Peter Singer Is Wrong

J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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210 Responses

  1. North says:

    It’s encouraging to see that liberalism is strong in some places. It’s discouraging to see that strong liberalism can get up to the same damn foolish meddling that strong conservatism does.Report

  2. Murali says:

    Peter Singer is an asshat. He likes to go for the shocking conclusion but his arguments lack the appropriate rigour that they need to survive the heightened scrutiny that such conclusions arouse.Report

  3. Nob Akimoto says:

    It seems to me, this is just dutch ultranationalism masquerading as “humanitarianism” or whatever the hell they want to try to call it. By putting prohibitions up for minorities, they’re asserting their cultural superiority.

    If humane treatment of animals was the primary consideration, factory farmed meat and prohibitions against the like would be a higher priority.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Funny how these things manifest.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Oh, it’s very clearly that the Dutch don’t want Muslims in their country, and if their “gentle nudging” helps to get the Jews to leave too, so much the better.

      Peter Singer, on the other hand, is trying (poorly) to hide his contempt for religion and religious people behind a shoddy animal rights argument. I highly suspect that his motive is, it’ll maybe help Jews secularize faster, and if it lowers the number of animals killed, then that’s a bonus.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Are we sure that the Jewish and Muslim slaughter of animals is less humane than whatever other methods are practiced?Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy says:

        If I read the OP correctly, that’s not the burden of proof. The burden of proof is the other way.

        Which is nice, if you’re trying to ban something.Report

      • Fnord in reply to Kazzy says:

        If you read the article, you see that what is being done is taking a (EU-wide) rule that applies to slaughterhouses in general but has a religious exemption and removing the religious exemption.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Fnord says:

          Still, is there evidence that the new requirements are actually better for the animals, which seems to be the crux of the matter if the intentions are as they state? If the goal is to ensure appropriate treatment of animals, don’t we need to figure out what treatments are better than others? How do we do this?Report

  4. Ethan Gach says:

    Religious liberty has always been a tenous at best. The modern notion of liberty hails from an intellectual tradition that was in many ways opposed to the religious ones at the time.

    Religious liberty will always be dependent on secular agreement because the very idea of it is based on extra-religuous values.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      Religious liberty will always be dependent on secular agreement because the very idea of it is based on extra-religuous values.

      I don’t see them as extra-, I see them as evolutions of these values.Report

      • Ethan Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

        Eitherway, they remain outside of religious systems, at least in that they purport to be justifiable without recourse to a narrow community of (unshared by the larger populace) religious belief.Report

  5. mac says:

    I saw the headline “Peter Singer is wrong”: my immediate response was, “well, yes.”Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to mac says:

      I considered simply writing the headline, linking to his article, and leaving it at that. But then I figured that it was my turn to be Someone-on-the-Internet-Who-Explains-How-and-Why-Singer-Is-Wrong.

      One thing in his favor: he does keep the internet busy.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to mac says:

      An embarrassing confession: whenever I come across Singer’s name, my brain at first translates it to Pete Seeger, and for a just moment I wonder why people are being mean to such a nice man.Report

  6. Glyph says:

    Hi J.L. et al –

    Stipulated up front that I agree completely with you and the other commenters so far on all points (this is wrong/stupid, possibly nationalist, and Singer is a doofus), but I am curious about a hypothetical.

    Say there were a long-established religious subculture that performed some practice that most moderns would consider animal cruelty. Like, I don’t know, ripping the legs off a goat and letting him bleed to death because he represents the Devil or something. (Again, I want to make clear that in no way am I equating halal or kosher practices w/r/t meat or animal sacrifice, to this hypo).

    What can or should the larger modern secular culture do about that? At what point can or should they step in and proscribe this long-held religious tradition?

    Again, not trying to stir up trouble, just genuinely curious.Report

    • Ethan Gach in reply to Glyph says:

      You might not be trying to stir up trouble, but I am.

      We shall see this hypothetical through to the end.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        Ethan, I hadn’t seen your 11:46 comment above when I posted this, but I think you may be onto something and it seems like it has some disturbing implications.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to Glyph says:

      This is a good question. I’m going to think about it.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Glyph says:

      Our New and Improved Gods frown upon the superstitious habits of the followers of the Old Gods.

