Bioethics News

Ever the controversialist: Peter Singer on speciesism

Is speciesism worse than racism? In a certain sense, yes, says the doyen of utilitarian philosophers, Peter Singer, of Princeton University. In an interview in the New York Times, Singer explains that while racism still exists, most people are aware that they are wrong. However, this is far from being the case with animals.

Although it is true, of course, that we have not overcome racism, sexism or discrimination against people with disabilities, there is at least widespread acceptance that such discrimination is wrong, and there are laws that seek to prevent it. With speciesism, we are very far from reaching that point. If we were to compare attitudes about speciesism today with past racist attitudes, we would have to say that we are back in the days in which the slave trade was still legal, although under challenge by some enlightened voices.

 Singer repeated his familiar, but still disconcerting, belief that killing an intellectually disabled human being might be less wrong than killing an alert non-human animal:

… one might argue that to kill a normal human being who wants to go on living is more seriously wrong than killing a nonhuman animal. Whether this claim is or is not sound, it is not speciesist. But given that some human beings – most obviously, those with profound intellectual impairment – lack this capacity, or have it to a lower degree than some nonhuman animals, it would be speciesist to claim that it is always more seriously wrong to kill a member of the species Homo sapiens than it is to kill a nonhuman animal.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.