Peter Singer, “Taking Life: Animals”

Part of a chapter of Practical Ethics, 3rd ed.



2.      Replaceability argument for meat eating

         a.      Meat eaters responsible for death of an animal and loss of its experienced pleasure

         b.      Also responsible for creation of more animals and the pleasure they experience

         c.      “If we kill one animal we can replace it with another as long as the other will lead a life as pleasant as the one killed would have led if it had been allowed to go on living”

3.      Hedonistic utilitarianism (=right acts maximize utility=pleasure)

         a.      May or may not accept replaceability argument, depend on whose good/pleasure counts

4.      Two version of (hedonistic?) utilitarianism

         a.      Total view: should maximize utility even if best way is to bring into existence sentient beings who otherwise would not have existed

                   i.       Sympathetic to replaceability (why?)

         b.      Prior existence view: Should maximize utility of just those beings whose existence is already a given (prior to the decision under consideration)

                   i.       Not sympathetic to replaceability (why?)

5.      Replaceability argument view of sentient beings as receptacles of value

         a.      Sentient beings are valuable only in so far as make possible the existence of intrinsically valuable experiences like pleasure

         b.      “Does not matter if the receptacle gets broken as long as there is another to which contents get transferred w/o spillage”

6.      Singer’s three comments on replaceability argument

         a.      One: Ignores that lives of animals in factory farms are more of a burden to them than a benefit

         b.      Two: If the goal is to create as many happy beings as possible, should eliminate people and replace with mice

                   i.       If people’s happiness counts more, then doesn’t’ justify meat eating, as “with the exception of some areas suitable only for pasture, surface of globe can support more people if we grow plants for food than if we raise animals”

         c.      Three: Replaceability justifies human cloned infant organ banking

                   i.       If replaceability counts for animals, it must count for humans at a similar mental level (marginal case argument)

                   ii.      This would justify organ banking of cloned infants engineered to remain at mental level of happy infant

                   iii.     “Clone has a stronger interest than anyone in demand for organs”

                   iv.     Unless on is a speciesist (=favoring humans simply because of species membership) if replaceability justifies meat eating, it also justifies this type of organ banking



8.      Parfit’s pregnant women/disable children intuition supports the total view and replaceability (and counts against prior existence view)

         a.      Details of example (failure to take pill to cure current fetus; failure to delay pregnancy to prevent disability)

         b.      What each does is equally wrong (Parfit thinks)

         c.      The first woman harms her child, but the second woman does not harm her child and her wrong can’t be explain by that

         d.      The wrong the woman does who refused to postpone pregnancy might consist in not bringing into existence a possible being

         e.      This rejects the prior existence view (only the utility/pleasure of those who already exist count) and brings us closer to the total view and toward accepting replaceability

                   i.       We are giving weight to interests of beings who would come into existence

9.      Parfit depletion/sustainability example supports total view, as prior existence view suggests depletion is right

         a.      Details of example

                   i.       Business as usual, climate change, future people much worse off, we today are slightly better off

                   ii.      Sustainability, no CC, future people much better off and we today are slightly worse off

                   iii.     Sustainability is right thing to do if we consider the welfare of every generation as it has much better consequences than business as usual

         b.      If we choose business as usual, 23rd century people will not be able to complain that they would have been better off if we had chosen sustainability, for they would not have been at all!


         c.      On prior existence view, business as usual seems right thing to do, for that view tells us to do what is best for those who exist, and that is what we are doing under business as usual

         d.      Focusing on those who exist (or would exist anyway) leaves out something vital to the ethics of the decision

         e.      Can and should compare lives of those who will exist with lives of those who might have existed if we act differently

         f.       We should sometimes take account of impact we could have on lives of people whose existences is uncertain



         a.      Gives us a criterion from when beings are replaceable

11.    Preference utilitarian:

         a.      Right acts maximize satisfaction of preferences, not maximize experiences of pleasure/happiness

12.    Preference utilitarians distinction between future oriented beings (not replaceable) and merely conscious beings (are replaceable)

         a.      Future oriented beings

                   i.       Self-aware individuals, leading own lives and wanting to go on living, and have future oriented preferences

                   ii.      Capacity to see oneself as existing over time, aspire to a longer life and have other non-momentary, future-directed interests

         b.      Merely conscious beings

                   i.       Those w/o future oriented preferences

                   ii.      Conscious, but not self-conscious

                   iii.     Preferences are of immediate sort

                            (1)    desire for immediate satisfaction/pleasure

                            (2)    desire to get out of painful or distressing situation

                   iv.     No desires that project own image of themselves into the future

                   v.      Conscious states not internally linked over time

                            (1)    If fall asleep, no desires for what happens later and when wake up, no awareness of having previously existed

