Monday, April 30, 2012

Peter Singer and Eating Animals

Professor Peter Singer of University of Princeton (on the right)

Peter Singer is a consequentialist ethicist.

Do you find his views on the ethics of eating animals to be persuasive?


  1. What I found peculiar about Peter Singer was how he approached the audience. He introduced worldly known problems first, somewhat introducing and leading his audience to what he was going to present.
    He then moved onto the “newly” found problem which was about the shortage of nourishment. He talked about that for a bit but then really moved onto the matter at hand.

    He wanted us to realize how evolution changed our way of thinking. Firstly it was all about digesting, reproducing and surviving. Nowadays, we think about “Is it ethical?”
    He informed us about three ethical issues that surround eating; using animals as food, the environmental impact of food, and the world food crisis.
    His main argument was that animals feel pain and suffering as well. They shared an evolutionary history. Parallel behavior in appropriate circumstances and there are anatomical, physiological similarities with animals.
    He wanted to inform the audience that this is as serious as any of the worldly known issues current.

  2. Carlyle Reid

    After watching this video, I am shocked about how most of the meat is produced. It makes me feel awful! Although I still like meat, I feel like I should think about where it is coming from.

    The reason this was persuasive to me, and really caused me to think, was because he used pictures and general ethical statements to make conclusions. The pictures drew to our emotions, and made us emotionally drawn to what he was saying. Using general statements that we all understand, he could cause us to listen, and then see how he got his conclusions.

    The fact that he used these statements, to me, made this persuasive. I'm sure that people in the audience learned something too! What I found fascinating was how he pointed out why we should care about the ethics of what we eat. The fact that we do care about animals, and other living beings because they can feel makes what he is saying a lot more serious. (than if talking about eating plants). Overall, I found this video to not only be persuasive, but eye-opening.

    1. Hey Carlyle, I found your response controversial yet relatable. I agree with you that you shouldn't stop eating meat just because in some places animals are treated unfairly. Is your argument that by stopping animal cruelty in factories eating meat would make us feel guilty?

    2. I totally get what you mean! I completely agree that it was infact the simplicity in his statements that appealed ot most of his. His relatable arguments that made sense to all of us.
      I also think that through your comment it has become clear how successful Professor Singer is when making his comments, and how he has mostlikely opened the eyes to many, even those who dont had been vegetarians before they ever heard Professor Singer.

    3. So true Carcar.
      It's definitely only a very small percentage of people who know how meat is produced. I think that a lot more people would convert to vegetarianism if this was larger to the public eye.

      I feel that his presentation skills also made out a major aspect of his persuasion. Kind of like RIP Steve Jobs who could sell you anything just by his attitude.

  3. Mina Gokcen

    Peter Singer’s views on the ethics of eating animals were somewhat persuasive, but only to a certain extent.
    It is true that mankind has only very recently started to give any thought to the way animals are treated in modern farming systems. The argument Peter Singer presented about animal consciousness was not very convincing. From what I understood, he defined animal consciousness as an animal’s ability to feel pain yet I did not understand how he could simply rank different animals at different levels of consciousness. I think he should take an absolute stance on the situation. If he claims that all animals are conscious, then all should fall under the same level. Does a lobster that is thrown into a boiling pot of water feel any less pain than a turkey that is slaughtered? I do not agree. Although this aspect of his presentation was not persuasive, the question he brought up later was quite thought-provoking. He explained that the mainstream view, which humans have on the treatment of animals is that we acknowledge that we have duties to be kind to animals and to avoid being cruel to them yet our own interests frequently override animal interests. It was after clarifying this issue he raised the question: Is modern farming compatible with the mainstream view of how we are entitled to treat animals? I realized that I had never given much thought about the idea and really did not know how our food was produced or under what conditions. It came to me as a big surprise when Mr. Doolan said that there were only 13 slaughterhouses in the U.S. and when Peter Singer stated how the farming industry made sure its business is not transparent. When I gave more thought about about it, I realized that never had I seen a documentary on how animals were treated in the slaughterhouses or any broadcast concerning this topic. Peter Singer convinced me that it is our responsibility to be aware of how our food is produced, but I think that it is up to us after we gain this knowledge to decide whether to continue eating meat or not. I have never stepped foot in a slaughterhouse; therefore, I am not as convinced by his words as I would be if I had seen it up close and personal. The pictures were to some extent helpful in convincing me, but it is not powerful enough to simply utilize pathos as a means of persuasion. Personal experience will always be more powerful. Perhaps if I ever do go to a slaughterhouse, I may become a vegetarian or a vegan, but until then I still will continue to eat meat. I do realize that my enjoyment of the way meat tastes is not a good enough reason to justify the amount of suffering animals must endure, but he is right when he says that human interests (my desire to eat meat) override the animals interests. This might one day change until the industry does become transparent, but for now I remain in the dark about the real conditions that the animals are kept in.
    He was somewhat persuasive, as his views were thought provoking, but he only convinced me to a certain extent.

