Logic: Peter Singer
An Evaluation of Singer
Peter Singer questions our conception of equality as it relates to the human species and other animal species. He fundamentally argues that, “The principle of the equality of human beings is not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans: it is a prescription of how we should treat humans.” The statement, revealing Singer’s essential argument, also comprises two approaches we might take towards establishing equality among living things. Let’s trace Singer’s claims surrounding these two approaches and finally consider his fundamental, philosophical assumption.
One approach to equality stems from philosophers, who determine a ...view middle of the document...
Furthermore, evidence suggest that abilities may associate with certain races and sexes more than others; that is, abilities may derive from genes rather than the environment, but studies are still inconclusive.
The case of Singer against the argument from“factual equality” is largely inductive, tracing the reasoning of the argument to its logical conclusion. While it rests on deductive principles of logic, Singer gathers evidence to construe his argument inductively. He begins with the assertions of his opponents, presents examples of low-functioning humans and high-functioning non-humans, and concludes that his opponent’s reasoning is difficult to maintain. As long as Singer is presenting his opponents fairly, which I have reason to believe he does, his argument is strong. Based upon attributes and capacities, such as IQ, exceptional cases of human disability to call attribute-determined equality into question.
The other approach to equality is from presumption. Singer claims that if we begin with the prescription, “all humans are equal” without a basis of ability, it is quite difficult to exclude animal species from the lot. Singer disfavors one version of the presumption argument. He traces “distinctive human dignity” back to Renaissance humanists and asserts the following:
Once we ask why it should be that all humans—including infants, mental defectives, psychopaths, Hitler, Stalin, and the rest—have some kind of dignity or worth that no elephant, pig, or chimpanzee can ever achieve, we see that this question is as difficult to answer as our original request for some relevant fact that justifies the inequality of humans and other animals.
In other words, the humanists cannot have their cake and eat it too. They cannot justify the claim that inherent dignity lies only in humans rather than also in non-humans.
From here, Singer forwards a more positive argument. Having demonstrated that we should not logically exclude non-humans from our claims of equality and dignity, he advances that animals deserve our consideration because they are “interested” species, that is, they have the capacity to suffer and to enjoy. He remarks, “If a being is not capable of suffering, or of experiencing enjoyment or happiness, there is nothing to be taken into account.”
Again, Singer reveals the logical conclusions of his opponents, and does so with validity, however, as we shall see in the next section, he overlooks the basis for certain claims to human “dignity.” At this point, we should note that Singer takes up his own version of “factual equality.” He states that the possibilities of suffering and enjoyment constitute the fundamental traits of “interested” species, and therefore, species that deserve consideration within our purview of equality. This claims depends upon Singer’s underlying utilitarian philosophy, which champions the effects of actions and holds these as primary when determining moral decisions.