Home » Excerpts » Are You Causing Suffering With Speciesism?

If you believe plants are also sentient,
you should not eat animals’ meat and such,
as they eat much plants to grow them,
while vegans directly eat the least plants.

– Commonsensical

[T]he Australian moral philosopher Peter Singer wrote a book called ‘Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals’ (1975). It quickly became one of the most well-known and influential philosophical texts of the 20th century… Singer takes his philosophical lead from the 18th century social reformer, Jeremy Bentham – one of the founders of the philosophical movement known as utilitarianism. The central utilitarian principle which Singer commends, is that we should do whatever causes the greatest good and minimizes the most suffering… Suffering is wrong – and minimizing it seems like a good idea.

Singer’s main innovation was to couple this moral principle with a critique of something called ‘speciesism’ – the prejudice displayed by certain species (mentioning no names, Homo sapiens…) against beings of other species, It’s not hard to be impressed, like Singer, by the idea prevalent in Algonquin and Iñupiaq culture, that humans are part of a continuum in nature just as much as other animals. There’s no reason, says Singer, for us to think of ourselves as having particular privileges because of the species to which we belong. And this applies in the moral sphere as much as any other.

His thought is then, is that nonhuman animals shouldn’t be treated like ‘wind-up clocks’ (despite what the Cartesians say)… ‘The question’, as Bentham himself put it, ‘is not, “Can they reason? Can they talk?” but, “Can they suffer?'”‘ The answer… is an emphatic YES… Many of us have seen those… documentaries [e.g. ‘Earthlings’: nationearth.com] about how hamburgers are made. How fish are farmed. The horrible living conditions of battery chickens. The butchering of cattle. Of course, we derive a certain amount of pleasure from eating meat – but it isn’t as Singer thinks, nearly enough to weigh the balance in favour of the brutalizing of nonhuman animals…

One question vegetarians routinely get asked is. How come you’re not a vegan?… The dairy industry is… almost as bad as the meat industry. For instance, cows only produce milk once they’ve given birth, so they have to babies once a year to keep lactating… [before they become beef and leather later]. Furthermore, all the male calves are killed and (at ‘best’) ground down into mincemeat… If I want to minimize animal suffering, I have to stop drinking milk and eating cheese and yoghurt, as well [as using other animal products like leather, honey, silk…].   

Think Differently
Adam Ferner

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