Please respond to the following questions and then comment on the posts of at least three students in a thoughtful and meaningful way.
1) Please watch this short mini-documentary about Singer’s views:
https://vimeo.com/7932801 (Links to an external site.)
Do you think Gandhi’s quote about “moral progress,” stated at the beginning of the film, is correct? Or not? Please explain — and then describe one argument Singer offers in the documentary, explaining if it is compelling.
2) Please watch this classic Twilight Zone episode (25 minutes) and explain how Singer could interpret this film’s message in light of his arguments. If the scenario in the film took place (hypothetically), what moral argument, if any, could humans give in response? Does this film and Singer’s article make a compelling case that much of our treatment and use of non-human animals are ethically unjustified from the perspective of the ones being used? Please explain.
The Twilight Zone – To Serve Man (Links to an external site.)
To Serve Man (Part 2) (Links to an external site.)
To Serve Man (Last Part) (Links to an external site.)
3) Please read this Wikipedia entry on “Speciesism.” Take a particular look at the section about the “Argument from Marginal Cases.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speciesism (Links to an external site.)
What do you think about Singer’s argument here that if we are to avoid speciesism, we must at least consider doing to human animals what we now do exclusively to non-human animals — assuming both have similar levels of sentience or the ability to feel pain.
For example, if we are going to experiment on rabbits (for product testing or medical research), then must we also consider experimenting on human beings with similar abilities?
If we argue in response, “But Singer, humans have a special dignityanimals do not have,” Singer would ask us to think carefully about whether that prejudice (“human chauvinism”) towards our own species is morally justified.
He argues that just like valuing the interests of one’s own race, gender, or sexual orientation above others is morally wrong, isn’t valuing the interests and feelings of human animals over the similar interests and feelings of other animals, merely because we are homo sapiens and regardless of whether we are without brain activity (or even without a brain at all), morally wrong? For Singer, a moral person must look at the particular traits of the animals involved and judge accordingly, instead of automatically assuming that human animals’ minor interests ought to trump other animals’ major interests.
Why, in other words, would one think it is moral to experiment on a conscious adult rat, dog, cat, or primate, yet never even contemplateexperimenting on a human being with a similar, or a decreased, level of ability and sentience? Singer would ask, “It is complete speciesism to cause suffering to a highly conscious non-human animal, with a social life and the ability to feel pain, yet never contemplate experimenting or using a human being of comparable abilities, for example, someone who is in a permanent vegetative state, who can feel no pain and has no consciousness. Why are fully conscious and aware cats, dogs, and primates experimented upon, yet we (in our speciesist mindset) would never dream of experimenting, for instance, on a child born without a brain or someone in a permanent coma?”
Does the “Argument from Marginal Cases” work? Please explain.
4) How do you respond to Warren’s argument that abortion is generally morally justified because we must compare the rights of a full-fledged moral person (an adult woman) with the rights of a potential person (a fetus) — when they conflict in the case of an unwanted pregnancy, the actual person’s rights override the rights of the potential person?
She argues that abortion is a moral matter (something is killed, to be sure), but no person is being killed, since fetuses do not have any, or at least all, of the traits of a person. (If we give fetuses full moral personhood, then we must, to be consistent, also give many non-human animals personhood, such as fish, cats, cows, and many other creatures, since they have many more person-like traits than a fetus. Incidentally, one could argue against Warren here, and argue that recognizing fetuses’ rights also entails recognizing the rights of non-human animals.)
Is this a compelling argument for the morality of abortion? Please explain.
5. When it comes to deciding when a pre-born genetic human is a person (in the sense of attaining full moral value), there are at least four views:
1) Personhood begins at conception.
2) Personhood begins at birth.
3) Personhood begins after birth, perhaps age 1-2.
4) Personhood begins sometime between conception and birth.
Each of these positions has its advantages and disadvantages. 1) and 2) are the easiest in some ways, since there is a clear dividing line marked by conception and birth. However, one can ask what happens at conception that makes a newly fertilized egg a full moral person, when all it has is potential and a unique genetic code? One can also ask, if birth is the dividing line, why that being was not a person an hour before birth? (What, a skeptic could ask, magically happens at conception or birth?)
If we consider views 3) and 4) we also encounter questions. If a newborn is not yet a full moral person, then why do we generally react with horror at infanticide but have philosophical debates about abortion? If personhood begins in between conception and birth, then what special marker determines the threshold between non-person and person? (Heartbeat? Brain activity? Movement/quickening? Each of these markers has something to say for it, yet they all seem to bearbitrary in some sense — none stand out as an obvious and non-controversial dividing line.)
In your view, when does moral personhood begin? Please provide an argument that could potentially convince anyone; please avoid citing religious texts and beliefs that will not be convincing to fellow students who are outside of that particular religious tradition.
6. Please read David Frum’s, “Let’s Get Real About Abortions”:
http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/29/opinion/frum-abortion-reality (Links to an external site.)
What would Marquis likely argue about this article? And do you agree with Frum or Marquis? (Or both?) Please explain.
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