Bernard Williams, The “Human Prejudice” (“privilege”)



2.      A major essay analyzing and defending our special concern for our fellow humans: “Our ethical identity as a species”

3.      Speciesism

         a.      A defense of what the critics call “speciesism”?

         b.      Definition of speciesism:

                   i.       Being human is the reason for greater importance

                            (1)    “Humans as such have a claim on our attention and care in way other animals do not” Williams

                            (2)    Using the mere fact of being human as a reason for preferential treatment–speciesism

                            (3)    “Told a human trapped in a burning building on the strength of that fact alone we mobilize as many resources as we can to rescue them”

                                      (a)     If we are told it is an human in a permanent vegetative state we would not

                                      (b)    Properties of the individual human do matter

                   ii.      Not speciesism if reason is some characteristic of humans

                   iii.     What do with marginal case humans?

                            (1)    Consider individually–not greater importance

                            (2)    Consider part of group/humans–greater importance as belong to human species–speciesism

         c.      E.T. objection to speciesism

         d.      Notion of human rights speciesist

                   i.       Human rights: Rights possessed by certain creatures because they are human beings; In virtue of their being human

4.      Williams’s main point is that being partial to humanity does not require a belief in the absolute importance of human beings

         a.      There is no cosmic point of view, and therefore no test of cosmic significance that we can either pass or fail

5.      Critics of “human privilege” falsely believe it requires cosmic point of view

         a.      Those who criticize the privileged position of human beings in our ethical thought are confused:

                   i.       “They suppose that we are in effect saying, when we exercise these distinctions between human beings and other creatures, that human beings are more important, period, than those other creatures. That objection is simply a mistake . . . These actions and attitudes need express no more than the fact that human beings are more important to us, a fact which is hardly surprising.

         b.      Not clear why critics of human speciesism are assuming that its defenders take a cosmic point of view

                   i.       One could argue that humans more important w/o taking a cosmic point of view

                   ii.      Or argue they are not more important, w/o taking a cosmic point of view

6.      Williams seems to think that to criticize human privilege (speciesism) involves taking the (impossible) cosmic point of view

         a.      But why would it?

         b.      Just as his judgment that humans are more important qua human is a judgment taken from human point of view

         c.      So is the judgment that humans are not more important

                   i.       Even those humans on the side of nonhumans are taking sides from the human point of view

7.      So humanism is just a form of group loyalty

         a.      But the question is which group loyalties/partialities are morally acceptable/praiseworthy and which are unacceptable and blameworthy? (See discussion of Lauren’s critical question-loyalty to race, sex, nation, species, pets?)

         b.      Loyalty/partiality justified by relationships? Quality of interaction? Friendship?

8.      But he thinks our partiality to those who share our form of life does not need justification

         a.      Why would it not need justification? Doesn’t partiality (as a rejection of equality) always need justification?

         b.      He illustrates this with a wonderful science-fiction fantasy of superior but disgusting visitors from outer space.

                   i.       How is this suppose to show this?

9.      Williams: We should care about nonhumans

         a.      Williams doesn’t suggest that the human prejudice/privilege warrants our brutality towards other species or complete indifference to their suffering

         b.      So Williams is not an strong anthropocentrist (only human suffering counts); he allows that animal suffering counts some, just not as much as human suffering

         c.      He’s a moderate anthropocentrist (animals count some; but humans count more)

10.    Are humans more important? Yes typically, all agree

         a.      “What happens to humans is more important than what happens to other creatures”

         b.      Any thoughtful animal rights person (Singer/Regan/Jamieson) would allow this in a general sense

                   i.       Death of a typical human more important than death of an animal, as human projects herself into the future

         c.      Still if the comparison is between the human species (or an individual human) and all other species on the planet combined (all 10 million of them), then maybe humans aren’t more important



12.    Traditional cosmic humanism

         a.      Dignity and excellence of human beings

         b.      In cosmic terms, humans had importance

         c.      Humans particularly important in relation to the scheme of things

         d.      Religious argument for cosmic humanism

                   i.       Superiority of man shown by choice of human as vehicle of incarnation

                   ii.      God more concerned with us that any other creature

13.    Williams rejects cosmic point of view as belief in an “enchanted” universe

         a.      Ludicrous to suppose that this enterprise (the universe) has any special interest in us

14.    If not cosmic point of view, then humans not of absolute importance or unimportance

         a.      If enchanted world view false, if no such thing as cosmic point of view

         b.      If idea of absolute importance in scheme of things is an illusion

         c.      No question of humans being important or failing to be so from a cosmic point of view.

