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Singer Vs Reagan Essay, Research Paper

Singer vs. Regan

Despite their rather different philosophical foundations, both philosophers arrive at basically the same conclusions. Singer takes a utilitarian approach, while Regan takes a deontological “rights” and “inherent value” position. In the end they both take a position of vegetarianism and advocated banning animal experimentation and sport hunting. In an exchange of letters in the April 25, 1985 issue of The New York Review of Books, Regan writes: “Singer and I have been independently applying and developing very different ethical theories to … the treatment of non-human animals.” He continues that “it is difficult to exaggerate the radical moral difference between Singer’s utilitarianism and the rights view”. At the end of Singer’s reply to Regan, Singer mentions: “The practical value of Regan’s book (All the dwell Therein) lies in its attack on our social practices of using animals as research tools and as mere lumps of palatable living flesh. On these practical issues Regan and I are in full agreement. Viewed from the perspective of a society which continues to accept these practices, the philosophical differences between us hardly matter.”

In 1975, Australian philosopher Peter Singer wrote a book called Animal Liberation. In this book Singer argued that humans should not use animals, all based on utilitarianism. Utilitarians say actions should be judged strictly by their consequences. An action is good if it will provide the greatest benefit to the largest number of individuals. Singer did not stop there, and said that when we calculate consequences, we must take into account the interests not only of human beings but also of animals. If we fail to consider these animals’ interests, or if we give human beings special consideration, we are guilty of “speciesism.” To Singer, animal research is morally acceptable if the benefits to humans or animals used clearly outweigh the harm to the animals used in the research. He usually concludes that the cost to the animals outweighs the benefit to others.

Singer’s contender, Tom Regan set forth another animal rights view in a 1983 book, The Case for Animal Rights. Regan emphasizes that not only people, but also many animals are entitled to certain rights. He bases his reasoning on the idea that both humans and animals have an elementary understanding of the world and know generally what they desire from life. Regan’s rights-based philosophy says that most mammals older than one year qualify for basic rights. Furthermore, Regan argues that it is wrong for humans to use animals for their own needs and in general, to deprive animals of their rights.

Regan disagrees with Singer’s utilitarian program for animal liberation. Regan allocates intrinsic value to animals and humans. This value describes the animals’, or human’s right to life and concern for them. Regan feels that the utilitarian view lacks this intrinsic value. In addition, he states the goals of his theologies: “The total abolition of the use of animals in science, the total dissolution of commercial animal agriculture, and the total elimination of commercial and sport hunting and trapping.” In addition, he sees Singer’s utilitarian view noted above, failing on two accounts. First, utilitarianism is concerned only with the desires of a being, e.g. such as the desire for pleasure. At the same time the view takes no regard for the inherent worth of these beings (human or animal). Second, Regan emphasizes the problem of utilitarianism that it would be morally permissible to arbitrarily make an individual suffer for the benefit of the greater good. Regan issues that “the best theory of morality will be one that grants rights to all beings who have inherent worth. This prevents morality from becoming an exclusive club as in contractarianism, and does not allow individuals to be exploited on behalf of the greater good.”

Regan explains that a being has inherent worth when it is a subject of a life, or when the being has preferences, beliefs, feelings, recollections, and expectations. It has been noted that many animals exhibit these features and therefore have inherent worth. Regan criticizes alternative criteria of inherent worth. To say that only intelligent beings have inherent worth will exclude infants and mentally impaired people, which is inadequate. To say that only Homo Sapiens have inherent value is a form of speciesism, which Singer would agree. Regan’s conclusions agree with Singer that the animal rights movement should be seen as part of the human rights movement.

Regan and Singer base their value of animals on different criteria. While Regan denotes criteria to animals and humans based on intrinsic value, Singer states “The question is not, Can they reason? Nor can they talk? But, Can they suffer?” “The capacity for suffering and enjoyment…” Singer calls this capacity sentience. It doesn’t make any sense to talk about the interests of a rock because a rock is not sentient; it has no capacity for suffering and enjoyment. However, a mouse can suffer, and knows when it is suffering. Singer notes if a being can suffer then it has interests. Interests should be given equal consideration regardless of other differences; therefore any being that can suffer should be given equal consideration regardless of other differences. Regan would agree on the idea that all beings given inherent value, be given equal value regardless of other factors.

In the end both, Regan and Singer wind up getting a similar message across. In general, animals need to be incorporated in the ‘ethical equation’ and given some sort of worth, whether the worth be based on suffering or intrinsic value. Regan is an absolutist in his beliefs while Singer incorporates utilitarian belief and allows for leeway and exceptions to his attitudes. Both Regan and Singer uphold vegetarianism for the sole reasons of how they bring value about to animals. Similar arguments can be applied to cross cultural, cross racial, and cross sexual issues among humans. The two animal rights and animal liberation promoters advocate a more sensitive world where we are all aware of animal suffering and animal worth, not based upon our utility, but for the animals themselves.


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