                            (2)    If killed while unconscious and replaced by similar number of members of their species who only would be created if they are killed, no loss of value

                   vi.     For merely conscious being, death not contrary to an interest in continued life

                   vii.    Killing these individuals instantly and painlessly is not acting contrary to any of their preferences

                   viii.   So merely conscious beings are replaceable

                   ix.     With merely conscious beings birth and death cancel each other out

13.    Self-aware beings not replaceable

         a.      With self-aware beings, the desire to continue to live means that death inflicts a loss not adequately compensated for by the creation of a new being with similar prospect of pleasurable experiences


14.    Objection: Why can’t thwarting existing preferences be compensated for by creating new preferences we then satisfy?

15.    Reply: Creating an unsatisfied preference is putting a debit in moral leger of credits and debits

         a.      Satisfaction of an existing preference is a good thing

         b.      But creating and then satisfying a preference is merely neutral

                   i.       Make person thirsty, so can enjoy a drink

                   ii.      Satisfaction of the preference merely cancels out the debit


16.    Preference creation as debit creation explains a lot

         a.      Wrong to create miserable person

                   i.       Explains why wrong to bring into existence a child who will lead a miserable existence for a year or two and then die

                   ii.      We create a debit that can’t be cancelled and is therefore wrong

         b.      Explains why not good to create a child who will lead a happy life

                   i.       Bringing into existence a child most of whose preferences will be satisfied is to create a debit that will be erased when desires satisfied

                   ii.      This is ethically neutral

         c.      Also explains Parfit’s intuition that his two women do equally wrong things

                   i.       Neither thwarts any existing preferences, but unnecessarily bring into existence a child likely to have a larger negative balance in moral ledger than child they could have brought into existence

         d.      Also explains why business as usual is wrong as it leaves a larger negative balance in moral ledger than would be if we switched to sustainability


17.    Problem with the preference moral leger view: Better if none of us had been born and non-sentient universe better than peopled one

         a.      For even the most happy person will have some unsatisfied desires, so net result is negative on moral ledger



18.    Satisfying existing preferences and bring preferences into existence are different

         a.      If someone is thirsty, that is a reason to give him water

         b.      Doesn’t follow we have a reason for making people thirsty and then offering them water

19.    So no obligation to bring people into existence follows form fact that if we do, they will be able to satisfy most of their preferences

20.    To take into account interests of merely possible future beings (and we have to in some scenarios) goes beyond minimalist idea of preference utilitarianism

         a.      May be based on judgment that there is value in certain kinds of lives (independent of preferences)

21.    Might distinguish two kinds of value

         a.      Preference dependent value tied to existence of beings with preferences

         b.      And value independent of preferences

                   i.       Like saying pleasure/happiness, love, friendship, knowledge or appreciation of beauty (all certain types of consciousness?) is intrinsically good

                   ii.      Hedonistic utilitarians believe in such value independent of preferences

                            (1)    They can say peopled universe is better as it contains a surplus of pleasure over pain and nonsentient universe does not.

                   iii.     This notion can help explain what is wrong with the business as usual scenario

                            (1)    And preference util can’t?


22.    Problems for hedonistic utilitarianism

         a.      Happy sheep universe could be better than happy people universe as possibly more pleasure/happiness

23.    Possible, that our actual universe is worse than non-sentient universe, --if there is more misery and extreme suffering than pleasure


24.    Singer’s view: Combines preference utilitarianism (personal value) and idea of intrinsic value (not dependent on preferences) (an impersonal value)

         a.      Debit view of preferences

         b.      Allows us to move beyond prior existence view (which is clearly inadequate for some of these questions)

         c.      And does not force us to accept the idea that all sentient beings (including self-aware beings) are replaceable


25.    That he believes merely conscious beings are replaceable is not to say their interests don’t count

         a.      They have interests in satisfying their desires and experiencing as much pleasure and as little pain as possible

         b.      Their interests count equally

         c.      But they do not have a personal interest in continuing to live