Peter Singer & Vegetarian Dogs (was Re: The Heiress and theAnarchists)

Ken Hanly khanly at
Sat Mar 4 01:01:45 PST 2000

Comments are after sections:

Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:

> Ken Hanly says:
> >So if torturing one person were somehow the only way you could save 10,000
> >innocent lives would it be wrong to do so?
> Arguments based upon extreme cases make for bad laws, I think. Anyhow,
> actually existing torturers almost always use your argument to justify
> torture. For instance, the Israeli have often justified the torture of
> Palestinian political prisoners on the ground that information extracted
> through torture would prevent future terrorism and thus save lives.

Comment: I present no argument Neither does Singer. Singer makes a statement to the effect that torture is not absolutely wrong. I ask a question. Neither of us say anything about laws. You don't answer my question. Your response is irrelevant to anything that I or Singer say. I note that Comrade Cox agrees that your response is appropriate. I note also that without giving any evidence or reasons for his ex cathedra prouncement he affirms that I have obscurantist reasons for my question about the hard case.

Actually, I was surprised that you seem to think that saying that torture is not absolutely wrong is something that is somehow to count against Singer. I assume that is your position. If I am wrong correct me. I thought that you would agree with Singer. To make sure you really want to hold that there are no cases in which torture is justified I asked the question about the hard case. I was hoping you would answer it and explain your grounds for holding that it would be wrong to torture in the hard case. A typical response would be Kantian. You can't use the person simply as a means to an end even for a greater good. Other typical responses are from some CHristians who are absolutist about certain moral issues--but historically have been fervent proponents of torture for the greater good. I did not think that you are either Kantian or fundamentalist CHristian. Hence I was eagerly awaiting your response. Now these of course are not my obscurantist reasons. Please consult Comrade Cox about those.

> >> Peter Singer also says: "Why do we lock up
> >> chimpanzees in appalling primate research centres and use them in
> >> experiments that range from the uncomfortable to the agonising and lethal,
> >> yet would never think of doing the same to a retarded human being at a much
> >> lower mental level? The only possible answer is that the chimpanzee, no
> >> matter how bright, is not human, while the retarded human, no matter how
> >> dull, is." Apparently, Singer thinks that it is arbitrary and
> >> unjustifiable to make a distinction between bright chimpanzees and mentally
> >> retarded humans and to privilege the latter over the former. Singer's
> >> thinking betrays the problem of simple-minded theory of "social
> >> construction." Singer suggests that the category of "humanity" is "socialy
> >> constructed" and _therefore_ it is insignificant, merely a matter of
> >> prejudice. I disagree. _All_ categories are historically constructed, but
> >> it doesn't mean that all categories are equally bunk. Essentialist
> >> humanism may be subject to critique, but not in Peter Singer's terms.
> >>
> >
> >But Singer is just asking for some justification for the fact that the
> >mentally
> >defiicient person's being human somehow justifies the differential treatment.
> >That does not seem to be unreasonable. Why should just belonging to one
> >species
> >rather than another lead to such differential ethical evaluation? That's all
> >Singer is asking.
> In a society in which mentally retarded individuals are not oppressed on
> the basis of their mental disability, it wouldn't occur to people to ask
> for a justification for including them into humanity while excluding
> "bright" chimpanzees. Singer's question makes it clear that while his own
> humanity is not in question, mentally retarded individuals' is. Singer
> assumes that he, because he is supposedly "bright," would not serve as a
> rhetorical wedge for "deconstructing" the category of humanity; however, in
> the mind of Singer (and in the minds of those who accept his question),
> mentally retarded humans, because of their low degree of so-called
> "intelligence," serve very well as a rhetorical wedge, a boundary case
> comparable to -- well, in fact, implicitly inferior to -- "bright"
> chimpanzees, in the scale of social worth. In other words, Singer is
> ranking the worth of human beings according to their degrees of mental
> capacity. For him, it makes sense to substitute mentally retarded
> individuals for "bright" chimpanzees as subjects in agonizing and lethal
> experiments, if chimps are "brighter" than mentally retarded human beings
> and if doing so would increase the total sum of pleasures for the
> organicist abstraction called "society." Singer creates two categories of
> human beings: "bright" ones (like Singer and his readers) who are not
> comparable to "bright" chimps; and mentally retarded ones who are not only
> inferior to "bright" humans but also comparable to "bright" chimps. It is
> Singer, not those who object to "animal rights," that privileges
> "intelligence" as a marker of social worth.
> Yoshie

Perhaps, I helped confuse matters here by my response, but you totally misconstrue Singer's argument. He is trying to prove that you cannot base the difference in treatment upon differences in intelligence but only upon the fact that the dull person is human. Read what he says even in your own quote. The only possible answer to why the dull person is given different treatment is that the person is human. For Pete's sake he is arguing that intelligence is not a marker of social worth as far as moral considerability is concerned. He does not question the disabled person's humanity. His argument, if you could just hold off leaping to conclusison for ten seconds, depends upon assuming the disabled persons humanity. This assumption is crucial to his argument not something he questions.Here Singer is arguing against the whole tradition from Aristotle that does privilege reason and you accuse him of doing the bloody opposite. You like quotes.

...they talk about this thing in the head; what do they call it? ("Intellect", whispered someone near by) That's it. What's that go to with women's rights or Negroes' rights? ... (Sojourner Truth, black feminist in the 1850's. )

Singer quotes Sojourner Truth approvingly as giving a robust and appropriate response to the common claim-at the time that women and/or blacks did not merit rights because they lacked the appropriate intelligence. So this is a person you say privileges intellect? Singer's principle of equality is based upon the utilitarian idea that each is to count for one and none for more than one (Bentham) or the good of any one individual is of no more importance than the good of any other (Sidgwick). Clearly this precludes giving special moral status to the intelligent versus the dull, the black over the white, the male over the female. Singer is crystal clear on this. How can you go on as you do if you have ever read any significant amount of Singer? Singer is not a difficult writer to follow.

"It is an implication of this principle of equality that our concern for others and our readiness to consider their interests ought not to depend upon what they are like or what abilities they possess." (Animal Rights)

In answer to Marta's question. Singer uses the example of the mentally deficient person because he is wanting to make the point that mental deficiency has no bearing at all on your status as human. His point is that if reason were privileged then one would have to conclude that the ape actually should not be experimented upon (and perhaps the mentally deficient person should)

My comment relates to a later part of Singer's argument concerning speciecism. Sentience and the capacity to have interests is what confers a right to equal moral consideration. However the nature of an individuals' interests depends upon their capacities, qualities, etc. A dog has no right to an education because it is not a possible interest of a dog. However, Singer would no doubt approve precisely the sort of thing that Marta would. Disabled people have special interests precisely because they are disabled. So showing equal moral consideration for the disabled could very well involve spending public money to ensure there were parking spaces near shopping, ramps for access to buildings etc. These are the implications of Singers' views for the disabled. But also he would claim that chimpanzees as sensitive and intelligent etc. also have interests and it is wrong to ignore them to simply use them as means to our ends in painful experiments etc. We would not treat intelligent and sentient humans as we do chimpanzees so unless we can give some justification for this we are guilty of speciecism. Singer is not saying that we are unjustified in treating animals differently than humans or that we must give animals the same rights as humans. That is nonsense. We ought to be able to show that differential treatment is not based upon speciecism, just as we ought to be able to show that differential treatment of women or blacks is not based upon sexism or racism. Singer points out that of course only women can have a right to abortion but there is nothing sexist about that since men can't get pregnant! This is a bit simplistic but it conveys the idea.

Cheers, Ken Hanly.

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