Peter Singer – The west just as cruel as Japanese Whalers!

http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/peter-singer/2008/01/21/1200764167345.html

A little disappointing, as it only touches on culling (of kangas) but does give a reasonable “brief” history of Australia and whaling.

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10 Responses to “Peter Singer – The west just as cruel as Japanese Whalers!”


  1. 1 Simon January 22, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    A doubt we can expect much more from a mainstream newspaper though.

    Interesting arguments do surround the whaling debate as illustrated in Singer’s last few paragraphs. Just last night I was pulled over for a random breath test (0.0 of course) and I noticed a bunch of kids hanging around on an opposite oval with golf clubs. I asked the police officer if they were concerned about the kids with clubs. The officer replied in the negative saying ‘they’re just killing off a few rats’. I asked if he had a problem with that to which he again replied in the negative.

    Now I know a rat’s not a whale but is it better to clobber them to death, or possibly just maim them, in Australia than to hunt whales in Antarctica?

  2. 2 Waz January 22, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    there can be a case made for killing rats on utilitarian grounds, the rats maybe harbouring an infectious disease and the killing of them would save a greater number… blah, blah, blah… you know what i mean. BTW Simon, where do you stand on cane toads?

  3. 3 Simon January 23, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    So it’s OK to employ the services of children to kill random rats in Australia with golf clubs based on that logic? I could understand a euthanasia campaign if the rats were confirmed to be carrying a pathogen but I still wouldn’t agree to allowing any odd children, armed with clubs, to randomly pick them off.

    As to the Cane Toad, I think that they should be left alone.

  4. 4 Brad February 1, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Let’s not forget that Australians once approved of whaling. That is Singer’s opening request. Midway through the article Singer demonstrates that Australians eventually responded to rational arguments against whaling. Is there a hidden suggestion that the Japanese have failed to respond to rational arguments? I sense it in the text but maybe that is unfair to Singer. More likely Singer is leading to his closing paragraphs. That is, despite our recognition that whaling is unethical, Western nations like ourselves continue to inflict unnecessary pain and suffering on various other animals. On that basis, he tells us, we are in a poor position to judge the Japanese whaling tradition. We have opened ourselves to charges of cultural bias.

    I don’t see any contradiction in this aspect of Singer’s argument. However, the idea of unnecessary or needless pain and suffering raises my eyebrow. Singer’s utilitarian views commit him to hold that “If there were some life-or-death need that humans could meet only by killing whales, perhaps the ethical case could be countered”. Ok then. What is Singer’s ethical case?

    1. Whales are social mammals with big brains.
    2. Whales are capable of enjoying life.
    3. Whales feel physical pain and distress.
    Conclusion: Whaling should stop.

    The only premise that Singer really attends to in his article is the issue of physical pain and distress. So … whaling should stop because whales feel pain. The hidden premise is of course that humans should not cause physical pain and distress. That seems to me to be a fairly minimal yet sustainable argument. It is a black and white ethical case for ceasing whaling, and serves much like a command. But the utilitarian caveat introduces a problem.

    Whaling might be justified if a practical reason can be given. If the practical reason is accepted, then we must kill the whales humanely in order to retain our humanity and some semblance of dignity.

    Singer does not accept that “research” counts as a life-or-death need. Maybe he is right, although some accidental cure for cancer is theoretically possible. On the off chance that Japan could justify this research there would still be the issue of humane killing. Whales, he tells us, simply can’t be killed humanely due to their size. Therefore we are back to the conclusion that whaling is unethical. It does seem that regardless of the scenario, all roads lead to the same conclusion. I still see a problem.

    Utilitarianism seems to be an ethical theory with a disclaimer built into it. Singer should not be surprised then if the Japanese and others choose to read the small print. In fact, he can’t even justifiably call whaling unethical while he accepts an ethic that justifies killing under special conditions. Morally distasteful? Possibly.

  5. 5 Simon February 1, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Singer does not accept that “research” counts as a life-or-death need. Maybe he is right, although some accidental cure for cancer is theoretically possible.

    I don’t think that a possible accidental reason is enough of a justification for a given act.

  6. 6 Brad February 1, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    I can’t disagree with that Simon. Singer’s argument does, in my opinion, reach the right conclusion that whaling is unethical. However, I am not convinced by his method for getting there.

    The form of utilitarianism that Singer is propounding allows for the killing of a sentient being under certain conditions, however minimal those conditions might be. Why is that so? There must be an underlying assumption that human sentience is ultimately more valuable than animal sentience. I have real reservations about an ethic that makes that kind of assumption, though I remain open to being convinced otherwise.

    Once we accept that there might be an excuse for killing sentient beings, we leave the door open for scientists of all nationalities and persuasions to justify (convincingly or not) those killings. And that is just scratching the surface. Cane toads, foxes, rats, etc are so-called pests. Why? Apparently our needs are greater than theirs. Kangaroos are destroying their own environment. Solution? Cull them. Apparently it’s in their best interest, and surely humans know best.

    I sound like I am ranting now, and here we enter the next level of the Japanese argument. I am clearly becoming emotional and there ought to be no place in the debate for emotion.

    So how then I do I convince the Japanese government that whaling must end? I am certain I can’t do it coherently by following Mr. Singer’s rationale.

  7. 7 Brad February 2, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Singer’s argument does reach the same conclusion that I would intuitively reach. However, I am not convinced by his method for getting there.
    I think the fact that an excuse can be put forward for killing, regardless of whether that excuse is convincing or not, highlights the weakness of Singer’s position that “If there were some life-or-death need that humans could meet only by killing whales, perhaps the ethical case could be countered”.

    In order to accept this claim, I need to accept that human sentience is ultimately more valuable than animal sentience.
    Once we accept that there might be an excuse for killing sentient beings, we leave the door open for scientists of all nationalities and persuasions to justify (convincingly or not) those killings. And that is just scratching the surface. Cane toads, foxes, rats, etc are so-called pests. Why? Apparently our needs are greater than theirs. Kangaroos are destroying their own environment. What is the solution? Cull them. Apparently it’s in their best interest, and surely humans know best. I sound like I am ranting now, and here we enter the next level of the Japanese governments’ argument. I am clearly becoming emotional and according to Singer’s article; the supporters of whaling suggest that there ought to be no place in the debate for emotion. I have to agree on that point. Emotion is the enemy of balanced critique.

    So how then I do I convince the Japanese government that whaling must end? With all due respect to Mr. Singer, I am certain I can’t do it concisely by following the rationale he gives in the article in question. However, I remain open to being convinced that human sentience takes priority over animal sentience.

  8. 8 dylan March 25, 2008 at 10:51 am

    hey guys. im interested in this article. i would be interesed in reading an analysis of the article in dispute. would be very interesting to see the different sides

  9. 9 Brad March 25, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Hmmm. My post dated February 1, 2008 at 10:54 pm was a draft that I somehow managed to post in my newbie haste. Rather than delete it, I will keep it there for you to decide which reply works better … lol. I will have a think about providing a ‘critical’ analysis of the article, Dylan. Is that what you are seeking?

  10. 10 Simon March 25, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    Are you interested in an analysis of the philosophy or the particular article Dylan? If you’re after an analysis of Singer’s philosophy then a quick Google search is likely to help you there. Peter Singer has to be one of the most criticised (analysed) philosophers of the contemporary world.


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