Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins Discuss Vegetarianism, Animal Rights and Living Ethically
Peter Singer is a professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne and is considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest philosophers. Richard Dawkins is an English ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author. He is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, and was the University of Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008.
In looking at animal rights and living ethically, the question is asked—What is so different about us? Singer says, “For me, what’s crucial is, that we share the capacity to suffer.” He quotes a famous moralist who said, “The question is not whether they can talk, or reason, but can they suffer?” This is the moral foundation that should guide human decision-making not to cause an animal to suffer or feel pain for any reason, but especially not for the pleasure of eating.
Human Embryos Feel Some Pain, But Animals Feel More Pain
Richard Dawkins makes the comparison, “In the abortion debate people agree that there is a point where a human embryo’s nervous system is developed enough to feel some pain, but notes that a human embryo no doubt feels significantly less pain than an adult non-human animal, and therefore, there is a massive inconsistency between people who only place great weight on a human embryo that feels some pain—and yet, causes an animal, who feels far greater pain, to suffer for himself.”
Buying Meat Inflicts Great Pain on Animals, and For Very Trivial Reasons
Singer agrees. Then goes further with the abortion debate saying that women only get an abortion when they feel there’s much at stake having or not having a baby, whereas people go to the supermarket to buy meat, and don’t even need the meat or animal food at all, and can eat a plant-based diet. Buying meat is about inflicting deep pain on an animal every time the person buys meat or dairy—and for a very trivial reason, he says. So like Dawson, they agree that people have no right to judge women suspiciously who must make the decision to have an abortion for far more serious reasons—than the trivial reason of buying meat, and than those same people are buying and eating meat and causing enormous and much larger pain and suffering to animals. They both point out the hypocracy and moral contradiction.
Humans Cannot Justify Eating Animals, We Have No God-Given Right
Singer says there’s no doubt that vertebrates like pigs, cows and chickens do indeed feel pain, especially in the way we raise and produce them on industrial farms. He does not think, however, that humans can justify eating them. And says there is no God-given right for humans to rule over animals. Dawkins agrees with Singer that there’s a continuum of capacity to feel pain, or grieve, or feel any emotions, and we never need to draw lines between who feels more pain. We have a moral responsibility to pigs and humans, but more moral responsibility to humans. He goes further to say, the way the animals are kept on factory farms and the way they are killed in slaughterhouses is unconscionable. Singer agrees, and says that if you do eat meat, you have a responsibility to know about where the meat comes from, and not to look the other way or be unconscious in your decision.
My Sufferings Are Not More Important Than Yours—Or Anyone Else’s—Or the Animals
Living ethically is about not just thinking about yourself, but putting yourself in the position of other beings that are affected by your actions. It’s sort of the Golden Rule. You find this ethic in any religion. Any tradition of ethical thinking with a broader perspective, will realize that each of us is just one being, amongst many others. And there’s nothing so special about me, that somehow my sufferings are more important than yours, or anyone else’s, or the animals. So you have to think what it’s like for those animals affected by our actions. If you don’t, you’re cutting yourself off from reality.
The Pressure of Societal Norms Like Slavery and Killing Animals for Meat – Cannot Justify Wrong Doing
Dawkins relates it to slavery, slavery was what one did, it was a sort of society norm. It was hard to defend back then, and yet everyone did it. He said what he would like to see is philosophers, moralists and ethicists having much more power in our society on consciousness raising, so it becomes the society norm not to eat meat.
Singer emphasizes the pressure of societal norms, and says you can now walk into any supermarket to find plant-based alternatives and options. It will eventually get to the point that will become a thing of the past, just like slavery has become a thing of the past.
Video Length: 11: 17 Minutes