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Below is a comment I submitted on the website--currently under moderation.


Interesting podcast, as always on Philosophy Bites—-thanks for setting this up!

There is one factual inaccuracy that I want to point out. I believe Professor Francione inaccurately described Peter Singer’s views on animal killing, when he said: “Peter has this view that animals don’t have an interest in continuing to live…[exceptions for Great Apes, dolphins]…But he thinks that as a general matter, animals don’t have an interest in continuing to live...He does not think killing them is harming them per se.” Actually, Singer believes the exact opposite. From Singer’s “Practical Ethics” (3d ed):

1. “What we are really asking is whether any nonhuman animals are rational and self-conscious beings, aware of themselves as distinct entities with a past and a future.” (94)

2. “A still more rigorous demonstration of an animal’s ability to anticipate its own future desires comes, remarkably enough, from experiment…with scrub jays.” (100)

3. “Are we turning persons into bacon? Additionally, because at least some birds appear to be persons, we should be cautious about excluding chickens, too…chickens appear to recognize one another as individuals…They also have the capacity for self-control and to envisage at least the near future.” (102)

4. “[W]e do know that the popular myth that fish can remember things for only three seconds is quite wrong – experiments have shown that they can remember the location of a hole in a net even if they have not been near the net for eleven months.” (103)

5. “Given what we know of the learning abilities of octopuses, it is not too far-fetched to interpret this behavior as indicating that the octopus is aware of its own future need for shelter and is planning ahead.” (103)

6. “If it is wrong to kill a person when we can avoid doing so, and there is real doubt about whether a being we are thinking of killing is a person, the best thing to do is give that being the benefit of the doubt.” (103)

7. “We should therefore try to give the benefit of the doubt [of self-awareness] to monkeys, dogs, cats, pigs, seals, bears, cattle, sheep and so on, perhaps even to birds and fish – much depends on how far we are prepared to go for extending the benefit of the doubt, where a doubt exists.” (119-120).

The above should make clear that Singer does not hold that animals, “as a general matter,” don’t have a continuing interest to live—-they do. Or at least: we should give animals (especially farmed animals) the benefit of the doubt that they are persons. Regarding the permissibility of killing merely conscious animals, or non-persons, Singer’s views are highly qualified; it’s not simply a matter of whether they are persons or non-persons. He explains:

“This means that in some circumstances – when animal lead pleasant lives, are killed painlessly, their deaths do not cause suffering to other animals and the killing of one animal makes possible its replacement by another that would not otherwise have lived – the killing of animals without self-awareness is not wrong.” (120)

In other words, if an animal is a non-person (i.e., lacking self-awareness), killing that animal isn't wrong if: (1) the animal has led a pleasant life, (2) the animal is killed painlessly, (3) the animal's death does not cause suffering to other animals, and (4) the animal killed can be replaced by another that would not otherwise have lived. In the real world, Singer's criteria are very difficult (perhaps impossible) to satisfy, so on the moral question of killing, there is probably very little *practical* difference (if any) between Singer and Francione.

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I'm very pleased to see your comments have been published, Spencer! I thought your first comment was brilliant - then I read the second one! 

You made some excellent points, I really hope you have the opportunity to debate them this time! 

I added a brief synopsis of the interview here:

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