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8 April 2001 Issue
Defending Animal Rights From A 'Defender'

by Tom Regan


Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2001

RALEIGH -- In 1975 the philosopher Peter Singer published "Animal Liberation." The book was (and continues to be) heralded by many as the "bible of the animal rights movement." This is both untrue and unfortunate. It is untrue because Singer denies that animals have rights. It is unfortunate because it creates the impression that when Singer speaks, he speaks for everyone who believes in animal rights. He does not. The animal rights movement is abolitionist in its aspirations. It seeks to end human tyranny
over other animals, not make our tyranny more "humane." It calls for an end to the fur trade, an end to live animal acts, an end to sport hunting, an end to vivisection and an end to commercial animal agriculture. As I have written elsewhere, its goals are empty cages, not larger cages. People who do not believe in animal rights do not think the world should change in these ways. Sometimes they call animal rightists "extremists," "fanatics," "zealots" and worse. But everyone knows that name-calling
never settles anything; it is the cogency of ideas that must be addressed. At the heart of the animal rights movement is the belief in fundamental moral rights. What matters most is whether humans and other animals are treated with respect, not what good consequences flow from failing to do so.

"The end does not justify the means" is a moral truth that applies beyond the boundaries of our species. Mistaken or not, this is what those committed to animal rights believe. All this Peter Singer denies. Neither humans nor animals have rights, in his view. As a utilitarian, he believes that right and wrong depend on how much satisfaction results from our actions, an outlook that leads him to accept many practices that advocates of animal rights reject. For example, given his utilitarianism, there is nothing wrong in principle if animals are raised to be eaten. If farm animals live a good life, are killed "humanely," and are replaced by new animals who will be treated in the same way, satisfaction is optimized, so no wrong is done. No animal rights advocate believes this. Some people think the difference between animal rights and Singer's ideas is just a matter of words. This is not true. Singer's ideas sanction behaviors that both those who believe in animal rights and those who do not must find appalling. Any doubts about this vanish when one reads Singer's recent review of a book by Midas Dekkers called "Dearest Pet." The review appeared last month in the online sex magazine Nerve.com, whose mission statement celebrates the belief in "sexual freedom." In his review, Singer explains why, to his way of thinking, having sex with animals need not be a bad thing.

Granted, sex involving cruelty to animals is wrong. But, Singer notes, "sex with animals does not always involve cruelty." In fact, when done "in private," "mutually satisfying [sexual] activities" involving animals and humans "may develop." In these cases, consistent with his utilitarian philosophy, when satisfaction is optimized, Singer can find no wrong. No serious advocate of animal rights believes this. And none believes this because none uses Singer's utilitarian standard as their moral standard. As already noted, for animal rights advocates, more than consequences matter.

Consider sex with infants. Animal rightists do not say that, when done "in private," there is nothing wrong with "mutually satisfying [sexual] activities" involving adults and infants. Rather, we say there is something wrong in engaging in such activities in the first place. A baby cannot give informed consent. A baby cannot say "yes." Or "no." In the nature of the case, engaging in sexual activities with infants must be coercive, must display a lack of respect, thus must be wrong. Bestiality is no different. Animal
rightists do not say that, when done "in private," there is nothing wrong with "mutually satisfying [sexual] activities" involving humans and animals. Rather, we say there is something wrong in engaging in such activities in the first place. An animal cannot give informed consent. An animal cannot say "yes." Or "no. In the nature of the case, engaging in sexual activities with animals must be coercive, must display a lack of respect, thus must be wrong. Animal rights advocates are not here paying irrational homage to
outdated sexual taboos or parading their sexual prudishness. Engaging in "mutually satisfying activities" is one of life's finest pleasures. By all means, then, the more such activities, the better ... provided that those who participate are able to give or withhold their informed consent. The end of mutual satisfaction never justifies the means of sexual coercion.

Public condemnation of Singer's views on sex with animals, ranging from "Dr. Laura" to The New Republic, animal rights chat groups and newspaper opinion pages already is being voiced. Every indication is that the chorus of condemnation will continue, as well it should. Still, one must hope that
truth will not be among the casualties. Belief in animal rights can be challenged in many ways, but let no one say it must be wrong because it approves of sex with animals. Manifestly, categorically, it does not.

Tom Regan teaches philosophy at N.C. State University. His latest book is "Defending Animal Rights."

[Editor's Note: For those who are unfamiliar with Peter Singer's work that is being commented on in this article, check out the following website. However, be aware that the content is for adults only.]

Nerve.com - Heavy Petting by Peter Singer
http://www.nerve.com/Opinions/Singer/heavyPetting/

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