Are All Animals Equal?

Updated: May 28

Because Google Adsense deemed this website to have too little content for ads, I'll be posting my top 25 undergraduate papers. This was a paper from environmental ethics. It discusses an essential issue with animal ethics - which animals have moral standing.



Dalhousie University

PHIL 2480

March 24th, 2019



In his paper “All Animals Are Equal,” Peter Singer argues that “we extend to other species the basic principle of equality that most of us recognize should be extended to all members of our own species.”(1) He then provides his reasoning behind this assertion by pointing to instances where certain oppressed groups such as African Americans or women had to argue that they deserved equal consideration as their white and male counterparts. He looks to mentalities of the time as those ideas being radical and also mentions that those groups had been thought of as inferior.

His paper provides a compelling case for why vegetarianism may end up growing in popularity as time goes on. And also why we might see more laws protecting non-human species as time goes along. However, throughout the entire paper, Singer points to cultural advancements from oppressed minority groups only and does not dive deeper into the specifics of his actual proposal. While clarification could be sought from asking Singer or looking to his other works, he must understand that having to do either of those things would be evidence of poor writing and expression.

The first example of the low level of specificity is that of the title being “All Animals Are Equal.” In the paper, Singer claims he wants to “…extend to other species the basic principle of equality…”. Is he referring to only animals or all species in general? If it is the former, he should have known not to use the phrase “other species” as that triggers immediate thoughts that Singer wants forms of bacteria like viruses to receive equal consideration. If he is only referring to animals, he does not specify whether he wants consideration spread to only sentient animals or all animals. If he is asking we extend equal consideration to all animals, one would have to ask - should non-sentient animals (such as sea sponges) be given the same considerations as sentient animals? Then again, some animals do have nervous systems. However, we know they do not experience pain the way humans do. Such as flies or mosquitos(2) for which the earth has a seemingly endless supply, and yet we do not fret one bit after swatting one to its death because it is a perceived annoyance. There is a lack of specificity where more is needed on behalf of Singer in this paper.

Some may question this objection and assert that differences in sentience is but a human construct much like the perceived “superiority” that certain groups had over oppressed minorities in North American culture that Singer refers to so often in his paper. To that objection, yes humans may be biased that sentient animals deserve more consideration than non-sentient animals. However, not all biases are objectively incorrect. A similar example would be that of Monsanto having a bias towards believing Glyphosate does not cause cancer in humans. However, that does not mean that its scientific studies showing it doesn’t(3) in any reasonable statistical significance are objectively false.

Peter Singers paper “All Animals Are Equal” provides an excellent rationale for why animal rights in the treatment sense and legal sense will be on the rise in the future by pointing to the parallels of rights movements of oppressed minorities in North Americans. However, he uses the term “species” as to what he wants equal consideration being given to, which would mean that viruses deserve equal considerations to humans. He also doesn’t specify whether sentient animals deserve the same consideration as non-sentient animals. If he believes they do, he is most likely not thinking about all of the insects he has killed in his lifetime. But if he doesn’t, he should have included more specificity of his “equal considerations” proposal in his paper.



Bibliography


Singer, Peter, “All Animals Are Equal”, in Williston, Byron. Environmental Ethics for Canadians. Oxford University Press, 2016. pp. 30.


Hadley, Debbie. "Why Scientists Don't Think Insects Experience Pain Like We Do." ThoughtCo. September 17, 2018. Accessed March 25, 2019. https://www.thoughtco.com/do-insects-feel-pain-1968409.


Salzberg, Steven. "Does The Herbicide RoundUp® Cause Cancer?" Forbes. February 19, 2019. Accessed March 25, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevensalzberg/2019/02/18/does-the-herbicide-roundup-cause-cancer/#562cb31f21b4.



1 - Singer, Peter, “All Animals Are Equal”, in Williston, Byron. Environmental Ethics for Canadians. Oxford University Press, 2016. pp. 30.

2 - Hadley, Debbie. "Why Scientists Don't Think Insects Experience Pain Like We Do." ThoughtCo. September 17, 2018.

3 - Salzberg, Steven. "Does The Herbicide RoundUp® Cause Cancer?" Forbes. February 19, 2019.