Singer Turns on Violent Activists

The famous philosopher, academic, and animal rights activist, Peter Singer, criticized the actions of those animal rights extremists who sent razors to researcher David Jentsch (claiming that they were “covered in AIDS infected blood” – see Jentsch’s response on SR). Singer is often regarded as the founder of the animal rights philosophy with his 1975 book “Animal Liberation”, so it is reassuring to see such individuals condemning the extremists within their movement.  In a Twitter message, Singer said:

Ugh…how will this help the animals? All it does is give the animal movement the worst possible image. http://tinyurl.com/27xmlkr

It’s not the first time that Singer’s comments have caused controversy among the movement he helped to found. In November 2006, in footage from the British Documentary ‘Monkey, Rats and Me‘, Singer backed animal research as acceptable in some situations. Talking of monkey research into Parkinson’s conducted by Tipu Aziz, Singer said:

‘It is clear at least some animal research does have benefits … I would certainly not say that no animal research could be justified and the case you have given sounds like one that is justified.’

This resulted in a backlash from many leaders of the animal rights groups.

Speaking of Research applauds Peter Singer for his criticism of the animal rights extremists who are preventing open and reasoned debate on this important issue.

Cheers

Tom Holder

12 responses to “Singer Turns on Violent Activists

  1. I think its interesting that the most prominent critics of the unjustifiable uses of animals in research readily distance themselves and criticize those who share the same views but distort them either intellectually or morally–indeed even denounce the sort of nonsense that the radical fringe are perpetrating (see Francione’s recent post on this)–while we so rarely hear the proponents of the uses of animals in biomedical research standing up to their colleagues and denouncing their immoral use or abuse of animals. Instead, it is locked step–all for one and for all. Would be nice to see some Singer or Francione-like leadership from someone among the pro-animal-use side, rather than the same old SR fluffing.

    Just saying. . ..

    • C,

      To be fair, those of us in the industry are every bit as angry and upset when we hear about legitimate cases of animal abuse within research facilities. One problem is that just because PETA puts out a video claiming abuse doesn’t mean abuse actually happened. They are out to promote a certain view point and have, as a video posted on the comments section of another post here about mice and rats proves, distorted facts to fit their agenda. Second, lets face it, it makes better news to show a bunch of outraged animal rights activists protesting and shouting than a scientist saying, “Yes, this is horrible.”

      • Yep. And many among animal protection/welfare/rights movement are “angry and upset” by the microscopically small percentage of advocates who try intimidation as a tactic. Francione and Singer have the courage to speak out. I’m sure that they too could spin hypotheses about how this might be the work of agent provacateurs, or wring their hands about the facts of the case, and talk about this as an “internal matter” for the activist group to determine. Or, complain that the news media is more than willing to run the story about thuggery, but not talk to other members of the movement. Hopefully high-profile animal research advocates will choose real leadership on the issue and speak about particular cases where their colleagues cross lines that should not be crossed, rather than advocate abstract principles and hide behind professional courtesy.

    • You must have missed one of the SR guiding principles:

      “Speaking of Research believes that animal research should be conducted with the utmost care, responsibility and respect towards the animals.

      All personnel involved in animal research should strictly follow the pertinent guidelines, regulations and laws.

      Unfortunately, as in all human endeavors, there are isolated individuals who fail to adhere to established principles; in animal research, there is no excuse for such behavior.

      Where infringements are identified, they should be investigated thoroughly and appropriate disciplinary measures taken.

      Those that through intention or negligence show disregard for the regulations and the welfare of animals should not be involved in animal research.”

      • No I didn’t miss the guiding principle. But, what is applaudable in Francione’s standing up to the extremists or Singer’s willingness to distance himself from those who seek to achieve the ends of liberation through intimidation and violence, is precisely that they don’t remain at the level of general principles–they argue publicly with those on their side. As I said, would be nice if we saw similar leadership instead of the SR fluff. I don’t recall seeing anything about the kerfluffle over at Wisconsin–perhaps I missed that. (Cue lock step? :) )

  2. I think it’s important to emphasise that Singer is a utilitarian. Therefore, he can justify the use of animals for research based on the claim that it is for ‘the greater good’. Equally however, it means he can justify the killing of (at least some) human babies (and thus also use them in medical research). Since using human babies would, presumably, be biomedically more beneficial than using animals, anyone using Singer’s argument to support their position must also be happy to kill babies *in preference* to using animals.