      How’s this? We’ll put a statue of our New God in your Temple and you’ll otherwise be allowed to practice whatever silly things you feel like. Deal?Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:


      Doesn’t this beg the question that the government has a right/role/responsibility to police the treatment of animals?Report

      • Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

        Hi Kazzy, not sure if you are being tongue-in cheek – I don’t know exactly how libertarian you think I am, but I am A-OK with laws against, and penalties for, the cruel treatment of animals. Singer is an extremist, but most moderns certainly believe some actions against at least some animals should be legally proscribed.

        This is about how we set the parameters of that, and where they bump up against religious expression.Report

        • Murali in reply to Glyph says:

          The fact that some or most moderns believe does not make it any more likely to be true.Report

          • Glyph in reply to Murali says:

            Hi Murali – agreed, and if you or Kazzy want to make an argument that any action, performed on any animal, in any context, should be fair game legally, have at.

            But I don’t believe that, and I would wager most on this board don’t either, so it just seems like a pointless road to go down in the context of this post. Just not a debate that seems all that worthwhile to me. YMMV.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:

              Glyph at al.

              I generally don’t believe in animal rights or animal cruelty laws. I think that animals are property and people are entitled to use and treat their property as they see fit. I might be disgusted or find certain actions repugnant, but I don’t believe they should be illegal. I believe that animals lack moral agency and that the extension of rights to a being is at least in part predicated on that being recognizing and respecting those same rights in others. For the same reason we restrict (some of) the rights of children and the mentally ill and others who similarly lack this ability, I see fit to fully deny such rights to animals. I don’t even like the use of the word “humane” in such conversations as it assumes a false equivalence between humans and animals that I don’t believe exists.

              I also think we lack the ability to understand how animals experience pain or emotion, if they experience emotion at all. We anthropomorphize animals and often ascribe to them feelings that they are likely incapable of feeling.

              And, yes, I realize this might leave me in a small minority but so be it. So, yes, I think begging the question is important, because I posit that no restrictions should be in place and certainly not any intended to target a particular faith.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

                Hey Kazzy,

                Appreciate the reply & clarification. It is logically consistent and so is admirable in its way, and I think no less of you for expressing it.

                I fully admit I may be letting my emotions cloud the issue when I say that I am A-OK with there being different and more severe penalties for my neighbor setting fire to my dog, than doing the same to my car.

                So be it.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:

                And perhaps I have not incorporated enough emotion. I don’t know that we must legislate through Vulcan decree. I am open to having my mind changed and I am certainly more bothered with “senseless” violence towards animals. In your initial hypothetical, I wouldn’t consider the practice described as “senseless” since it would serve a religious purpose, albeit one that might be silly and wrongheaded. Of course, how we define “senseless” poses an issue.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:

                I should also say that while I believe in the stance I am taking here, the veracity with which I am/might be defending it is a bit provocative and deliberately so. Much of my objection to animal cruelty laws is not so much in their existence (as I am at least sympathetic to the motivation behind the general idea of them) but the arbitrary nature of them. I would never go to jail for the things I used to do with the wasps I caught in my backyard. Mike Vick lost 2 years of his life for doing much the same thing to his dogs.Report

              • Fnord in reply to Kazzy says:

                You think the only difference between a eusocial insect and a mammal is arbitrary treatment under the law?

                I’m sympathetic to the idea that certain aspects of animal rights law are not particularly well-targeted to making the trade-off between animal suffering and human utility; I’m not hugely educated on the particulars, but I wouldn’t be surprised if our priorities are off on the factory farming versus dog-fighting issue.

                But you seem to be overstating your case, here. I think there are quite good biological reasons to treat insects and mammals differently. And, to bring things back to the original issue, I don’t see that removing a religious exemption to a law of general applicability is particularly arbitrary, at least at first glance.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Fnord says:


                As stated below, I would consider drawing lines within the animal kingdom if there was conclusive evidence to justify doing so. The lines we do have seem largely based on emotion. Is there any scientific evidence to suggest that we have greater ethical obligations to a dog than to a cow? “Cuteness” is not scientific evidence.

                If the intention is at the government states and they are solely motivated to ensure the proper treatment of animals, I believe that the burden is on them to demonstrate A) that their legally prescribed methods are appropriate and B) that the practices they seek to ban are inappropriate.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Fnord says:

                This is for Kazzy below, since the threading has progressed to where I cannot reply directly to him.

                RE: dog vs. cow and arbitrary lines – I would say that our ethical obligations (whatever they are) are roughly equivalent for any mammal with a nervous system. So while I might find factory-farming dogs for food distasteful, it is no more (or less) questionable than doing the same for cows.

