Mar 6, 2010

as it stands, it limps and falls. And then dies, as weak things cannot live

"If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for disregarding that suffering, or for refusing to count it equally with the like suffering of any other being. But the converse of this is also true. If a being is not capable of suffering, or of enjoyment, there is nothing to take into account" - Peter Singer

As it stands, this hardly needs refuting it seems to me. The idea that all suffering is equal is intriguing. The idea that being able to "suffer" or enjoy is required in order for someone to be morally important is bizarre. Those in a coma or anaesthetized in hospital would perhaps agree with me; once they woke up anyway. "Suffering" usually means a kind of psychological torment, but I think Singer uses it more in the sense of pain. A richer conception of suffering e.g. that would allow someone wronged/killed whilst in a temporary coma to "suffer" would presumably cause difficulties for his extreme position on abortion and other issues.


  1. There are several misunderstandings of this quote from Animal Liberation.

    Firstly, you say "all suffering is equal", which is not found anywhere in the quote. What it says is that suffering of one being should be regarded equally with the same suffering in another being (e.g. identical conscious states in a dog/human, though we have to take the second misunderstanding into account to be clear here). There is clearly a continuum from the worst sort of suffering through to the best sort of happiness.

    The second misunderstanding is that you fail to take the future into account. Once the person wakes up from the coma they can suffer and enjoy again.

    Finally, I'm sure Singer would include any negative conscious state in the concept of 'suffering'. The terminology just isn't really there though so it can be difficult to convey the message clearly.

  2. Dear Richard. Thank you for reading my humble blog and deigning to comment. Firstly, I'd like to say this was quite a spontaneous posting; yet nonetheless, able to be defended in an important area or two I suspect.
    I may have missed the word "like" - in any case, I grant you the first point. Perhaps I could rephrase my phrases, such that they say something like "the implicit idea that different animals can suffer in the same way as humans is intriguing ..."
    But I now use the term "au contraire" concerning your second point, for I do not think that I fail to take the future into account (that would incidentally be one of the cardinal sins of atheism - another is to make crucial mistakes about the past.) In any case, my underdeveloped (but the bud is clearly enough there) point was that if you do take the future into account, then the foetus may have a higher status than PS believes. He, to my limited (I am not omniscient) knowledge, does not give such little critters moral status; -why?- for they cannot suffer!
    Does "negative conscious state" include death I wonder? What about the death of an unconscious person, coma patient or foetus??
    Fascinating stuff.