    • It is the opinion of many scientists that the use of human infants in research is morally unacceptable for a number of reasons. Human infants are members of our society, our culture and our families, and they inherit moral relevance by virtue of that. They are being raised by morally relevant parents who have rights to care for and raise their child during its developmental trajectory. They will, for the most part, grow into moral actors – infancy is a predicate for that. A rat and a monkey, on the other hand, will never be as morally relevant because they lack certain aspects of human cognition, reasoning and mentation, and they are incapable of exhibiting them, despite development and training.

      Even if these things were not correct, it is still scientifically inappropriate to conclude that “using human babies would … be biomedically more beneficial than using animals.” This is not scientifically correct. For example, the infant brain, by virtue of the fact that it continues to develop from birth through the teenage years, exhibits properties in infancy it will not later show. Put simply, the “rules” are somewhat different in the adult and infant human brain. For example, to study diseases of aging, reproductive maturation and health and certain mental illnesses that only manifest in the adult, an infant human may well be a poorer model system than an adult rat (and certainly than an adult monkey). In that sense, a utilitarian cannot immediately conclude that, ethics aside, it would be scientifically more advantageous to study the infant human than an animal model.

      • “It is the opinion of many scientists that the use of human infants in research is morally unacceptable for a number of reasons. Human infants are members of our society, our culture and our families, and they inherit moral relevance by virtue of that.”

        They don’t *all* have to be though. We could just use those unwanted babies who are ordinarily put up for adoption, or that are usually aborted (obviously this could lead to women’s right issues, though some would probably be happy to do this).

        Additionally, if *relational* properties (e.g being valued by other people) is enough to confer rights, then the fact that animal rights activists value animals should be enough to confer rights on them.

        “They will, for the most part, grow into moral actors – infancy is a predicate for that. A rat and a monkey, on the other hand, will never be as morally relevant because they lack certain aspects of human cognition, reasoning and mentation, and they are incapable of exhibiting them, despite development and training”

        I’m not sure why *potential* to do something should grant actual rights. I’m presuming you don’t think a zygote or embryo has rights simply because it has the potential to be a human. Perhaps you do. If so, why? We don’t say a child has the right to vote because he will potentially one day be an adult, or a first year medical student has the rights and priveleges of a doctor because his is potentially a doctor.

        Finally, even if we granted potentiality as being enough to grant rights, there would still be quite a few babies that lack this potentiality due to congenital defects/disease.

        “For example, the infant brain, by virtue of the fact that it continues to develop from birth through the teenage years, exhibits properties in infancy it will not later show.”

        That sounds pretty useful for studying neural development, and applying it to e.g regenerating damaged nerves in paralysed patients. Perhaps it could even lead to understanding that would help reactivate damaged parts of coma patients brains, those in a persistent vegetative state, or even understanding of (re)myelination to reverse multiple sclerosis.

        “Put simply, the “rules” are somewhat different in the adult and infant human brain. For example, to study diseases of aging, reproductive maturation and health and certain mental illnesses that only manifest in the adult, an infant human may well be a poorer model system than an adult rat (and certainly than an adult monkey).”

        If an adult monkey is a better model to study *mental* illnesses than a human infant, then this implies the adult monkey is mentally more similar to adult humans than the human infant, and therefore the adult monkey should be entitled to more rights and protection than the infant *because of its existing mental abilities*.

    • Matt,

      I suggest a reading of

      Kittay, E. F. (2005). At the margins of moral personhood. Ethics, 116, 100–131.

      for some arguments for why relational properties might actually be very important in our assessment of moral worth.

      I think it is certainly possible for some animals to have elevated moral status as they are specially related to humans. But this does not mean that all animals should have the same moral status as these individuals.

      • Thanks Dario, I’ll have a look at that paper. I didn’t say that relational properties weren’t important, merely that they are something that can equally be applied to human babies, animals, pieces of art, trees, rivers…so therefore intrinsic properties seem to be what matters most.

        “I think it is certainly possible for some animals to have elevated moral status as they are specially related to humans.”

        Agreed, but I also think some should have elevated moral status because of their intrinsic properties.

        “But this does not mean that all animals should have the same moral status as these individuals.”

        Oh, agreed. If all animals were to have the same moral status, then that would be equivalent to saying a fly and a chimpanzee were morally equivalent, which I believe is absurd.

    • Matt,

      I was not arguing that that intrinsic properties do not matter, but they matter the most in the marginal cases you bring up… such as that of a severely, cognitive disabled child.

      Something tells me we agree more than what may appear at first sight.

      • Hang on…did you mean to say “but they *DO NOT* matter the most in the marginal cases you bring up…”

        ?

        i.e in these marginal cases, you would argue that it is *relational* properties/values that matter the most?