                However, to go beyond that and say I have no more obligation to a dog than to any other piece of property such as a car seems absurd. They have nervous systems – in 2012 is anyone seriously questioning that they experience pain or emotion, even if different from what you or I do?

                And as for ‘scientific evidence’, at least in the case of dogs – leaving aside any particular experiment or study – do the thousands of years that man and dog have interacted, and the knowledge gained in that time, the compatibilities between our species observed, and the insights gained therein, count for anything in this regard?Report

              • Glyph in reply to Fnord says:

                whoops, it threaded correctly. Still learning how this works.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Fnord says:

                Are mammals the only animals with nervous systems?

                A whole host of beings without nervous systems actively seek to avoid harmful stimuli, which is what the primary pain response is.

                I’m not confident that animals experience “emotion” in the way that humans do and that most arguments to the contrary are based on anthropomorphization. My cats don’t love me. Which is why they don’t hesitate to bite me if I haven’t fed them on time.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Fnord says:

                No, obviously non-mammals have nervous systems too, but my thought is that as those systems decrease in complexity and likeness to our own, our ethical responsibility may also decrease. I killed a palmetto bug that was no real danger to me, even though they are social animals with nervous systems, and I would look dimly on a legal regime that tried to ban that.

                Love is irrelevant to the discussion. Government should have little to say in that arena. But preventing us from inflicting pain on another? Yep, that is government all right.

                Your right to swing your arms ends where my harmful-stimulus-sensing-organ begins.Report

              • Fnord in reply to Fnord says:

                I’m inclined to look at the development of the nervous system and intelligence. But that’s not the only way.

                You’ve described your system as “moral agency” and “the ability to respect rights”. Obviously, animals can’t do that to the same degree as humans. But are all animals equal in that? I half-jokingly remarked to Tim Kowel on another thread that you could teach a dog to stay off the beach, if you really cared to. People can and do teach dogs not to attack people (not attacking others being the most basic aspect of respecting their rights); I’ve yet to hear of any wasps so trained.

                I don’t particularly think that we have a greater moral obligation to dogs than cows. I have no objection to people raising dogs for food (whereas I’d be against raising chimpanzees for food, and I’ve made a conscious decision not to eat octopus, based on their apparent intelligence), for example, and as I said I’m dubious of laws that ban dog-fighting but not factory farming.

                As for the specific law at hand, I say again that this is not a new ban, but the removal of an existing religious exemption from an existing ban. To the extent that you’re skeptical of animal protection laws in general, it seems that your objection is as much to the existing law as to the new legislation.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Fnord says:

                “To the extent that you’re skeptical of animal protection laws in general, it seems that your objection is as much to the existing law as to the new legislation.”

                Yes. Generally speaking, I don’t disagree with the broad intent of animal cruelty laws. It is much the specifics of them that I tend to take issue with. In this case, I take great issue with them, in part because it is my believe that the proponents of this law (in the Netherlands, not here) are likely largely informed by bigotry. If they truly cared about the treatment of animals, they would have gone about it very differently, including accepting the burden on themselves to demonstrate what are and are not appropriate ways of slaughtering animals.

                Moreso, given the choice of respecting the rights of human to freely practice their religion and the rights of animals to die without suffering, I defer to the former.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Fnord says:

                Fnord – a good friend of mine also had a selective system of determining what meats he would eat, but instead of intelligence, he used a modified tit-for-tat MAD type heuristic – if he felt an animal would eat him if it could, then he could eat it. So under his system, alligator or shark was definitely OK, but cow was not.

                Not because cows *don’t* eat humans – but because in his estimation, even if they *could*, they would not.

                This system therefore meant that eating chicken was OK, because if those effers could somehow eat us, they definitely would.Report

              • Fnord in reply to Fnord says:

                What if the animal would simply squish you into a bloody smear?

                Actually, in all seriousness, I think the eating itself is rather beside the point. If you want to eat your beloved pet Fluffy, or your companion Bobo the bononbo, or even uncle Bob, after they’ve died of natural causes at the end of a fulfilling life (and what’s fulfilling varies be species), then frankly I think that’s none of my business, save that you should have premortem consent for human cannibalism.

                Cruelty is about what sort of life the animal had before it died, not about what you do with the corpse afterwords.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Fnord says:

                Fnord – agree 100%.Report

              • Fnord in reply to Fnord says:

                And with that in mind, the only way I think MAD can come into it is if you’re offering the animals a fair fight.

