Updated: Mar 4, 2022
I found this draft in my drive. Since I don't have the final draft, I have edited it to make it look complete.
Honor Code – On my honor, as a Mississippi State University student, I have neither given nor received unauthorized assistance on this academic work.
Dr. Alicia Hall
1 May 2016
Question –1: Singer and Cohen
I will present Singer's and Cohen's views on the moral status of animals. Singer is trying to prove that animals are similar to humans and thus have the same rights. Cohen is trying to prove the converse.
Peter Singer is a Utilitarian. According to Utilitarianism, an action is moralistic if it enhances overall happiness or reduces overall suffering in the world. Using references from liberation movements, he asserts that we have “latent prejudices" (Singer). One of those is against animals. He demands that we should not be speciesists and extend the basic principle of equality to animals. The basic principle of equality is “equality of consideration”, which “may lead to different treatment and different rights” (Singer). The basic principle does not mean treating all species as equal but treating them as different yet considering the treatment of rights they deserve owing to the differences. It is not a "description but a prescription" of how we should treat human beings (Singer). He further implies that if having more intelligence does not entitle a human to exploit another, we must not exploit animals on similar grounds (Singer). When we eat animals, we “sacrifice the [their] most important interest” (Singer), which is not to suffer. Similarly, experiments on animals are wrong because nobody would experiment on humans, even if the experiment can potentially save many lives. Hence, we must be consistent and not favor our species. If eating or experimenting on infants or on the mentally ill is wrong, many animals are intellectually superior to them. It should be wrong to eat or experiment on them. In short, he puts out three premises to conclude that we should consider animals equally and not hurt them. First, suffering is bad no matter who incurs it. Second, suffering of all beings deserves equal consideration. Third, animals can suffer just like humans.
On the contrary, Carl Cohen does not think animals have rights. Rights are claims against someone or something. Since animals cannot do that, they cannot have rights. The idea relates to Kant's moral theory, too. Animals only act on their instincts. They do not perform deliberate or voluntary acts. Morality arises when an individual questions what to do, which animals cannot do. He asserts that morality cannot apply to animals, because they cannot be a part of a moral community. They cannot comprehend "rules of duty" (Cohen 340). One may feel tempted to object that some humans (newborns and the mentally deficient) cannot understand rules and duty, too (Cohen 341). This is what Singer pointed out to give animals a moral status equal to that of newborns. Cohen denies that by saying that humans lacking rationality is a matter of chance. Humans are rational by default. He adds that humans can make choices and consent. Thus, their choices must be respected. Animals cannot do that (Cohen 341). He also addresses another objection about animals' have reasoning abilities. He refutes it by saying that animals still cannot have moral understanding on an abstract level (Cohen 342). Humans, who understand morals, often act against their instincts. Cohen thinks animals are very less likely to exhibit such moralistic behavior. He does think we have moral obligations towards animals. He does suggest that we must not harm any sentient being for no reason (Cohen 342).
Instead of finding a solution, we always get fixated on the question "do animals have moral rights?". In some situations, the concept of moral status falls apart. The main principle of Utilitarianism itself may contradict Singer's purpose. If a community does not have access to grains and vegetables, killing animals may score high on the utilitarian calculus. Similarly, although Cohen wants people to feel obligated not to hurt animals, the obligation would fall apart when the need comes. Thus, both theories allow hurting animals when the need comes, but morality should not change with situations like that. If it does change with respect to situation, then it should be laid down with respect to situation. In the chapter about cultural relativism, we learnt the same. Singer's sacred "basic principle" and Cohen's "obligation" lose their sacred sense of morality when we change the situation.
Since both authors base the moral status of animals on our understanding of animals, they are ignoring where part of that understanding came from: experiments. If we stop experimenting with animals, we might never know more about animals. On one hand, without animal experiments, Singer would be begging for scientific support for his arguments. On the other hand, Cohen, by allowing experimentation on animals, may end up disproving himself if future experiments reveal that animals do show logical and moral understanding.
To conclude, both authors do not seem to provide insight into what we should do about animals and about their rights because their views yield different responses depending on the situation. Moreover, they are limited by what we currently know about animals. We will have more knowledge in the future, which means we do not have complete knowledge now. With wrong premises, we can construct a valid argument but never a sound one.
