Articles From The Writings of Vasu Murti

Differing Schools of Philosophy

Tom Regan died of pneumonia after two years of battling Parkinson's Disease. Tom Regan and Peter Singer were clearly of differing philosophical schools of thought, but came to similar conclusions on some points. They even co-edited an anthology of philosophical essays on animals together, Animal Rights & Human Obligations, in 1976, containing essays by Aristotle, Aquinas, Schweitzer, etc. as well as touching on factory farming and animals in medical research. Peter Singer argues animals are sentient and therefore have interests in not being harmed, etc., whereas Tom Regan says animals are subjects, like ourselves, and that is the basis for equal treatment. They each arrived at a similar conclusion.

Peter Singer takes the position of a Utilitarian, which eighteenth century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, the founder of Utilitarianism, succinctly described as "the greatest good for the greatest number." Utilitarians do not believe in rights. If it could be shown that killing an individual would save millions of lives, the Utilitarian calculation would be in favor of killing, as the individual does not have any actual rights.

In Animal Liberation, Peter Singer does not argue for animals having any actual *rights* per se, but rather that animals, as sentient beings, have an interest in not being harmed, and their interests are not being taken into account, and this is discrimination. Going back to the previous analogy, Peter Singer would merely ask those prepared to kill a single individual to save millions of lives (e.g., experiment upon a single animal to find a cure for a disease to save millions of human and animal lives): would they be prepared to do likewise on a brain-damaged or mentally handicapped human? To protect only humans is discrimination.

Tom Regan, on the other hand, was *not* a Utilitarian, and made the case for animal rights in terms of animals, like humans, possessing individual rights, which cannot be violated or traded away for the common good. In The Case for Animal Rights (1983), Tom Regan indicates that his philosophy differs from many in environmental ethics, which seek to preserve entire species, rather than focusing on individual animals, but he points out that since species are comprised of individuals, would not protecting individual animals have a greater effect than focusing on entire species?

Again, Tom Regan and Peter Singer were clearly of differing schools of thought, but arrived at similar conclusions. I can't match the intellectual rigor of Tom Regan or Peter Singer, PhDs in Philosophy, but this is a point I've made as well, in layman's terms. Whether one accepts the Darwinian theory of evolution or belief in the transmigration of souls (metempsychosis, or reincarnation) what are the *implications* of each world view? The kinship of all life! Animals are our fellow creatures!

In an earlier draft of an article of mine on parallels between extending rights to animals and extending rights to the unborn (which eventually appeared in the Fall 1995 issue of Studies in Pro-Life Feminism, edited by Quaker pacifist, vegetarian, and past president of Feminists For Life, Rachel McNair, and she is now a vegan and a psychology professor, and has written several books on nonviolence), it was written:

"One of the leading proponents of animal rights, Peter Singer, is subject to widespread criticism from abortion opponents. Singer contrasts the unborn or newborn and severely mentally incapacitated humans with fully grown animals, and finds them less worthy of having their lives protected. He concludes that the interests of these humans need not be taken into account when determining social policy. This view has offended many abortion opponents, and it interferes with the goal of explaining the importance of animal rights to those in the right-to-life movement."

I went on to say in the earlier draft that Peter Singer is a Utilitarian, and that Utilitarians do not believe in rights. From an individual rights perspective, however, it's not necessarily extreme nor absurd to protect individual sentient beings even at an insentient stage of development. This is, after all, how life begins. (Some pro-lifers argue that debates over "personhood" and conferring "personhood' upon the organism at a later stage of development resemble the old, medieval arguments about ensoulment. Many pro-lifers on "The Left Side of The March," like PLAGAL, or the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays And Lesbians, insist, "Human rights begin when human life begins.") The thorny question then becomes how to protect those rights without violating a new mother's privacy and civil liberties. 

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