The Life You Can Save

Whenever I find myself debating right and wrong, I wonder what Peter Singer would say. He’s the most rational thinker on the planet, in my opinion, and so I will sometimes say to myself, “What would Peter Singer do in this situation?”.

For those who’ve never heard of him, he’s an Australian philosopher, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton, author of a number of famous books including Animal Liberation and Practical Ethics, and he likes surfing.

Although he’s not the reason I became a plant-eater, he’s the reason I’ve stuck with it. He argues that the fact that animals do not belong to the same species as us is not a valid reason to give less consideration to their interests. Another way to put it is if you accept that sex and race are not rational reasons for giving less consideration to the interests of others, then the same argument applies to those of a different species.

It is so entrenched in our culture to treat animals as objects that it will take a long time to change this. British author and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in 1792. It was a couple of centuries before her vision became reality and women were not treated as poorly back then as animals are today.

But this post wasn’t really meant to be about animals. Peter Singer is an ethicist so he writes about many things including topics like stem cell research, abortion, paying ransom to terrorists, and also charity. I’ve been wanting to share this video for quite some time. It’s an animation of an argument he has made about a drowning child in a pond and is the thinking behind an organistion he founded called The Life You Can Save.

12 thoughts on “The Life You Can Save

  1. Speaking simply, all living things ‘eat’ other living things. One may feel this rule shifts with the primary producers, i.e., plants, but plants are complex multicellular organisms which incorporated chloroplasts through endosymbiosis. Life itself is ‘multicellular’ – cytoplasmic blobs that incorporated viruses, archebaceteria, cyanobacteria or other prokaryotic organisms. Life grows by eating life. With plants, the ‘eating’ is long done on the evolutionary timescale. When we eat plant life, the ethical violation is temporally displaced back in time, but it is nevertheless there. As animals, we are mammals. We need to do all the things any other mammal does – eat, drink, sleep, be covered in fur, and give birth to live young ones attached to placentas. There are mammals with all kinds of food restrictions in their diets. But, mammals, eat meat. Carnivores exist in mammals, reptiles and birds. When we die our bodies will be consumed by bacteria. Everything is returned back. As thinking beings, we have capacity to avoid cruelty but as omnivorous mammals we have the duty to live as we are.

    🙂 /rant

    1. Yes, all living things eat other living things. I’m not really sure what your point is.

      A common argument, and maybe this is where you’re going with this, is that lions eat animals so therefore we we can too. However lions can’t survive without eating other animals whereas we can. I also don’t think living ethically means you have to starve to death. If there’s nothing else to eat then you eat what’s available like the survivors of the 1972 Andes plane crash did when they ate dead humans rather than starve to death. Some societies also can’t survive without meat like the Inuit but most of the rest of us can manage perfectly well on a predominantly plant-based diet.

      1. You said “…the fact that animals do not belong to the same species as us is not a valid reason to give less consideration to their interests.”

        Do lions give consideration to the interests of their prey, i.e, its food? A lion is carnivorous. Humans are omnivorous. Why should humans give consideration to the interests of one category of their food?

        Humans can survive on plant-based diets because plants provide lipids, carbohydrates and protein (amino acids). These are the same things an ‘animal-based diet’ provides.

        I’m not saying lions and humans are the same. I’m saying there is nothing gratuitous, unnecessary, or unethical in consuming animal food

      2. Do lions give consideration to the interests of their prey, i.e, its food?

        Lions can’t survive without eating animals. They’re also not capable of thinking about the ethical implications of what they do. Furthermore, we don’t look to lions or indeed any other organism, for advice when making ethical decisions.

        Perhaps I can put it another way. Do you think it is wrong to kill and eat a human? If yes, why? If it’s wrong to kill and eat a human, why is it not wrong to kill and eat a dog? Or a pig? The fact that humans belong to a different species is not a rational reason.

  2. The problem is that a child drowning nearby is in our space, is urgent, nobody else will do and we know the outcome. Although not all would risk themselves. Children dieing elsewhere are distant, we do not see the outcome of our efforts and so some will think that somebody else can deal with that, or that our governments should.

    Although when people like Bob Geldof bring it home and show a lead, that changes things for a while.

    Repression is inbuilt and, as Freud recognised, necessary to get through the day. But, we are getting better, slouching towards Bethlehem to be born. 🙂

      1. I was thinking more that we are pre-programmed to limit ourselves to dealing with immediacy. Encompassing the worlds problems being more difficult. Although children do see more able to retain the concern.

  3. OK for an immediate local reaction but how about teaching the child to swim, adult to learn to process water for drinking, grow crops more efficiently etc. The old ‘Give her a fish it’s one meal, teach her to fish . . . .”.
    One group I support is http://practicalaction.org which aims to help with this.

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