|Enewsletter • August 12, 2003|
The Vegan Outreach office is closed until August 23rd. If you need anything during this time, please email Jack Norris.
Try Vegetarian! Conserve Resources
New Meet Your Meat CD-ROM
Along with the Alec Baldwin-narrated edition of Meet Your Meat, this CD has other video clips, as well as additional bonus materials. If you would like a copy, please forward your mailing address (not email address) to Chalissa1@aol.com
Even the most rational among us are often swayed by our own prejudices, and derive some part of our moral views from our personal intuitions about the world. Professor Peter Singer has often incited controversy because he suggests that we should derive our moral views not from our intuitions, but from logic. The strength of Singer's philosophy likewise rests on its foundation of explicitly-stated first-principles, from which our moral views about both humans and non-humans can be logically derived. This method has proved extremely powerful, because Singer's first-principles are ones that few dismiss: suffering is bad, happiness is good. Of course, it has also regularly embroiled him in controversy, as his arguments stand counter to some widely-held beliefs and prejudices.
But don't take our – or others' – word for it. Too often, people accept a third-party’s summary of a person's (or movement's) views; thus, all the parodies that exist of "Animal Rights" and "Vegans." AlthoughPractical Ethics (Second Edition) is the most rigorous study of his ethical derivations, perhaps the best introduction to and overview of Singer's philosophy is Writings on an Ethical Life. For those who have read quotes pulled from Singer in isolation and out-of-context, these books are a welcome remedy. See also:
Regardless of our personal feelings about Singer's conclusions, Singer has certainly succeeded in advancing the philosophical debate about a great number of issues. And in a way, the burden rests with us to either find the flaws in his logic that warrant rejection, or to find that his logic is correct and our intuitions are mistaken.
Excerpts from How Are We To Live? by Peter Singer
Part 2 (originally run in July 2001; Part 1 here)
I am not defending the objectivity of ethics in the traditional sense. Ethical truths are not written into the fabric of the universe: to that extent the subjectivist is correct. If there were no beings with desires or preferences of any kind, nothing would be of value, and ethics would lack all content. On the other hand, once there are beings with desires, there are values that are not only the subjective values of each individual being. The possibility of being led, by reasoning, to the point of view of the universe provides as much "objectivity" as there can be. When my ability to reason shows me that the suffering of another being is very similar to my own suffering and (in an appropriate case) matters just as much to that other being as my own suffering matters to me, then my reason is showing me something that is undeniably true.
In a society in which the narrow pursuit of material self-interest is the norm, the shift to an ethical stance is more radical than many people realize. In comparison with the needs of people starving in Somalia, the desire to sample the wines of the leading French vineyards pales into insignificance. Judged against the suffering of immobilized rabbits having shampoos dripped into their eyes, a better shampoo becomes an unworthy goal. An ethical approach to life does not forbid having fun or enjoying food and wine, but it changes our sense of priorities. The effort and expense put into buying fashionable clothes, the endless search for more and more refined gastronomic pleasures, the astonishing additional expense that marks out the prestige car market in cars from the market in cars for people who just want a reliable means to getting from A to B – all these become disproportionate to people who can shift perspective long enough to take themselves, at least for a time, out of the spotlight. If a higher ethical consciousness spreads, it will utterly change the society in which we live.
We cannot expect that this higher ethical consciousness will become universal. There will always be people who don't care for anyone or anything, not even for themselves. There will be others, more numerous and more calculating, who earn a living by taking advantage of others, especially the poor and the powerless. We cannot afford to wait for some coming glorious day when everyone will live in loving peace and harmony with everyone else. For a long time to come, the world is going to remain a tough place in which to live.
Nevertheless, we are part of this world and there is a desperate need to do something now about the conditions in which beings live and die. There is no time to focus our thoughts on the possibility of a distant utopian future. Too many humans and nonhuman animals are suffering now.
We have to take the first step. We must reinstate the idea of living an ethical life as a realistic and viable alternative to the present dominance of materialist self-interest. If a critical mass of people with new priorities were to emerge, and if these people were seen to do well, in every sense of the term – if their cooperation with each other brings reciprocal benefits, if they find joy and fulfillment in their lives – then the ethical attitude will spread, and the conflict between ethics and self-interest will have been shown to be overcome, not by abstract reasoning alone, but by adopting the ethical life as a practical way of living and showing that it works, psychologically, socially, and ecologically.
Anyone can become part of the critical mass that offers us a chance of improving the world before it is too late. You can rethink your goals and question what you are doing with your life. That might mean quitting your job, selling your house, and going to work for a voluntary organization in India. More often, the commitment to a more ethical way of living will be the first step of a gradual but far-reaching evolution in your lifestyle and in your thinking about your place in the world. One thing is certain: you will find plenty of worthwhile things to do. You will not be bored or lack fulfillment in your life.
Most important of all, you will know that you have not lived and died for nothing, because you will have become part of the great tradition of those who have responded to the amount of pain and suffering in the universe by trying to make the world a better place.