I doubt that anyone will be able to come up with a concrete and morally relevant difference that would justify, say, using a chimpanzee in an experiment rather than a human being with less capacity for reasoning, moral responsibility, etc. Should we then experiment on the severely retarded? Utilitarian considerations aside (the difficulty of comparing intelligence between species, for example), we feel a special obligation to care for the handicapped members of our own species, who cannot survive in this world without such care. Nonhuman animals manage very well, despite their "lower intelligence" and lesser capacities; most of them do not require special care from us. This does not, of course, justify experimenting on them. However, to subject to experimentation those people who depend on us seems even worse than subjecting members of other species to it. In addition, when we consider the severely retarded, we think, "That could be me." It makes sense to think that one might have been born retarded, but not to think that one might have been born a monkey. And so, although one can imagine oneself in the monkey's place, one feels a closer identification with the severely retarded human being. Here we are getting away from such things as "morally relevant differences" and are talking about something much more difficult to articulate, namely, the role of feelings and sentiment in moral thinking. We would be horrified by the use of the retarded in medical research. But what are we to make of this horror? Has it moral significance or is it "mere" sentiment, of no more import than the sentiment of whites against blacks? It is terribly difficult to know how to evaluate such feelings.l4 1 am not going to say more about this, because I think that the treatment of severely incapacitated human beings does not pose an insurmountable objection to the privileged status principle. I am willing to admit that my horror at the thought of experiments being performed on severely mentally incapacitated human beings in cases in which I would find it justifiable and preferable to perform the same experiments on nonhuman animals(capable of similar suffering) may not be a moral emotion. But it is certainly not wrong of us to extend special care to members of our own species, motivated by feelings of sympathy, protectiveness, etc. If this is speciesism, it is stripped of its tone of moral condemnation. It is not racist to provide special care to members of your own race; it is racist to fall below your moral obligation to a person because of his or her race. I have been arguing that we are morally obliged to consider the interests of all sentient creatures, but not to consider those interests equally with human interests. Nevertheless, even this recognition will mean some radical changes in our attitude toward and treatment of other species.l5
Many western animal rights advocates promote ethical veganism (a rejection of all animal products on ethical grounds, as opposed to just dietary veganism) as a universal ideal. The argument goes that, as with sexism, racism and other forms of oppression, speciesism is the unacceptable and unjust exploitation and abuse of non-human animals by a dominant oppressor who justifies their actions by ‘othering’ those who they exploit as being inferior – in this case because of species membership. And ethical veganism – refusing to consume (as much as is realistically possible) animal products is the practical solution to avoid being speciesist.
Maybe other species of material beings exist—such as Kryptonians, Martians, or Atlantians—who merit respect as persons, or maybe humanity is the only such animal species. These are open questions, since being a human being is a sufficient but not a necessary condition for being a person. To claim that all individual human beings deserve respect is not to deny that other species deserve respect. If someone says that all women deserve respect, that person is not (even implicitly) denying that men and children also deserve respect.
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One such defense is that we are not morally wrong to prioritize our needs before the needs of nonhuman animals for “the members of any species may legitimately give their fellows more weight than they give members of other species (or at least more weight than a neutral view would grant them).
What is Singer's response? He agrees that nonhuman animals lack certain capacities that human animals possess, and that this may justify different treatment. But it does not justify giving less consideration to their needs and interests. According to Singer, the moral mistake which the racist or sexist makes is not essentially the factual error of thinking that blacks or women are inferior to white men. For even if there were no factual error, even if it were true that blacks and women are less intelligent and responsible than whites and men, this would not justify giving less consideration to their needs and interests. It is important to note that the term "speciesism" is in one way like, and in another way unlike, the terms "racism" and "sexism." What the term "speciesism" has in common with these terms is the reference to focusing on a characteristic which is, in itself, irrelevant to moral treatment. And it is worth reminding us of this. But Singer's real aim is to bring us to a new understanding of the idea of equality. The question is, on what do claims to equality rest? The demand for human equality is a demand that the interests of allhuman beings be considered equally, unless there is a moral justification for not doing so. But why should the interests of all human beings be considered equally? In order to answer this question, we have to give some sense to the phrase, "All men (human beings) are created equal." Human beings are manifestly not equal, differing greatly in intelligence, virtue and capacities. In virtue of what can the claim to equality be made?
I next want to consider the entire notion of equality on which Singer bases his charge of "speciesism." All of us are aware that we live in a time with strong calls for greater equality. Since World War II this has become a major issue in the United States, first in relation to race and gender, but now in relation to many other groups who claim prejudices against their interests, including the handicapped, the aged and those with non heterosexual preferences.
He furthers his discussion of the term by saying that we use speciesism "in order to emphasize the similarities between sexist and racist practices on the one hand, and our treatment of animals on the other hand" (Singer 432).
Insofar as the subject is human equality, Singer's view is supported by other philosophers. Bernard Williams, for example, is concerned to show that demands for equality cannot rest on factual equality among people, for no such equality exists.3 The only respect in which all men are equal, according to Williams, is that they are all equally men. This seems to be a platitude, but Williams denies that it is trivial. Membership in the species Homo sapiens in itself has no special moral significance, but rather the fact that all men are human serves as a reminder that being human involves the possession of characteristics that are morally relevant. But on what characteristics does Williams focus? Aside from the desire for self-respect (which I will discuss later), Williams is not concerned with uniquely human capacities. Rather, he focuses on the capacity to feel pain and the capacity to feel affection. It is in virtue of these capacities, it seems, that he idea of equality is to be justified.
Therefore, it can be said that Speciesism in general terms is discrimination and just like any other discrimination, it ignores and even underestimates the sameness of the discriminator and the victim of the discrimination. The term is mainly used by activists of animal rights who have the opinion that it is morally wrong and even irrational to take sentient beings as property or objects.