                Pigs are pretty smart. Not as smart as octopuses, I think, but after octopus (which, as I said, I’ve already decided not to eat), pork is probably the commonly available meat I’m mostly likely to give up. I haven’t officially forsworn it, but I don’t seek it out.

                However, in college I knew I guy (then a graduate student) who hunted wild boar with a spear. I can’t find it in my heart to begrudge you bacon that you personally killed at spear point.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Fnord says:

                Yeah, his system was not based upon ‘opportunity’, so much as ‘presumed intent’.

                He just did not trust chickens. Look at those beady eyes.Report

              • Ethan Gach in reply to Kazzy says:

                So following Singer and the babies:

                Moral agency? Do we know how they think/feel? Intelligence?

                Why are those things more important than capacity for suffering? And how do we know children suffer but not animals?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                Have they been born yet?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                A human, even a minute-old human, is not an animal. Yes, it lacks many aspects of a fully formed human, which is why we do not extent to it all of the rights and responsibilities of a fully formed human. We don’t let it vote or drink alcohol or make any number of decisions on its own behalf (Rose had a GREAT post on this a while back… I’ll see if I can dig it up). But it is still a human and that matters.Report

              • Ethan Gach in reply to Kazzy says:

                “But it is still a human and that matters.”

                You’ll have to define human, and explain how we know the child has those qualities, and how we know the animals do not.

                And is it the “being human” that matters, or the qualities associated with “being human”, e.g. feeling pain.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                I’ll admit to having not fully thought all this through, so please indulge me as I do (and I appreciate the thoughtful questions and will tip my cap should my mind be changed… no small feat).

                I would say that important difference is the assumption that certain things will be realized, largely the ability to respect those rights in others. We can assume that a child will one day be capable of this. We can’t assume this of an animal.Report

              • Ethan Gach in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                “We can assume that a child will one day be capable of this. We can’t assume this of an animal.”

                Why does the future potential matter? Does that mean that a child born with defects such that we could assume it would never be capable of those things would not be owed any ethical considerations?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                I’ll still default to the line that exists between humans and non-humans. To be born of human parents matters.

                At the very least, I extend to humans the benefit of the doubt that I don’t extend to animals. As I said above, I would fully rethink my position if presented with evidence that animals are capable of experiencing pain in a way that would amount to suffering or of experiencing emotion, etc. I concede that it is possible they experience more than we know, just as it is possible that babies such as you describe are capable of more than we currently realize. But I offer those babies the benefit of the doubt that I don’t yet offer animals. And I realize that “animals” are not a monolithic group and think there might be other lines drawn within the group, such that we might view treatment of primates or dolphins or mammals differently than of invertebrates (which we already do, but largely for emotional reasons).Report

              • Ethan Gach in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                But based on what evidence do you give that benefit of the doubt to babies?

                You say that because they are the children of humans, we can assume that they will develop human capacities.

                I’ll put forth a more basic question then, how do we decide if other people have these human capacities (suffering/agency)?

                What evidence do we have of those things and what techniques do we have of procuring and verifying it, such that we would than know how to likewise proceed with investigating other animals in this regard?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                People are capable of communicating their experiences in a way that animals aren’t. Ask folks… see what they say. When enough folks acknowledge that they are capable of feeling pain or love or suffering, I think it is far to generalize that to the species and assume it in all members until proven otherwise.

                Since animals can’t communicate, at least not in a way that humans can understand, our ability is limited.

                But let’s reverse the question… what makes a monkey different than a dog different than a cow different than a snake different than worm different than a single-celled organism different than a tree different than a wooden chair (made from that tree) different than a rock?Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                Singer’s argument is based on “consciousness,” that a 3-month old puppy is far more conscious and communicative than a newborn human. [For insytance, it recognizes its name.]

                You [we] are forced to make metaphysical claims about “humanness” being more important than “consciousness.” Modernity–empiricism–tends to reject metaphysics, so under those limits, Singer is correct.

                Peter Singer is an entirely reasonable man.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

                ‘A minute-old human’ – to Jaybird’s comment, when does that clock start, and why there? 😉

                OK, now I AM trying to start trouble.

                Forget I said anything. 🙂Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Glyph says:

                In the same way that you hear echoes of anti-anti-slavery arguments in some of the pro-choice arguments, you hear echoes of anti-anti-animal rights arguments in some of the arguments given by the people who hate the idea of women making decisions regarding their own sexual destinies with regards to the parasites in their bellies.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Kazzy says:

                I also think we lack the ability to understand how animals experience pain or emotion, if they experience emotion at all. We anthropomorphize animals and often ascribe to them feelings that they are likely incapable of feeling.

