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The Types of Appeal: Peter Singer’s “Speciesism and the Equality of Animals”

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                The Types of Appeal: Peter Singer’s “Speciesism and the Equality of Animals”

                In “Speciesism and the Equality of Animals” Peter Singer uses the three types of appeals – logos,  ethos, and pathos – to argue that prejudice against a species own members or those of another species is as rampant and large of a problem in society as either racism or sexism. However, his argument relies most heavily on the logos appeal type, using logical argument and comparisons to racism in particular to get his point across. If compared, he notes, the similarities and disparities of the three concepts are one and the same. As Singer explains:

    It should be obvious that the fundamental objections to racism and sexism […] apply equally to speciesism. If possessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one human to use another for its own ends, how can it entitle humans to exploit nonhumans for the same purpose? (227).

                People commonly espouse the inherent rights and virtues of other members of mankind; philosophers and writers spoke and wrote on the basic human rights or as Singer calls it “a basic moral principle” (277) but few practiced what they preached. Even fewer looked outside the species of mankind to draw any similar conclusions on the plight of animals. As an opposition to other thinkers of his time, Singer makes note of Jeremy Betham who drew attention to the idea that it is not merely a  matter of man versus man but rather man versus animal. Pain and suffering are not wholly a human condition and therefore as Benthem wrote, the question is not  “’Can they reason? Nor Can they talk? But Can they suffer?’” (278).

                Singer uses the idea of suffering as one of the key points of his argument against cruelty – not simply against humans but all species with the capability to suffer. It’s a difficult argument to rebuke. How is the suffering of another living thing justified by society? Once more quoting Jeremy Bentham, Singer explains the primary argument against such cruelty and suffering “Bentham points to the capacity for suffering as the vital characteristic that gives a being the right to equal consideration” (278).

                Singer appeals most fully to the readers’ logic (logos), extolling the commonality of the idea of speciesism to others forms of prejudice that though still practiced are now taboo in modern society, particularly racism and sexism. We cannot justify these prejudices by lessening the interests of a woman vs. a man or a black man vs. a white man. Therefore, he argues, how can we justify the cruelty and ignorance of an animal’s suffering over that of a man?

                The same arguments that apply to racism and sexism also apply to man versus animal, both have similar interests in not suffering and both have the real capacity to feel pain, “If a being suffers there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. No matter what the nature of that being, the principle of equality requires that its suffering be counted equally with the life suffering […] of any other being” (278). By using the comparison of a mouse and a stone, Singer is able to distinguish his criteria for interests. A stone kicked across the road does not suffer from the force or result of that kick, after all it is only a stone. But a mouse, which bleeds and feels and can communicate pain, will be directly impacted and effected by someone kicking it across the street.

                In showing this comparison he further uses the style of “logos” appeal; it would be unreasonable to say that a stone feels as a mouse but by showing that they are two very different types of things he gives the reader a concrete image. “If a being is not capable of suffering, or of experiencing enjoyment or happiness, there is nothing to be taken into account. So the limit of sentience […] is the only defensible boundary of concern for the interest of others” (278). To say that a mouse is not a human being and not capable of our abilities to rationally think because of it’s specie and that it’s pain is justified likens to, according to Singer, the argument that a person’s skin color can also determine they’re treatment in society.

                As I noted before, Singer also appeals to the reader on an  ethical (ethos) level and on an emotional (pathos) level. For an ethical approach to his argument against speciesism Singer began first with his likening of speciesism to racism and sexism, noting in his first paragraph Sojourner Truth and Thomas Jefferson. Though his explanation of the speciesism follows this naming dropping, it is difficult once the logical conclusion is drawn for the mind not to go back to those two individuals and their fight for equal rights. Both being historical and widely used examples of civil rights leadership it is not difficult to see that Singer draws a concrete connection between human rights and animal rights by using their names in his essay.

                However, in the section titled “Speciesism in Practice” he gives the reader further professional and concrete evidence with which to appeal using the ethos approach. Citing the New York Times report, which exposed the practice of crowding four or five hens into a single cage where they are not able to move (279) or live any kind of life and what little life they have is defined by suffering, Singer uses a credible and notable news source to show the reader that the maltreatment of animals is a documented practice.

                During the time when Singer was developing his argument some of  the largest culprits were also those who are held in the highest esteem. Singer notes an experiment undergone by Perrin S. Cohen at the University of Pennsylvania (281). The experiment exposed dogs to electric shock applied at varying degrees to their hind feet, showed no conclusive evidence and appeared of no real value considering the suffering of the dogs. Each dogs was given 26-46 sessions with around 80 electric shocks applied through electrodes attached to their feet while hanging suspended in hammocks (281). The funding for the fruitless expert was provided by branches of the highest power in the land, namely the National Health Institute and the United State Public Health Service (281).

                Singer’s explanation of the experiment performed on dogs is perhaps one of the best examples of his appeal to the readers emotional response to speciesism. While he notes the horrible cruelty practiced in the livestock and food processing industry in America, his example of the suffering of those electrocuted dogs may appeal more to someone in our society where  out of all the animal species, dogs are most highly valued as man’s best friend. However, it would taken a truly hardened person not to be effected by the visual of his descriptions of other animals cruelties.

                Not only are the animals mentioned by Singer put in quarters which limit and maim their natural functions, their instinctual actions are taken away.  Chickens unable to stretch their wings, walk around, build a nest still try to perform these innate actions and when they are unable to they peck each other to death. What is their reward for acting on instinct? As Singer explains, “the beaks of the young birds are often cut off” (280).

                Singer does not stop with chickens but also touches on the plight of pigs and veal, both animals are exploited and kept in deplorable conditions. In the case of veal calves, their captivity and forced vitamin deficiencies are all done for consumer (human) tastes. The images Singer presents and the interests they serve, illustrate as clearly as a photograph that an animal’s suffering is as real as a human being’s.

                 By showing through examples the numerous everyday practices of science and food production Singer forces the reader to react emotionally (ethos appeal) to animal suffering. The facts presented and the news sources cited show the reader that this is not the imagination of Singer but rather hard evidence (ethos appeal), which has created this heart wrenching picture. Lastly, and actually firstly, he appeals to the logic (logos appeal) of the reader by using other examples of unacceptable prejudice based on skewed ideas, to show that speciesism too is flawed. Through each type of appeal Singer is able to show the reader on a range of levels the fact of speciesism and the abominable results it produces.

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    The Types of Appeal: Peter Singer’s “Speciesism and the Equality of Animals”. (2017, Feb 28). Retrieved from

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