast some nonhuman animals have the capacity for suffering and enjoyment,i.e., at least some nonhuman animals are sentient (in Singer’s restricted senseof “sentient”).

Giventhat these nonhuman animals can experience suffering and enjoyment, it makessense to think of their lives as going well or badly, better or worse, for them.

Iftheir lives can go better or worse for them, then they have interests, as somethings are in their interest, and some things are contrary to theirinterests. 

Thecapacity for suffering and enjoyment is thus a necessary and sufficient conditionfor having interests at all.


Whatexactly does Singer mean by “equal consideration”?  There are factual differences between humanand nonhuman animals, which Singer recognizes. In particular, humans have certain “higher” mental faculties that givethem more varied interests than nonhuman animals.  Humans can enjoy reading a good book, forexample, while nonhuman animals cannot. Humans can also suffer more types of discomforts, like feeling anxietyover the remote future.  So some human interestsare very different from any of the interests of nonhuman animals.  Equal consideration for Singer just meanstaking equally seriously the like interests of humans and nonhuman animals toavoid suffering and to enjoy their lives. 

The Scope of theMoral Community

By“the moral community” we mean everyone who is entitled to moralconsideration.  Is there some featurethat all humans have and that no nonhumans have that would warrant placinghumans within our moral community and nonhuman animals outside of it, or thatwould justify our considering human suffering as morally more important thannonhuman suffering?  This is thechallenge to anyone who wants to reject Singer’s argument.

Here are somefurther clarifications of Singer’s views that may be helpful

Singerdoes not argue that humans and nonhuman animals should be treated equally, orthat they should be given the same rights. He makes this explicit when he says (page 72), “The extension of thebasic principle of equality from one group to another does not imply that wemust treat both groups in exactly the same way, or grant exactly the samerights to both groups…The basic principle of equality, I shall argue, isequality of consideration; and equal consideration for different beings may leadto different treatment and different rights.”

Singer’sprinciple of equality says the following: when considering the like interestsof humans and nonhuman animals they should be given equal consideration.  In particular, he argues that we should countthe suffering of nonhuman animals equally with the like suffering of any otherbeing (page 75).

Whatdoes this mean?  Here is an example (fromSinger) to illustrate the principle.  IfI slap a human baby in the face with a little bit of force, and I slap a horseon its rear with the same amount of force, then I’ve hurt the baby more thanI’ve hurt the horse, and so I’ve done something worse to the baby than I’vedone to the horse.

However,there is something I could do to the horse that would hurt the horse as much asslapping the baby in the face with a little bit of force hurts the baby, andthese two actions are (other things being equal) equally wrong, saysSinger.  The horse’s interest in notbeing hurt deserves equal consideration to the baby’s interest in not beinghurt, when the degree of pain is the same in each case (these would be whatSinger calls “like interests”).  That iswhat Singer’s principle of equality amounts to. 

WhatSinger calls “speciesism” is favoring members of your own species, simplybecause they are members of your own species. This is the sense in which Singer compares speciesism to racism orsexism, and he thinks that they are all objectionable on the same grounds,i.e., because it is unfair to favor members of your own race, or your own sex,or your own species, simply because they are members of your own race, or yourown sex, or your own species.

Singer Paper Topic

Carefullyexplain premises 1, 2, and 4 of Singer’s argument, and how he argues for eachpremise.

Finally,explain whether or not you think Singer’s argument is plausible, and why. 

Becareful not to read more into a premise than it actually says.  Each premise says something very specific, sowith each premise just stick to what it actually says (for example, premise 2just says that any being that has interests is entitled to moral consideration;it does not say that any being that has interests is entitled to equal moral consideration.  That claim comes later in the argument).

General Guidelines

Yourpaper should be double-spaced, with one-inch margins, using 12-point font, andno longer than two pages.  Citations fromthe readings can be made by simply citing the relevant page numbers from thetext parenthetically at the end of a sentence or paragraph. Your only sourcesin answering the questions should be the article and the video from Singer, andthe notes provided in this document.  Inparticular, you should not use any secondary sources from the Internet.

Yourpaper is due in the Dropbox on D2L no later than 11:30 pm on Sunday, February28th.

Ifyou have any questions about the assignment please e-mail me.

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