Peter Singer (b. 1946) is an Australian-born philosopher and a professor at The European Graduate School. The famous scholar has challenged old-school concepts of ethics. His most resonant studies focus on animal rights movement. In his essay All Animals Are Equal, Singer argues that the moral consideration of animals is not just a matter of personal preference, but rather a fundamental issue. This essay contains a summary of All Animals Are Equal. It also explains the meaning of Singer’s concept of equality for animals.
All Animals Are Equal Summary
In All Animals Are Equal, Peter Singer argues that all animals, including humans, deserve equal consideration. The author begins by pointing out that many people believe that humans are superior to animals and therefore have the right to use and exploit them for their own purposes. Still, there is no moral justification for such an attitude. Singer argues that we should extend the basic principle of equality to all animals, regardless of their cognitive abilities. We should not use animals for food, clothing, experimentation, or entertainment if it causes them unnecessary suffering.
Singer points out that moral rights do not depend on cognitive abilities, and that all animals, including humans, have the capacity to feel pleasure and pain and therefore deserve to be treated with respect.
Singer’s Concept of Equality for Animals
Equality has been the major concept in the consideration of interests. Equal attention is mainly concerned with the observation of human rights, such as the right to live, the right to be respected, and the right to act freely. The “equal consideration of interests” principle focuses on the interests of each individual in coming up with the right actions for any ethical issue. In this chapter, Singer extends the consideration of human interests to the consideration of nonhuman interests. That is, animals are considered to have the same interests as humans. Singer’s argument is focused on the utilitarian approach to moral reasoning, in which a reliable action should give the best overall outcome.
In order to appreciate the concept of “equality for animals”, it is important to understand Singer’s viewpoint and perspective. Singer argues that we should not undermine other individual’s interest on the basis of how the look, their abilities, or their race and species. The idea that other animals are less intelligent than humans does not imply that their interests can be ignored. A good example is suffering or happiness. These two aspects are important in establishing interests. Animals are like humans and they also tend to respond to anything that inflict pain or elicit happiness on them. A stone cannot suffer when disturbed, but a mouse can suffer. Thus, a mouse has some interest when not being disturbed. In essence, suffering should be counted equally, whether involving humans or animals.
Singer justifies his argument by taking into consideration both the human and animal way of suffering. First, it is good to understand the difference between humans and animals. Older humans have mental capacities which can make them suffer more than animals in the same situations. However, infants and retarded humans have no idea when it comes to what happens to them, just like animals. This does not justify us to perform scientific experiments on such people. Such dilemmas are the basis of Singer’s argument that animals should be treated equally. But in this sense, what is important is quality of life. It is a hypothetical argument about infants, but in real sense it is difficult to offer a child for experimentation. Singer does not entirely address the emotional standpoint in this concept.
Moreover, Singer provides some practical forms of speciesism and tries to argue against them. The idea that we should look for other forms of nutrition is logical. But in real sense, humans will not stop eating meat. Singer suggests that we should consider reducing our meat-eating habits. But on the other hand, crops or vegetables in that matter are part of the ecosystem, having some form of ‘life’. Singer does not provide us with the interests of plants in equality consideration. Experimenting on animals is another form of speciesism in which researchers try to argue that experiments help them to discover animals. But many experiments have led to the death of innocent animals. This represents the inability of humans to give equal consideration of interest for all beings.
Singer provides answers to several questions with the aim of justifying his arguments. First, the issue of knowing whether animals feel pain depends on how animals behave when injured. An animal may not speak, but there are other signs that show us if it is in pain. Second, animals eat each other because of the natural law of food chain. Humans should not use this argument as a basis for killing animals. Third, the difference between humans and animals rely on the degree rather than kind. Humans are considered more self-conscious than animals, but in other cases animals have the same abilities like humans. Animals can think, smell, and even feel pain.
Therefore, it is important to consider equality in regards to humans and animals interests. As proposed by Singer, the principle of “equal consideration of interests” should be extended to nonhuman animals. However, much consideration must be placed on the emotional standpoint, which is not entirely addressed by Singer. The author has only considered the utilitarian approach to the issue; it would be much better to integrate the moral rights principle in his argument.