    1. I agree with your point, Mina. I think that his argument was thoroughly thought provoking, but while he might have convinced some, to others whom have heard the same stories before, it was just another approach to the subject. I do agree that the mainstream view is quite interesting, especially considering our ideal of how to treat animals directly in contrast to how we treat them indirectly (via means of our constant demand for meat production). This makes me wonder, do we choose to ignore the way that animals are treated before their slaughter just because we aren't directly faced with them and their situation?

    2. Although I'm not quite sure about your first point Mina (I think that as different animals are constructed differently there is a point to be made that they have different perceptions of pain), I do agree with your second, that while he is persuasive, his words are not enough to sway me to become a vegetarian.
      I especially this statement: "I do realize that my enjoyment of the way meat tastes is not a good enough reason to justify the amount of suffering animals must endure, but he is right when he says that human interests (my desire to eat meat) override the animals interests." Although there is of course the occasional exception, people are generally very selfish in their interests. Giving up our own enjoyment of meat to keep animals from suffering is very difficult for humans, exemplified by you and me both.
      I also agree that until the industry becomes transparent, animal activists such as Peter Singer will continue to fight an uphill battle.

  4. Do you find his views on the ethics of eating animals to be persuasive?

    Only in recent years have people really been concerned with the well-being of animals being brought up for food, which is probably in part due to the rapidly developing technology that surrounds us presently.

    A big factor in this is probably that the increasing demand for more and more meat and other foods is so different from earlier, where people would eat only what was necessary to survive, and then be satisfied with this. This has lead to the mass-production of meat that is causing the suffering of so many animals currently.

    Singer quite successfully used the emotions of the audience to persuade them into agreeing with his views by showing heart-wrenching pictures of animals crowded into limited spaces and painting horrible images in the listeners' heads.

    However, I was not personally persuaded by his lecture, for a number of reasons. One of the main factors contributing is that I have seen and heard about similar things before, so to me personally I was not shocked into action. Perhaps if I had not already heard quite a bit on the issue, then yes, I may have been persuaded.

    Also, animals have always been treated cruelly, although not on such a large and massive scale. Following this point, I do agree that eating more meat than is necessary is ethically wrong, as it is causing more animals to suffer than need be. So to some extent, his views are indeed persuasive, although perhaps not in the way Singer may have intended it to be.

    Perhaps another reason why I was not completely swayed by his lecture may be because I do not personally have any experience at a slaughterhouse, and so I have not actually really seen the suffering of the animals. Seeing a picture and experiencing something are two very different things. Accordingly, if I ever did get the chance to visit a slaughterhouse, I would probably change my view on the matter. Until then, however, Singer's ethical views on the matter did not fully convince me.

    1. Emma, I completely agree with your point of view. I also was not fully persuaded to stop eating meat! You said that the pictures were persuading to a certain extent but were not effective, so do you think that if he had shown videos of animals being slaughtered that your opinion would have changed? Also if you ever do set foot into a slaughterhouse, do you think that you would perhaps change your diet and become maybe a vegetarian or vegan? I believe I might, because as you said experience is a more persuasive tool than simple images. Even though his speech was not very persuasive, I did become more conscious of how animals are treated.

    2. Emma, this is a really interesting point! I didn't think about how the animals have been treated in the past, but now that you mention it, it seems very true. Animals have always been slaughtered for meat, or have died in warfare or in our farms when we are using them (i.e. using an oxen to make our crops, the calvary, etc)

      However, I do differ a bit on the fact that it didn't persuade you because you have never been to a slaughterhouse. Its true that not all meat is produced this way (i.e. truly organic food), but I was still disturbed at the living quarters the animals were put in at the slaughterhouse. I guess for you that doesn't hit quite a note because you cannot be sure, meaning you have to use your experiences to believe, but I guess I can believe enough of what Peter Singer is!

