A narrow boundary and a narrow understanding of morality


Essay, 2004

5 Pages, Grade: HD (High Distinction)


Excerpt

Table of content

(i) Introduction

(ii) The utilitarian basis: Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832)

(iii) Sentientism: Sentience as criterion for moral consideration

(v) The universal character of morality: A holistic expansion

(vi) A personal statement: Singer's argument is an effective starting point

(vii) References

(i) Introduction

A common moral attitude[1] is that human beings, and only human beings, are members of the moral community and therefore humans are the only entities that are considered morally. In this essay, I will describe Peter Singer's argument that includes sentient beings in the moral community (ii; iii). Against this background I will criticize his approach and show some alternative readings of the argument in order to expand the moral community further (iv; v).

Peter Singer was born in 1946 and became Professor of Philosophy in 1977 at Monash University, Melbourne. With his influential essay "Animal Liberation" (1974) and the book of the same name published one year later, he counts undoubtedly as a pioneer of the animal rights movement and animal ethics.

(ii) The utilitarian basis: Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832)

The utilitarian position serves as the basis of Singer's argument. Utilitarianism is a normative moral theory, i.e. it says what we ought to do. Utilitarianism is a consequentialistic position with a hedonistic motive. This principle manifests in the famous formula: "the greatest happiness of the greatest number".

Singer refers in his argument to Jeremy Bentham, the classical representative of the utilitarian approach, who provides the system of Utilitarianism with a democratic principle, with the maxim of moral equality:

Each to count for one and none for more than one.[2]

Based on this, Singer points out that

the fundamental principle of equality, on which the equality of all human being rests, is the principle of equal consideration of interests.[3]

Singer emphasizes that

Moral equality is distinct from factual equality[4]

and stresses that

The basic principle of equality does not require equal or identical treatment; it requires equal

consideration.[5]

The principle of equal consideration of interests has its fixed place in most of the constitutions of the democratic states. Undoubtedly, it counts for all humans. It is Singer's concern to expand this principle to animals.

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 animals.[6]

He takes the decisive step by quoting "a forward-looking passage" of Jeremy Bentham that ends with the following questions:

The question is not, Can they reason ? nor Can they talk ? but, Can they suffer ?[7]

(iii) Sentientism: Sentience as criterion for moral consideration

For Singer, by referring to Bentham, the crucial criterion for moral consideration is sentience.

The capacity for suffering and enjoyment is a prerequisite for having interests at all, a condition that must be satisfied before we can speak of interests in a meaningful way.[8]

In order to criticise the argument of Sentientism in the following, it is noted in a more worked out way:

[1] If an entity has interests then it has to be considered morally.
[2] If an entity is sentient then it has an interest.
[3] Thus, If an entity is sentient then it has to be considered morally.

From a pure logical point of view, the conclusion [3] can be derived correctly from lines [1] and [2]. Therefore, a critique has to set in at lines [1] and [2].

(iv) The narrow baundary: A biocentric expansion

According to line [2], the condition of having an interest is to be sentient. Clearly, if a being is sentient then it has an interest. However, the absurdity of this condition shows itself by formulating it the negative way:

If a being is not capable of suffering, or of experiencing enjoyment or happiness, there is nothing to be taken into account.[9]

I emphatically oppose this statement. This statement implies that one is allowed to treat the non-sentient biological sphere however one wants. I suggest an expansion of the meaning of the term 'interest', so that one can still "speak of interests in a meaningful way". To make this plausible one should think of plants: Does not it make sense to say that plants have the interest to get water, sunlight, oxygen and carbon dioxide? Does not it make sense to say that plants have the interest to flourish?

Albert Schweitzer in his ethics of 'Reverence for life' gives the crucial hint for having interests:

[...]


[1] This Attitude is especially common in the (nature-) science based western industrialized countries.

[2] Jeremy Bentham (1789): Introduction to the Principles of Moral and Legislation.

[3] Peter Singer (1993): Practical ethics. p. 55

[4] Peter Singer (1974): Animal Liberation. p. 8

[5] Peter Singer (1974): Animal Liberation. p. 2

[6] Peter Singer (1990): Animal Liberation. p. 5 (Italics in the original)

[7] Jeremy Bentham (1823): Introduction to the Principles of Moral and Legislation. chap.1, sec.4

[8] Peter Singer (1990): Animal Liberation. p. 7

[9] Peter Singer (1990): Animal Liberation. p. 8

Excerpt out of 5 pages

Details

Title
A narrow boundary and a narrow understanding of morality
College
Murdoch University  (Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy)
Course
Environmental Ethics
Grade
HD (High Distinction)
Author
Year
2004
Pages
5
Catalog Number
V28113
ISBN (eBook)
9783638299893
ISBN (Book)
9783656687023
File size
477 KB
Language
English
Notes
Description and critique of PETER SINGER's "Animal Liberation"
Tags
Environmental, Ethics
Quote paper
Stefan Krauss (Author), 2004, A narrow boundary and a narrow understanding of morality, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/28113

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