– Corrado Gnerre
I happened to read something by the philosopher Peter Singer. He suggests that a healthy animal would have more right to life than a sick child. How did it get this far?
Dear …, Australian Peter Singer is the most famous supporter of animalism. Indeed, he rejects speciesism. If the first (animalism) is the belief that man and animals have the same dignity, the second (speciesism) is the belief in the superiority of the human species over animals.
The philosophical foundation of Singer’s thought is utilitarianism, that is, the rightness of action would be measured only by its consequences. It is right if it causes less pain, however taking into consideration not only man but all sentient beings involved in it. In short, for Singer and animalism what matters is not the reason, but only the feeling. This type of reasoning leads the Australian philosopher to consider not only abortion lawful but also the active euthanasia of malformed babies. So he writes in Practical Ethics that monkeys, dogs, cats, and even mice and rats, are smarter, more aware of what is happening to them, more sensitive to pain and so on, than many brain-injured humans, hospital patients or other institutions. There seem to be no morally relevant characteristics that these humans possess and which animals lack. And so, it seems that it is more serious to kill, for example, a chimpanzee rather than a severely impaired human being who is not a person. He added that our current absolute protection of the life of infants is a Jewish-Christian attitude rather than a universal ethical value. (In other civilizations) infanticide was not only allowed but, in certain circumstances, considered morally mandatory.
Dear …, I make three reflections. The first: this type of thinking is not completely new. Already Saint Augustine had to refute animalism, then Gnostic in nature. Today, with an evident return of pantheistic visions both neo-pagan and oriental, this thought has found an undisputed fertile ground on which to take root. Even contemporary theorists of anarchy refer to animalism. Theirs is a world view as a revolutionary process of “liberation” of nature from man’s domination. This is the only way to achieve true democracy, that is, what they call “anarchist equality in the biosphere”. In short, all hierarchies must be eliminated, even that of man on animals.
The second: Singer’s animalism is completely contradictory. How is it possible, in fact, to define what is right (in this case to give up on speciesism) and what is unfair (not to give up on speciesism) if not using that reason which for Singer must no longer be a discriminating element? According to him, man, despite being right, is not superior to animals. But man himself, precisely because he is right, can become aware of the fact that his reason is worthless. Isn’t this enough to understand how logically faulty this kind of reasoning is doing?
The third: what Singer says is presented as a sort of “moral duty” for man. In the sense that I am required to behave as Singer says: I must consider myself not superior to animals, that is, I must reject speciesism. I have to believe in this, I have to do this … but animals? Is anything due to the animals? Obviously not, because they have no will and responsibility. I must. They don’t. I have to believe in what animalism tells me. They don’t. I have to practice vegetarianism; instead they can eat meat. I don’t have to be “cruel” to animals, while animals can be “cruel” to me.
Dear …, the contradiction lies precisely in the fact that only man can understand the oddities of Singer and animalism. And perhaps only for this reason … animals are more “lucky” than we are.
(From La buona battaglia. Apologetica cattolica in domande e risposte, 2019©Chorabooks. Translated by Aurelio Porfiri. Used with the permission of the publisher. All rights reserved)