Peter Singer Converts to Kantian Ethics

Posted on Posted in Philosophy

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In a stunning reversal one of the most prominent defenders and advocates of utilitarianism, Peter Singer, rejects the theory and now claims that Kantian Ethics offers a better way of thinking about ethical obligations, especially to other non-human animals.

In a recent interview Singer said,

“They say that humans, and only humans, are ‘ends in themselves,’ while ‘everything other than a person can only have value for a person’.”

Rejecting this traditional view and the traditional utilitarian view that utility is the sole determining factor in determining what actions are right and wrong he argues for a modified version of Kantian ethics in which we are required to give equal consideration to interests of not only all humans but all non-human animals as well.

Singer produced the following passage from his landmark essay “All Animals are Equal” which quotes famous utilitarians Jeremy Bentham and Henry Sidgewick and is claiming that these quotes display an element beyond what can rightfully be claimed by a strict utilitarian, the demand for equality:

Jeremy Bentham incorporated the essential basis of moral equality into his utilitarian system of ethics in the formula: “Each to count for one and none for more than one.” In other words, the interests of every being affected by an action are to be taken into account and given the same weight as the like interests of any other being. A later utilitarian, Henry Sidgwick, put the point in this way: “The good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point of view (if I may say so) of the Universe, than the good of any other.”

Singer now believes that this kind of equality, so necessary to our moral reasoning, is better captured by a more Kantian style ethical theory.

Explaining the further he says:

Under a strict utilitarian theory there is nothing that would make it immoral to raise animals for food if they are raised humanely and killed painlessly. In fact, it actually  be morally required within a utilitarian theory as people get so much utility from consuming animals. But since animals deserve equal consideration we must not make them a victim to a simple utility calculus.

He goes on to say:

Sidgewick’s insight that from the point of view of the universe, or reason, the good of any one individual is of no more importance than the good of any other much closer to Kantianism than utilitarianism, and I’ve come to realize that Kantian ethics better captures the ethical intuitions that I’ve based my arguments for animal rights on.

(Peter Singer actually hasn’t converted to Kantian ethics, although I think he should given some of the things he says.)

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