    3. Mina: you also raised some good questions. I do think that showing videos rather than pictures may have a greater effect on viewers as you can see the emotion of the animals in a completely different way. Personally, I felt that the movie Mr. Doolan showed us in class was much more persuasive because of that reason.

      And yes, most likely I would change my opinion if I had actual first-hand experience, as oftentimes seeing, smelling and hearing everything in person is so different from viewing it in a picture, or hearing someone else speak about it.

      Carlyle: that's a fair enough point. After viewing the video clips during class, I felt much more affected than I did when Singer was simply speaking about it, so there I do agree with you that perhaps first hand experience is not needed to be persuaded. However, I do feel that actually visiting a slaughterhouse would be much more profound, for the exact reasons I outlined about in reply to Mina. And I guess it does depend on personal views how affected you are/aren't.

  5. I thought that Peter Singers' insight on the ethics of eating animals quite thought provoking. It has somewhat inspired to refuse to eat when I go to the states in the summer. I was completely shocked to hear that there are only 13 slaughterhouses in the US and to see the way the animals are treated, it completely devistated me. I felt hopeful though, when Professor Singer talked about the law that California wants to pass, and I truly hope that this law is passed in all states. I thought that Singers' means of sharing this information were quite shocking. Nevertheless, this lecture has really made me think about what I eat, more then ever before. I have also never really payed attention to where the food comes and although I was fully aware of slaughterhouses, some of the methods mentioned have made me rethink my morals and ethical values concerning food.
    I completely agree with Professor Singer that too many are still uneducated about the suffering of animals in slaughter houses,but the issue is just that the information concerning agricultural animal farmingis just too limited and "behind the scenes" because big firmsdont care about the animals,what they care about is there profits which is a big ethical dilemma that will become more commonly discussed in the future I believe as more people are indeed becoming aware of it. Nevertheless it is still very limited information that only a limited number of people have access to.
    As Carlyle said previously I fully agree that his comments were very eye-opening and inspiring to me, to make a change and do better and not just go with what the money-greedy agricultural firms choose to sell, but maybe choose the vegetarian or the organic option. I thought this was very persuasive and I really appreciated his lecture as I learned a lot of new things.
    Anya Maurus

  6. I found Peter Singer’s lecture to be interesting and thought-provoking; however, I only thought it to be persuasive to a certain extent. Although I agree with the fact that modern farming techniques have become cruel and inflict unnecessary suffering on animals, I do not agree that people should therefore stop eating meat altogether.

    The main problem to do with farming practices in the United States is the fact that meat has to be produced on such a huge scale at the lowest possible cost. As Mr. Singer explained, this unfortunately leads to a diminished quality of life for the animals in these farms. However, this is not the only way that meat is produced. As he mentioned there are also organic and local food sources probably similar to the BIO meat sold here in Switzerland. Therefore, the problem isn’t the fact that people are eating meat, but that they are unaware of where their meat comes from and at what cost. Hence, it is up to the government to regulate conditions of the meat industry to make sure that there are certain standards that must be followed in regard to the welfare of the animals. Mr. Singer mentioned this when he talked about Proposition 2 in California.

    Nevertheless, what I didn’t agree with Mr. Singer when he mentioned how “our enjoyment of the way meat tastes is not good enough reason to justify the amount of suffering animals are made to endure.” Although I enjoy meat and I am sure that a lot of people eat meat because they enjoy it, meat is also an essential part of a healthy diet. Yes, some people may say that one could have just as much protein if one ate tofu for example, but the fact is that in most places in the US tofu is just as or more expensive than meat and most people don’t like it. Unless people have a high enough income to sustain such a diet, I don’t agree that the answer here is to stop eating meat altogether. I think that the solution is to moderate the amount of meat that one eats and/or to make a conscious decision to not eat mass produced meat. Moreover, if people have the means, they should forgo the cheapest factory made meat and buy free-range products instead in order to no longer support mass produced meat industries.