                I want to be sure I understand you. There is nothing that can be done to an animal: starvation, withholding of water, breaking of bones with blunt instruments, acts that if applied to a human would clearly be torture, etc. that you would consider outside the bounds of what can legally be done to property?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to MikeSchilling says:


                I am uncomfortable with what I would consider “senseless” violence done to animals. Killing an animal, even violently, to eat it is different than killing an animal, violently, for no good reason. If there were a way to properly ferret out which treatments were senseless and which were not, I’d be okay with drawing that line there. I don’t know how we do that, since “senseless” seems largely subjective. I’m sure Vick didn’t think what he was doing was senseless.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                I’m not only surprised by claims like the one you’re talking about, I’m mystified by them. The only way to account the, it seems to me, is to assume that spoken language is the only way to communicate the experience of pain.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:

                I will fully concede that animals feel “pain” in the sense that they feel a biological response to harmful stimuli and they can and do communicate this through means that do not involve language (much as humans do… we yelp, groan, cry, etc.). But do they feel emotional pain? Do they understand pain in the manner that humans do? Do they “suffer”? Do they feel fear?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                But do they feel emotional pain?

                My daughter’s dog whimpers and whines – and heavy-sighs, the whole bit – whenever she leaves the house without him.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                Do they understand pain in the manner that humans do? Do they “suffer”? Do they feel fear?

                The answer depends on what you mean by “understand” and “feel”. Clearly, animals don’t understand pain the way, for example, I do, since I have all sorts of abstract conceptual tools to try make sense of it. But it’s also the case that you don’t understand pain the way I do since you probably employ different conceptual tools.

                And not to get too philosophical here, what does it mean to understand pain other than to experience it?Report

              • Ethan Gach in reply to Stillwater says:

                We don’t know. But those same doubts pervade human to human interaction as well.

                I don’t know what you’re actually feeling when you claim to be angry. I can’t know your subjective experience. I can only correlate certain stimuli with certain responses, and intimate what’s going on. This is the same with animals.

                Babies can’t talk anyway, but we still seem to feel that they are suffereing, and we don’t rely on adults who say they rememeber suffering as a baby in order to make that analysis.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Ethan Gach says:


                While I generally appreciate the dialogue we are having here, I am increasingly frustrated with the grounds on which we are arguing. I am defending my position. You are assuming a position not your own (that babies perhaps should not be considered human) instead of defending your own position (that animals are entitled to certain rights). What evidence is there that the animals in question (cows, chickens, etc.) are entitled to freedom from suffering? And, if they are, is not the entirety of ownership of animals in violation of their rights?

                It seems silly to say, “No, you can’t kill your animal that way because it has rights… Oh, but you can do all these other things to it…”Report

              • Ethan Gach in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                If I could justify ethics, I would have my pick of philosophy professorships.

                But I can make the comparison between children and animals, and say that for the same reasons I think children should be afforded certain rights, I must thereby give the same rights to other animals, even if not to the same degree (i.e. I can still value a human child more a puppy, even if that doesn’t mean I don’t give the puppy any value).

                My position is that any doubts we cast on the capacities of animals to be moral agents and suffer can be cast on babies. And so since I am unready to deny certain ethical considerations to babies, I must, to remain morally consistant, admit that animals have a similar claim to ethical consideration.

                Now their consideration might be trumped in some circumstances (mass human starvation), but not by a particular, and most likely accidental, religious practice.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                First, I think ECGs comment about babies was in reference to my comment about the use of formal language to communicate pain. He was saying that babies can’t talk, yet we still correctly attribute pain to them based on their behavior.


                What evidence is there that the animals in question (cows, chickens, etc.) are entitled to freedom from suffering?

                If you mean empirical evidence, then you won’t find any. There is no HPLC Rights-O-Matic that will give you an analysis of the rights which inhere in living beings.

                But there are arguments supporting the claim. Namely, that animals share lots of morally relevant properties with humans (the experience of pain, intentions and desires, etc) and based on those shared properties, they ought to be included in the community of morally considerable beings.

