This is part of an assignment I did last year for Dr Mintoff's course on Ethics in Social Work. (Just for the record, don't be a dill and copy it, Turnitin will detect the plagarism, and besides it's my work, not yours.)
I'm posting it in light of the recent discussions about Peter Singer's work with regard to the ethics of our treatment of animals.
The “Contra Singer"Argument
I do eat meat, and do not think it is morally wrong to do so. From this, it becomes obvious that I think that Singer is wrong.
If we are the same as animals, and animals have no moral obligation, then we have no moral obligation.
For example, if an animal does something we consider to be immoral, like my cat eating a pigeon even though I feed him ample pet biscuits, we do not judge them by our standards.
But, we can be moral. That is to say, we have the option, to be moral, or not moral, as we choose, (unlike my cat).
This is not sufficient justification however, as will be seen. Consider the two following statements:
1.We should be moral because we can.
2.We should eat meat because we can.
Statement number 2 is clearly one that Singer would not agree with. And with good reason, as statements of the form: We should X because we can (X), are highly problematic from an ethical viewpoint, and by themselves, do not form a valid argument.
Thus it is possible to say:
I. We should follow the principle of Equal Consideration of Interests, because we can.
II. But: If we should X, if we have the option of X or not X, is false.
So: We should not feel compelled to take other species interests into consideration, or indeed fulfil any moral obligations whatsoever, simply in virtue of us having the capability to choose to be moral or not.
Now: the objection may be made that I have not shown anything, except that the capacity or ability to be moral is a necessary but insufficient condition of actually being moral. But consider this: Singer himself says that we should not base our concern for others on what abilities they possess . That is to say, that we should not discriminate against animals, for example, because of how their mental capacities differ from ours. This seems agreeable enough, but discrimination cuts both ways. So I would suggest that to place a moral expectation on humans, because of our ability to be moral, is a form of discrimination directed against humans (or indeed any being judged capable of making these distinctions). Since discrimination on the basis of species, or on the basis of abilities, is specifically prohibited by Singer’s account there are only two options. One is to remove the moral obligation on humans, thus removing the discrimination, (allowing me to eat meat) which does render the account somewhat useless as a guide for behaviour. The other is to admit that Singer’s account is self contradictory, and thus invalid (this option allows me to eat meat also).
This response to Singer has very little to do with the ‘forceful reply’ as it does not deny that animals, or severely intellectually disabled humans for that matter, have interests. What I have attempted to show is that Singer’s argument does not give a coherent account of why we should take them into consideration.
In response to this Joe said something along the lines of this: that it is not discriminatory for someone who can't actually do a job to be passed over for someone who can do it. Similarly it is not discriminatory for us to be expected to take animal's interests into consideration, even if they can't do the same for us. This is a good point, and could shoot down my claims of discrimination somewhat. But I can't help but feel that the analogy is not quite right. A better analogy would be expecting or even forcing someone of sufficient intellect to go to university and study theoretical physics or medicine, rather than letting them choose a vocation that made no use of their mental skills whatsoever. If this is a more accurate way of characterising the argument, then the outcome is less clear cut. We may want to say that it is a person's right to choose how they use what they have, even if there are distinct advantages, for them and for the rest of us if they do, for example, become a doctor and cure some terrible disease. Thus in both cases (meat eater and non-doctor) they could be willfully contributing to more a situation with more suffering (animals and patients), but there is a difference somewhere as Singer would condemm the meat-eater but not the person who could become a doctor but doesn't.
On the other hand, it could be that due to the ethical/moral aspect of this topic, the above might not be the right way to characterise the debate. I can't decide right now. Maybe someone out there can clarify this position for me.