Question 2: Singer and Aristotle
Julia believes that everyone is equally valuable. She is not more important than other humans on the planet. On that premise, according to her, she is not entitled to care for her more than she cares for others. Therefore, she must spend her life working to help others. I will present Singer's and Aristotle's potential views on her.
Singer is a Utilitarian. He uses a very simple argument to persuade people to donate. First, suffering is intrinsically bad. Second, if we can do something about it without losing anything significant, we should. This principle does not account for proximity. We ought to donate money, and it is wrong not to do so. He proposes two versions of his arguments: strong and moderate. According to the strong version, we should donate until we reduce ourselves to "marginal utility" (Singer 254). The moderate version is milder. We are not supposed to give out everything we can. Singer finds the stronger one more moralistic. Hence, Singer may find Julia's conclusion perfect since she is following the moderate version. Her situation may fall in the "no-rest objection" category (Singer 252). He thinks that we should be working full-time to increase "the balance of happiness over misery" (Singer 252). However, he finds working to the point of exhaustion very unlikely, yet Julia is an example of that. Thus, the only suggestion Singer may have for Julia would be to slow down a little bit, so her productivity would not decrease (Singer 252).
The second author I would like to invoke is Aristotle. He thinks that "to live well is to live in accordance with virtue" (Aristotle 135). Virtue is our disposition of character. Aristotle defines two types of virtues: intellectual and moral. We acquire intellectual virtues through education while moral virtues through practice. He defines a virtuous act as the mean of two extremes that are vices (Aristotle 135). To be virtuous, we must have knowledge about, good reasons for, and feel the right way about our actions. We must be consistent in our actions, so people can expect us to perform virtuous acts. Applying Aristotle's ethics to Julia's life, she may come across as reckless. She is practicing self-denial, which is one extreme of stinginess. Both are vices. If she wants to donate, she should denote in moderation. Aristotle may also point out that she does not have complete knowledge of the situation. She does not know where her money is going and whether it is changing anything. He would surely appreciate her for having good reasons for her actions but would disapprove of how she feels about her actions. She likes "material things", such as fireworks and ice-cream, but does not get "pleasure out of giving money" (MacFarquhar 73). Her life is "difficult and sad" (MacFarquhar 75). She is denying herself of children because she fears that she might lose her focus. She started doing her calculus to find out if having a child would add to her purpose of giving as much as possible or not (MacFarquhar 96-99). Though Aristotle would appreciate her consistency, he would not consider her virtuous. Her self-denial is a vice. She lacks complete knowledge. She does not feel the right way about her actions. In fact, she is sad.
Singers' Utilitarianism gets stuck here. There is a contradiction. If She thinks everyone is equal, then she must not deprive herself to help others. She is not supposed to uplift another country by discriminating against her. By discrimination, I mean her interests must also be counted. And then comes the Utilitarian calculus. I wonder if even Einstein can perform it the right way. It is very difficult to find how many people are benefitting from Julia's actions. Even more difficult is to find out if they are becoming happier or sadder. She may be distressing her family, her husband, and his family. People who are benefitting from her money may be eating "candy apple" that she denied herself of (MacFarquhar 76). If we encourage people to behave similarly, the developed world may become chaotic like Julia's life. With no reinforcement, people may show signs of helplessness and depression. By reinforcement, I mean reward that motivates an individual to engage in a given behavior. Julia literally gets no reinforcement out of doing what she is doing. She is very likely to become depressed, Then, what is the point of morality if the person doing the utmost moralistic act lives the worst life? People would never follow him or her. Therefore, Aristotle presents the better argument. He believes that we should be virtuous to "live well" (135). On his definition of virtuous actions and virtuous person, Julia isn't virtuous. As a result, she is not living well and is sad.
Aristotle. "The Nature of Virtue". Exploring Ethics: An Introductory Anthology. Ed. Steve M.
Cahn 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 135-140. Print.
Cohen, Carl. "Why Animals Have No Rights". Exploring Ethics: An Introductory Anthology.
Ed. Steve M. Cahn. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 339-343. Print.
MacFarquhar, Larissa. Strangers Drowning. New York: Penguin, 2015. Print.
Singer, Peter. "All Animals Are Equal". Animal Rights and Human Obligations. Ed. Peter
Singer and Tom Regan. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1989. 148-162. Print.
Singer, Peter. "Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Exploring Ethics: An Introductory Anthology.
Ed. Steve M. Cahn. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 244-256. Print.