    So although I agree with Mr. Singer’s argument that there is definitely a problem concerning animal cruelty in the US meat industry and that it is our ethical obligation to make sure that these animals do not suffer, I was not convinced by his argument that people should therefore no longer eat meat.

    1. Yes Nicole I do quite agree with your closing statement. I too, felt unconvinced that we should stop eating meat. However, his arguement has made me conscious about where we get our food from. Indeed it is not ethical how we fill our hunger but sine the beginning of time we had to kill in order to survive. So I suppoort and understand your point of view

  7. A few times people have told me about the terrible things that happen in slaughterhouses and factory farms, but I was never really convinced because back then I couldn’t believe that people would treat animals this way. After hearing Peter Singer's thoughts on the effects of eating meat I was really surprised in an unpleasant way.

    The photographs that Peter Singer showed were secretly taken by people because the owners of the factory farms don’t want people to see how miserable the lives of these animals are. This already tells you how bad the conditions in such places must be. How awful these photos might look, I do think that this is a good way to persuade people to not buy meat produced by massive slaughterhouses or factory farms.

    This whole story just really touched me and made me think a lot more about what 'sorts' of meat I should eat. If pictures of the animals that suffered in the factory farms would be shown on the actual product, none of these products will be bought by the consumers. The fact that no one really knows about the conditions in slaughter houses and factory farms could be an opportunity to decrease this way of 'producing meat' and help the animals to a better life when they are used in the process of meat production. The views of Peter Singer and of a lots of other activists on these ethics of eating animals are very persuasive to me. Therefore I think that they should keep increasing awareness and even though it might take a long time to persuade other people to not buy these sorts of meat, I hope that it eventually will turn out a lot better for these animals.

  8. The images of the pigs to somewhat upset me. As so the images of the chickens. I feel it is definitely wrong to treat the animals this way. My mother does her part by only buying eggs from free-roaming chickens which have space to roam. One of Singer's points against animal products is that it causes suffering. This is definitely true, but we as a customer have the choice from what area we buy our food from.

    Singer is very correct when he says that a lot of people are still very under educated. I would definitely expect that if more people were to be educated about this, less people would eat meat. This hasn't been done though as the government likes the money from taxing meat products up to now so they wouldn't want to lose that special source of income.

  9. Lots of Singers arguments seem to me very reasonable and some of them even worrying. The fact that there are only 13 slaughterhouses in the whole US is definitely one of them. The animals are being treated as if they were already dead. More than a hundred thousand pigs and cows are being slaughtered in each of those slaughterhouses every single day. The pictures he showed of the thousands of chicken gathered in an incredibly small area were very persuasive. Mr Singer also explained that those chicken are genetically modified so that they grow so fast that their legs can't hold their weight anymore. If they collapse in the middle, they are just going to starve to deatch as moving is impossible and the food will be too far away.
    At the same time I think that eating meat is somewhat essential and that people should eat it. But we should eat animals that had at least a good life and were treated as well as they deserve it. Singer's goal is to increase awareness about how badly the animals are being treated that we eat later. His arguments and his pictures are theredor definitely very persuasive.

  10. Singer's presentation was well-organized and thought-provoking. His argument was strong and audacious. His views on eating animals were persuasive and interesting. His use of images certainly helped visualize the importance of his argument. Many points he raised also hit home in their level of impact and surprise.

    One example of such a point was the statement that people are not as aware as they should be to the issue of animal cruelty and mass-murder happening on a widespread scale and on a daily basis. You would think people would be more knowledgeable about the origins of their food.

    Secondly he stated that there are 13 slaughterhouses in the United States. It was hard to believe that 50 states share the meat from 13 slaughterhouses. This means that the number of animals slaughtered daily is abominable. The statistic also makes you think about how much pollution is emitted every day simply for transportation of the meat.

    Lastly, his image giving insight into the conditions of livestock, such the crowded cages of chickens, cows, pigs and such was startling, and probably left us all with something to think about.

    His views on eating animals were certainly convincing powerful and provocative.

