In our reading for next class on animal rights, philosopher Peter Singer argues that animals should be given equal treatment with human beings because they can experience pain and pleasure, they have the capacity to suffer. If you have the capacity to suffer, he says, then you have interests as well. For this reason, he says, the capacity to suffer is the criterion we should use in deciding whether something has rights and should be treated equally with humans.
To speak technically, the capacity to suffer is the rights-giving criterion for anything. If something has the capacity to suffer, then it also has interests and rights, and should be treated equally with human beings.
He illustrates this showing that a rock does not have this capacity to suffer. It feels no pain or pleasure if someone kicks it. It doesn’t care. But a cat or dog does feel pain, it has the capacity to suffer. Therefore cats and dogs have an interest in NOT being kicked and they should be treated equally with human beings.
He argues that if we choose Reason as the rights-giving criterion, it is arbitrary. We might as well choose skin color or the sex of a person. Singer argues that choose skin color is racism, and choose the sex of a person is sexism.
He now adds that if we choose reason as the rights-giving criterion, that is speciesism. It’s a new word he has made up for this. It means to discriminate against other things (animals) just because they are not members of your own species.
Our forum question is this:
- Do you agree with Peter Singer when he says animals should be treated equally with humans because they can experience pain or pleasure?
- Tell why you do or do not agree with him.
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