Defending the position that human beings have a special dignity because of their rational nature does not in any way imply that non-rational animals are not also deserving of a certain respect and appropriate treatment. While racism and sexism are moral evils, so-called “speciesism” is not morally wrong and cannot be compared to them.
We are familiar with the term “racism,” defined as a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own race and against those of members of other races. “Sexism,” too, is familiar—a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own sex and against those of members of the opposite sex. Less familiar to most, however, is the term “speciesism,” which Peter Singer invented and which he describes as “a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species.” According to Singer, speciesism is a moral mistake akin to racism and sexism.
I think Singer is wrong. There are good philosophical grounds for thinking that human beings should be accorded a greater moral status than non-human animals. In terms of goodness, all human beings share a nature that is greater in goodness than the nature of non-human animals, such as dogs. Humans and non-human animals are alike in having existing, living, and sensing natures, but we know that only humans among all the animals also have a rational nature. Thus, human nature is greater in goodness than non-human animal nature, since it has everything of non-human animal nature and more. Because of their greater goodness in nature, human beings should be loved more than non-human animals. The fact that we should love human beings more is another way of saying that human beings have greater moral status than non-human animals.
Speciesism therefore differs radically from both sexism and racism. Since male and female human beings share equally in human nature, they are equally to be loved. In a similar way, the various races of human beings all share in the same human nature, so they too are to be equally loved. Thus, there is no inconsistency in defending speciesism but condemning sexism and racism. Equality in nature provides grounds for supporting the equal basic rights of all members of the human species, but denying such rights to dogs and cats. Equality in nature also provides grounds for condemning sexism and racism.
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