  11. The part of Singer's Speech i found so fascinating was the efficiency of dedicating one acre of land to the production of soyabeans rather than meat and how this corresponds to a massive quantity of protein produced. It seems that there is no justifiable reason for us to be eating meat if you take the fact that 'it tastes good' is not a sufficient reason. 6lb of protein feed goes into producing 1lb of meat, you don't have to be a genius to realise that this is inefficient. If the world population was able to get its intake of protein from these protein rich foods instead of from meat, then this would have benefits elsewhere in the world, for instance; there would be lower methane emissions that contribute to global warming, there would be a more efficient distribution of land and the growing of the crops reduces CO2 in the atmosphere. However one disadvantage of switching to crops to get the sufficient protein in our diets would be that one bad harvest could have a very large impact.
    In terms of ethics and morals, the fact that meat production is unnecessary in my opinion raises the thought that this is unnecessary suffering. The cramped conditions and careless, inhumane treatment of these animals could be avoided and it is therefore morally unjustifiable for this to continue.

  12. What I liked about Peter Singers thought process in this particular lecture was the fact that he was never completely closed off to any idea or way of thinking. He seemed very open-minded about alternative view points to his own. This was reflected in the question time at the end of the lecture when he was discussing the ethics of hunting versus the ethics of eating produced food. He mentioned that hunting had "messed up the environment" because humans have ended up killing predators for deer and therefore the deer population is growing which is consequently means that many of them are being hit by cars and dying in other unnatural ways. Therefore, Singer argues that it would be more ethical to shoot a deer than it would be to buy produced pork from the supermarket.
    I have to say that I find this a very interesting perspective on the ethics of hunting. I think that hunting has always a negative connotation because it is seen as cruelty towards animals to shoot them for the sole purpose of eating them. But when this is compared the raising animals on farms and in inhuman conditions, for the sole reason of slaughtering them in the most efficient way possible to make money, then hunting suddenly appears to be a quite natural or humane thing to do.
    What I do not completely agree with however, is that singer says that it would only be most ethical if the animal was shot well enough so to die immediately. Obviously I agree with that an animal should die as painlessly as possible but when they are killed by each other then they do not always die painlessly. Therefore, if someone is a bad hunter and wounds the animals and later kills, why is that so much worse than a bear wounding a deer and later tracing its blood and killing it? Why are the conditions and expectations for humans set so much higher than animals? Is it solely because we possess a conscience?

  13. I think Singer definitely manages to successfully "pull at the audience’s heartstrings" and convince them that the way that animal slaughter is being handled in today’s society is brutal. However, nothing is new. I think at this stage, many people are already aware of the terrorizing and revolting things that happen behind the production. The problem is that barely anybody who can afford the over-consuming lifestyle that we live wants to give it up. As someone who has heard these things before, I wasn't too shocked with what Singer was saying. Like with other sensitive subjects discussed in our TOK class (for example, the exercise in which we had to choose whether or not to save an abandoned child in a place where such action, unlike in our society, is accepted), my initial emotion was guilt. Although having already heard and seen the cruel reality of the places our food comes from, I still felt bad about my actions. However, upon reflection, I do not think I will be changing my eating habits concerning animal consumption because of Peter Singer. I do agree that over-consumption is a major issue in our society and I think that indulging in an expensive steak every other day is definitely not the way to approach solving that, but I do feel strongly that it is in our nature, like in the nature of other species in our biosphere, to consume meat, and I don’t want to feel guilty for that. Obviously, I would love for it to be as pain-free for the animal as possible, and if that were a likely solution, I would opt for that. I think that the reason that slaughterhouse’s work in such a brutal way, is because they wouldn’t have the time to produce at the rate at which is being demanded if they tried to put down the animals gently. This way, I think that a good way to lower the amount of meat demanded would be if each person adjusted their diet by not eating meat as often. In conclusion, however, I do think that Peter Singer provided a valid and convincing argument.

    1. I completely agree with you Saskia. I think that eating meat is a natural part of human survival and therefore it is illogical to expect people to not eat meat because it is made “unethically”. I don’t think that I should feel guilty for eating meat, just because mass-meat production could lead to animal suffering. Furthermore, although I personally try to eat organic meat as much as possible, I think that it is unrealistic to expect everyone to buy this kind of meat because the majority of people can’t afford it. Therefore, I agree that the problem here is that the demand for cheap meat is much too high and thereby the solution is to reduce demand. This is not up to us, but up to the government to enforce laws that would not only prevent animal cruelty through mass-meat production but thereby also help the environment.

