Sagarika Reddy Philosophy Honors 03/28/16 Dr. Shorter Speciesism and Moral Status In his work Speciesism and Moral Status, Peter Singer compares the behaviors of humans with cognitive disabilities to the behaviors of nonhuman animals. He argues that all human beings do not have cognitive abilities that exceed that of all nonhuman animals. In fact, many nonhuman animals have cognitive abilities that surpass the cognitive abilities of human beings with severe mental retardation. Through his argument, he questions the ethical significance of the idea that all human beings have a certain kind of moral status.
Singer explores the issue of moral status through religious, speciesist and cognitive grounds in order to propose that human beings must incur a more graduated view in which moral status rests on facets of cognitive abilities. Singer explores the notion that all human beings have a certain moral status through the lens of religion. He specifically refers to Pope John Paul ii who regards that “as far as the right to life is concerned, every innocent human being is absolutely equal to all others” (Singer 571).
Those who accept Pope John Paul ii’s view clearly not only accept that all human beings are equal to one another but also that human life is vastly superior to the life of nonhuman animals. They might defend their position on the basis of religious grounds with views such as “we are made in the image of God, and animals are not” (Singer 572). Singer notes that this position holds no value in a society where public policy is not founded on the basis of religion. In fact, separation of church and state is vastly regarded as the cornerstone of American democracy.
Religion is felt and heard in America but no religion has the decisive sanction in the sphere of politics. Singer maintains that a society that regards religion and government as two separate entities has no right to make laws on the treatment of human beings and nonhuman animals based on religious grounds. Therefore, religion falls short in defending the ideology that human beings are superior to all nonhuman animals. In addition to exploring the issue of moral status based on religious grounds, Singer explores the issue through speciesist grounds.
Speciesism is the idea that simply being human is enough to have superior moral rights to non-human animals. Those who value speciesism might agree with the views of Bernard Williams who claims that, “we humans are doing the judging, we are entitled to prefer our own kind” (Singer 572). William essentially adopts the “whose side are you on” argument to moral status. Singer denounces this argument by applying it to people who suffer from severe cognitive disabilities.
He asserts that if an alien is capable of understanding and communicating, singer has “much more in common with [the alien] that she does] with someone of my species who is mentally retarded and has no capacity for verbal communication” (Singer 573). This same argument can be applied to nonhuman animals. If a nonhuman animal is capable of comprehension and communication, that animal has much more in common with human beings than someone with severe mental retardation. The “whose side are you on” argument simply falls short since not all human beings are capable of equal understanding and communication.
Singer asserts that simply being a part of the Homo Sapien species does not entitle someone of a higher moral status than being a member of the Pan Troglodytes species. Essentially, Singer argues that moral status must be based on cognitive ability instead of perceived intrinsic worth. Singer continues his argument by exploring the idea that all human beings have superior cognitive abilities. He specifically refers to Kant who maintains that all “Animals are not self-conscious and are there merely as a means to an end” (Singer 573).
Kant believes that Human Beings are ends in themselves because they are autonomous beings who are capable of reasoning. The Kantian point of view applied to individuals with severe mental disabilities who are incapable of reasoning suggests that these individuals are means to an end. If one is severely mentally disabled, he or she will not have mental capacities that exceed that of all nonhumans. The Kantian position is unable to defend the basis that all humans are of a higher moral worth than all nonhuman animals because of capacity for reasoning since some nonhumans are capable of greater reasoning than some human beings.
Human Beings must therefore adopt a new paradigm in which moral status rests on cognitive abilities instead of biological inheritance. Singer explores the idea that species membership is vital to moral status through religious, speciesist, and cognitive grounds. He argues that all human beings do not have cognitive abilities that exceed that of all nonhuman animals. He therefore maintains that it is vital to adopt a more graduated view of moral status based on cognitive ability that is applied to both human beings and non-human animals. Bibliography Singer, Peter. “Speciesism and Moral Status. ” (2009).