Is the Cow Really Happy?


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Response to the reading sheet:
Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. 1995, Pimlico Random House. Pages 1 – 9.

  1. What is the main message of the text? Is the writer attempting to support or describe a particular cause, to promote a political idea or belief, or to condemn a certain state of affairs?

The writer is trying to logically support the idea of animal liberation/equality through the comparison to the slavery abolition and feminist movement. Singer argues that the only way to be equal is to consider the others’ interests, and that any being with the ability to suffer or feel happiness is morally equal to humans, and should be treated with that understanding in mind. 

  1. What kind of language does the writer use? Is it emotional, rational or polemical, for example? Does the writer make a convincing or strong argument?

The language of the text is based on rational arguments, comparing various forms of life and their moral-based equality. One of the best reasons presented for the need of equality is that such idea is not based on equal IQ, sex or race. It is a call for the right of equal consideration.

  1. Which audience is being addressed?

 General audience.

  1. What does the text tell you about the political beliefs of the writer? What do you know about the writer’s politics from your background research? Are they left-wing or right-wing, socialist, Green, conservative, liberal, for example?

 Green and liberal.

  1. Do you agree or disagree with the author?

I mostly agree with the author.

  1. A considered opinion

Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation defines a very interesting problem in a new light. New to me at least, as while being mostly on a vegan diet, I have yet not fully considered the best reasons to promote animal equality. My response in the past would include having respect and consideration towards disabled members of human society, yet disgracing animals that could clearly feel (display emotions such as affection and suffering based on the existing nervous system not too different from the human one!) with such treatment that even the worst serial killers never get. Even in the times of capital punishment, it was executed quickly and as painlessly as possible. And so the question is: why do people allow the suffering of other species?

When I try to discuss the animal equality and ethics with my non-vegetarian family members (which is all of them), the most common reply is about us being omnivorous and, according to them (neither having read any scientific research supporting such opinion), being unable to survive without meat. I have read papers that support such claims, mostly due to certain necessary chemical elements being hard to digest through the vegetarian diet, such as iron. While iron can be easily consumed through meat, it requires a lot of leafy greens to get the right amount of iron into the body of a vegetarian. But what plays the best into the cards of vegetarian society is the fact that people who practice vegetarianism and veganism haven’t yet died due to their dietary habits. Every time I was ill for a longer period of time (a standard cold lasting more than a week), my mother decided it was my poor diet to be blamed. Suddenly, the fact that I am normally not sick very often, or that at the time of illness I was dealing with stressful situations, didn’t play any role. Sadly, in the first nine pages of Singer’s Animal Liberation, I haven’t found the answer to this prejudice that supports harming animals to satisfy human hunger.

But what I found were neatly laid arguments of comparison to other liberation movements. At the beginning of the text, Singer introduces the parody on women’s rights where Thomas Taylor, an 18th century philosopher, argues that if women could have rights such as men, why not extend them to animals. According to Taylor, such idea is absurd and therefore women do not deserve the equal rights. But there is an obvious counter-argument to such statement and it is in the vast differences between a female human and a non-human animal. Women and men, after all, are the same species with very similar abilities. While not identical, even men are never completely equal to other men. Therefore not allowing the equal rights to other human beings with the capacity of decision-making is where the absurdity lies. As Singer puts it, ‘Women have a right to vote, for instance, because they are just as capable of making rational decisions about the future as men are; dogs, on the other hand, are incapable of understanding the significance of voting, so they cannot have the right to vote.’ (Singer, 1995, pp. 1 – 2) But even with these similarities between men and women, we cannot all have the completely same rights. ‘The extension of the basic principle in equality from one group to another does not imply that we must treat both groups in exactly the same way, or grant exactly the same rights to both groups.’ (Singer, 1995, p. 2) What Singer means is that the differences that we all have become the differences in the kind of rights necessary for one’s well-being. The best line of reasoning proposed is based on we cannot based our equality of anyone’s abilities. ‘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 human beings.’ (Singer, 1995, p. 3) Which means that we need to consider the groups’ interests to apply equal concern. Equality should not be based on IQ or a mental capacity of a being, but rather on a being’s sensitivity. So, taking animals into account, what we really express daily is very similar to racism and sexism – when we treat animals as beings below us only due to their inability to rational thinking in the same terms as humans do. ‘Speciesism – … – is a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species.’ (Singer, 1995, p. 6) As is suggested further in the text, based on Jeremy Bentham’s proposals (a utilitarian philosopher), ‘we must consider the interests of all beings with the capacity for suffering or enjoyment…’ because ‘The capacity for suffering and enjoyment is a prerequisite for having interests at all…’ (Singer, 1995, p. 7)

And while I absolutely agree with Singer and his reasoning for the animal liberation, there is a question that I cannot see answered. How far can we actually extend a species’ ability to feel emotions? What about plants? Do we know if plants of some kind may be capable of suffering or enjoyment? Why is that when my mother cares for her flowers they bloom, but in very similar conditions, cared for by another person they wither? If eventually we end up giving equal treatment to animals, can we possibly later demand the same for plants? Do plants suffer similarly to animals? Or is it just an absurdity that people who are against animal equality came up with?

fur is dead protest.jpg

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