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

Ken Hanly khanly at
Sat Mar 4 10:42:50 PST 2000

Comments are after selected sections

Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:

> Ken H.:
> >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.
> It seems an argument is implicit in Singer's statement & your question:
> torture is a justifiable means to achieve a "good" outcome that may be had
> through information extracted through torture, isn't it?

No It is implied that if the outcome were very good and there were no alternative methods of achieving the good and if this act maximised the good in the situation (or minimized evil as in my hard example), then it might be morally justified. So I assume your answer to my hard question is that you would refuse to torture the one person to save even a thousand innnocent lives. If 1,000 Jews were locked in a gas chamber and there was a lock you did not have the resources to open, you would not torture a Nazi guard to get the combination even if this would enable you to save them all. OK . You are welcome to your opinion. I would use torture. However, practically speaking I agree that torture will almost always be unjustified but this is also what I take SInger's position to be.

> >I did not think that you are either Kantian or fundamentalist CHristian.
> Why do you have to be a Kantian or fundamentalist Christian to believe that
> it is an *atrocious* idea to say "torturing a human being is almost always
> wrong, but it is not absolutely wrong" (Singer)? You can be a historical
> materialist, a utilitarian (especially a Millian utilitarian), a
> non-reductive naturalist, a non-fundamentalist religionist, or whatever and
> still believe that *absolutely nothing good* will come of Singer's
> statement, since his statement & your question give a justification for
> actually existing torturers, whereas in reality actually existing leftists
> & the working class in general have *absolutely nothing to gain & so much
> to lose* from making widespread the belief that "torturing a human being is
> almost always wrong, but it is not absolutely wrong" (Singer). A
> hypothetical gain in a hypothetical hard case that one would never actually
> encounter in reality shouldn't be used to give a moral justification for
> actually existing torture. I hope people (including you) believe that
> torture is absolutely wrong.

I don't believe you have to be either to hold the view and did not say so. I said that would be a common reason for holding this.Saying torture is not absolutely wrong does not justify torture of the sort you mention. This is bizarre. Do you think breaking promises is absolutely wrong. After all, politicians, kids, and virtually all of us, on occasion use the fact that we allow exceptions to argue for unjustified exceptions. Ergo we must hold that promise-breaking is absolutely wrong. I do not

believe that torture is absolutely wrong. I believe that things such as causing unnecessary suffering are absolutely wrong, alllowing some people to starve when others throw away food and society has the resources to feed everyone is absolutely wrong. I expect these are the sorts of things Singer regards as absolutely wrong as well. SInger has written much about our obligations with respect to world hunger.On the whole, Singers' intervention in real world issues in my view has been infinitely more progressive than that of Habermas. Besides any reasonably literate person can understand him as well.

> >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.
> Are you aware that Singer defines certain disabled persons as individuals
> who are living "a life not worth living" (_Practical Ethics_, 2nd edition,
> 182)? Singer suggests that the regulated killing of babies with spina
> bifida be permitted (_Practical Ethics_, 184, 202-03). He would extend to
> parents the authority to "replace" a Down's syndrome or hemophiliac infant
> (i.e. kill the child and conceive another) if adequate family or societal
> resources were not forthcoming (_Practical Ethics_, 186-90). Also, the
> reason why Singer picks mentally disabled people as a rhetorical wedge to
> argue for "animal rights" is that in his view the norms of human lives are
> to be defined by "rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness." Mentally
> disabled people, for Singer, don't qualify as "normal human beings" and are
> closer to animals than Singer or his readers (now, this view is common to
> many Western philosophers, in that [narrowly defined] "reason" is a
> defining marker of humanity for them; women, blacks, other oppressed
> groups, and often the working class in general have been defined as less
> than fully rational [sometimes as totally devoid of reason], which was then
> used as a justification for political disenfranchisement).
> Well, now I would like to hear why you think Singer's views are justifiable.
> Yoshie

As you describe Singer's positions, I disagree with them. I do not have my copy of Practical Ethics handy. I do not think though that I can rely on your interpretation of SInger given your remarks about the earlier quoted passages which I still hold are completely and clearly opposite to SInger's position. You are very fond of quotes. If you could quote the relevant passages you give reference to I could respond better. Of course you do not directly respond to my critique of your original commentary on your quoted passage. You turn to other matters that allegedly justify your interpretation. At most, they could show that SInger is contradictory. In the passage you quoted originally. He is assuming humanity is not defined in terms of intelligence. That being so, moral considerability must be equal for normal or abnormal human beings. THeir humanity and their moral considerability are just not in question. I cannot recall Singer's precise position on abortion and infanticide. He is definitely pro-choice. At a speech in Germany I believe SInger was subject to protestors both from Pro-Life Conservative groups for his pro-choice stand and by a leftist disabled person's rights group. The latter wheeled disabled people on to the platform disrupting his speech. Apparently SInger took the opportunity to give his side of the story to the disabled and convinced some that they had been had been had and manipulated by the leftists. Singer's invitation to speak at a Wittgenstein symposium in Austria was withdrawn because of right-wing pressure. Habermas said nothing.

Some pro-choice authors such as Mary Anne Warren (implicitly) and Michael Tooley , very explicitly, justify infanticide. Singer is definitely pro-choice. HOwever to be consistent he would have to give the fetus moral standing from the time that it becomes sentient since this is his criterion of moral standing. He could not use the arguments that TOoley and Warren use. HOwever, he might still find some later abortions justified and even infanticide but I really must see the details before I could pronounce on his views. I recall vaguely that I do not agree with some of his positions in this area and as memory serves they were things he says in Practical Ethics . But I certainly would be surprised if he denied the humanity of the disabled, so perhaps you could quote him as saying that. I know Singer thinks that voluntary euthanasiia is justifiable given a considerable number of safeguards but I was not aware that he was for involuntary euthanasia. I understand that in some cases newborns may have defects so severe that they are not aspirated since they would only live a few hours or so anyway and have no hope of survival. Are those the type of disabled he has in mind? But I am not an expert in this area by any means. I would appreciate actual quotes form Singer if you have them on hand. I realise they would still be out of context but at least they would jog my memory as I have read Practical Ethics.Go read Michael Tooley ABORTION AND IN FANTICIDE he will really upset you and he has tons of useful information about fetal development. Tooley argues that fetuses and newborns just do not have the required capacities to have a right to life even though they do have moral standing as sentient beings and so should not be subject to unnecessary pain etc.

Cheers, Ken Hanly

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