15.    Humans are important from their own point of view

         a.      Even if no cosmic point of view

         b.      There is a point of view from which we are important, ours.

16.    For us, human point of view inescapable

         a.      The only point of view humans can take is the human point of view!

         b.      But whether or not humans are more important than other species is not settled by the claim that all we can take is the human point of view


17.    Williams consideration of speciesism objection to special concern for humans (Williams rejects this objection)

         a.      Need reasons for these preferences

         b.      W/o reason, preference is just a prejudice

         c.      “It’s a human” or “she’s one of us” is not a reason

         d.      Like paradigm prejudices of racism and sexism

                   i.       Because’s he’s white

                   ii.      Because he’s male

                   iii.     Not good reasons (except in special circumstances)

         e.      “What’s that got to do with it”

         f.       Racism/sexism prejudices are just a “he’s one of us” (with a narrower us than humanism/speciesism)

         g.      Human privilege is just another prejudice

         h.      Right kind of reason is: supposed intellectual and moral weakness of blacks or women

                   i.       Of course these claims untrue

         i.       Defender of the speciesism objection will say give us a reason for why nonhumans count less

                   i.       Williams seems to reject the idea there needs to be a reason


18.    If try to justify the special concern for humans by appealing to differences between humans and other animals, one is taking the illicit cosmic point of view

         a.      Possible differences that justify human preference

                   i.       Uniquely on earth, humans use highly articulated languages, developed non-genetic learning to an unparalleled extent via culture; possess literatures and historically cumulative technologies

                   ii.      “It simply is better that culture, intelligence and technology should flourish as opposed to all other amazing things done by other species”

         b.      An appeal to the idea of absolute importance, relic of enchanted world

         c.      Not clear why it is an appeal to a cosmic point of view

19.    We could say that we are in favor of cultural development etc and think it very important; but that is just another expression of human prejudice we are supposed to be questioning.

         a.      I don’t think so at all.

         b.      If say human life is better because it creates complex cultures which have more value and less complex ones

         c.      I’m giving a reason in a way I am not when I say human life is more valuable because it is human life.

         d.      Why is it a human prejudice?

                   i.       We apply the idea to animals too

                            (1)    Animals with culture are of greater value than animals without culture.

20.    Appeal to “it’s a human” (for special treatment of humans) not justified by differences humans and other creatures

         a.      If there is a human prejudice it is structurally different from racist and sexist prejudices

         b.      How is it different? Does not require justification?


21.    Humans count more (1) because we are human (2) because our lives or more psychologically complex on same epistemic footing

         a.      Singer explains why more seriousness to kill a human because we are persons (superior mental powers, self-aware, rationality, moral sense, autonomy, capable of seeing themselves as continuing selves, self-aware beings existing over time)

22.    Williams thinks appealing to these properties for differential treatment no different/better than appealing to being a human being

         a.      In both cases “we favor and esteem these properties, we encourage their development and hate and resent it if they are frustrated”

23.    If say it is simply better that world contain properties of personhood but not that humans beings as such flourish

         a.      Appealing to absolute importance and cosmic point of view

         b.      Why?


24.    Utilitarian goal of minimizing suffering, rejects human prejudice

25.    Williams believe it appeals to an Ideal Observer (IO)

         a.      Impartially concerned with all suffering equally

         b.      Williams worries this takes on cosmic point of view

                   i.       Absence of suffering has absolute importance

         c.      I think of idea that suffering is bad as a starting point in ethics

         d.      Unlike being a human is better, it is not a prejudice

                   i.       Suffering is intrinsically bad, pleasure intrinsically good

                   ii.      Being a human is not intrinsically good; being a non-human is not intrinsically less good

         e.      Is that to take a kind of problematic cosmic point of view? Why?