    2. I agree with you Nicole. It is not our fault that the animals are treated this way, and yes though we do feel bad about the animals being treated this way, it is not our fault. I agree with your point that it is the government's obligation to enforce laws to prevent animal cruelty. We can only try and help by eating organic or free roaming food.

  14. Listening to Peter Singer give his presentation on the ethical treatment of animals gave me a lot to think about.
    While the contributors above often highlighted one specific emotion they felt, I must say I did not feel just one emotion from listening to Peter Singer. Truthfully, towards the beginning I was disinterested, not very endeared with the prospect that I would have to sit through a lecture that would eventually fill me with guilt for how I am currently living my life. This guilt, of course, followed suit as Peter Singer began showing the audience how animals such as chickens, turkeys, pigs and cattle are treated before they are brought to the slaughter. Not only the pictures contributed to this feeling of guilt, but also the way in which Doctor Singer described the situations helped to send chills down my spine. The detached tone he used while describing the horrible conditions the animals were in, added to the cold, mechanical nature of the ordeal.
    However, after I paused the video and gave myself time to think, I found myself asking the question: "What can I do about it?"
    As a meat-lover by heart, I am afraid to say that this question was not asked with a sense of hope for the animals, but rather with a sense of glum indifference. Of course, every vegetarian and vegan will no doubt scoff at this cynical approach, claiming that there are ample ways to help these poor animals. Yes, yes there are, but will they do any good?
    Of course I could stop eating meat or religiously buy free range meat, but the bottom line is, that even if I do these things, nothing will change. From the comments above I see that most people, while very sorry about the circumstances, will not make a greater effort to this cause than perhaps pick out an organic product from time to time. This proves to me that for now, the need for meat is greater than the need for the correct treatment of animals.
    The point I am trying to make is that while this video is indeed eye-opening, people will only begin changing their habits when change is on its way. Very few individuals want to forgo their meat diet if it will not significantly help the animals that Singer mentions. We can blame this logic on the internet in some respects, as the "instant reward" mentality the world wide web breeds is seemingly being applied to this issue. "If I can't change it now, and it may never change, why waste my time trying to help?" Of course, some may be content solely with the warm feeling that they have done a good deed by boycotting (mass-produced) meat, but for me personally, that feeling is not enough to act upon.
    Thus, in order for this campaign against animal suffering to work, more members are needed, and therein lies the paradox. If few join to begin with, the campaign can only generate so much momentum, which is not enough to help sway the general public, in combination with potential catalysts such as Singer's speech.
    So, to conclude, while I believe that Singer's speech and fight for animal rights is noble and by all means the morally correct approach to the issue, I will not join him in his fight. This is not because I find him unpersuasive, but because if my actions won't change anything, I simply can't find the motivation to abstain from meat, even if it is produced in such a dreadful manner.
    As the saying goes: Love it, change it or leave it.

  15. I do believe that Singer made some good points and what he was saying about eating less meat is right. People are stubborn though. People live in their certain lifestyle and they do not like to change the way they are living.
    One thing that he used that was really useful was the pictures. The pictures drew out our emotions, opened up the audience. He used general statements that we could all understand and showed us how he got to his conclusion.
    Though I found this interesting, I also found it repetitive. Singer did make good point about thinking of the ethics of eating meat, but a lot of other cooperation’s have had similar ideas. The message of not eating meat because it is unethical has been talked about so much that some people, though shocked, don’t listen. Once someone has gotten comfortable in their lifestyle it is very hard to persuade them to change. Even after they hear this speech or another speech, they think about changing their lifestyle, they never put it into action. Or if they do change it is usually is only for a short while until temptation takes hold of them. Yes this was a persuasive speech, though so are most of the other speeches made on this topics.

  16. A number of you have mentioned that nothing ever changes, so why bother. But I would submit that, bearing in mind today's lesson, things do change. No one seriously defends slavery today. No one (at least no prominet thinkers in Europe) seriously defends sexism today. Our circles of concern have been extended to include those of a different colour, sex, sexual orientation, and so on. And our concern towards non-human animals has also changed when compared to the distant past. Ironically, this last change is paralleled with modern methods of slaughter that has increased the misery of non-human animals many fold.