                I’ve written about this quite a bit here at the LoOG so I don’t want to bore you by repeating it. Maybe I can find a link where this was talked about pretty extensively.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Ethan Gach says:


                I’d be interested in reading that if you have it handy. And please don’t make my objections more than they are. While I genuinely believe in what I’ve offered here, I am not a zealot about it. I’m not out there protesting to repeal animal cruelty laws.

                And I have two cats. And I’m generally nice to them. Not as nice as my wife is, but she has “cat lady” in her destiny. I don’t kick puppies, I swear!Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                Kazzy, here’s the post: Kicking Squealing Pig.Report

        • Ethan Gach in reply to Glyph says:

          True, but it can help us bracket an issue if it’s not thought controversial.Report

      • Fnord in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well, yes. But the cat’s pretty much out of the bad on that issues. Governments are already regulating the treatment of animals. If you want to argue that they shouldn’t, that’s an entirely separate discussion from the religious freedom issue.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Glyph says:

      > What can or should the larger modern secular
      > culture do about that? At what point can or
      > should they step in and proscribe this long-
      > held religious tradition?

      The modern secular *culture*? Or the modern legal state?

      > If you or Kazzy want to make an argument
      > that any action, performed on any animal,
      > in any context, should be fair game legally,
      > have at.

      For the sake of argument, I can see a perfectly reasonable stance in there. I actually think the framework of the law is a rather poor one through which to tackle the problem of animal cruelty. This is one of those times when our bounds of civility create a problem.Report

    • North in reply to Glyph says:

      What should a modern secular government do? I’d sadly say probably it shouldn’t do anything.

      What should a modern secular culture do? I’d say that it should get cameras in there, film and record the practice and publicize it widely so that the practitioners of this sub-culture were clearly identified with this practice. We’d have to wait and see if that behavior either stopped or the subculture withered away. Historical evidence suggests that either one or the other of those outcomes would occur.Report

      • Fnord in reply to Jeffrey Straszheim says:

        See, and that’s a law I’d disagree with (the initial ban, I agree with the decision striking it down), at least based on the evidence available. I don’t see anything that suggests that the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye was causing any greater suffering than the ordinary practice of slaughtering animals for food. Even as an atheist, I’d provide religious practice at least as much leeway as desire for meat.

        In contrast, in the case discussed in the OP, I think there is at least potentially evidence that exempting ritual slaughter from the general requirement of stunning the animal does increase the suffering.Report

        • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Fnord says:

          Exactly, Mr. Straszheim. I’m not sure other modern, “rational” nations feel that religious freedom is an absolute right, as it is in the US.

          with Justice Anthony Kennedy stating in the decision, “religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection”.

          The Supreme Court went 9-0. I doubt Europe [or LoOG for that matter] would be so unanimous.Report

    • Jeff in reply to Glyph says:

      No need to be hypothetical. I would venture to guess that most secular societies find circumcision of the clitoris to be cruel, both at the time it is done, and when the girl becomes a woman. This far transceneds the wearing of a scarf, or even a burka.

      This is a very real question for secular societies which have those who perform this act for religious reasons. Does the societies obligation to the girl trump the right of religious freedom? I would say yes, but as an agnostic / atheist, I’m not the best judge on matter of religious freedom.


  7. Fnord says:

    “Let’s be clear: allowing men and women to sit in any part of a bus does not violate religious freedom not because public transit is optional, but because Jewish law does not demand total gender segregation.”

    Shall we have secular legislatures (or perhaps judges) take it upon themselves to interpret religious texts? If someone decides that it is required, how is it consistent with religious freedom for the government to say to that believer “we have decided that your beliefs are an incorrect interpretation of Judaism”?Report

  8. Jason Kuznicki says:

    I’m an atheist; I have no belief in any gods at all. But I wouldn’t dream of preventing you from practicing your religion. That’s not a winning argument. It’s an admission that you don’t have a winning argument.

    Besides, where does Singer imagine that meat comes from in secular Dutch butcher shops? This isn’t really a concern for animals at all. It’s using the democratic process to persecute minorities.Report

    • Fnord in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Look, I also think Singer is, in general, an idiot.

      But I suspect that Singer thinks that the meat in secular Dutch butcher shops comes from animals that are stunned before slaughter. He thinks that, I imagine, because EU law requires that animals be stunned before slaughter. That EU-wide law, however, has a religious exception, and what the Dutch law proposes to do is remove that exception.

      If anything, I think that you’ve got it backwards. I suspect that Singer would perfer to see all meat banned.Report

  9. Ethan Gach says:

    “Practicing your religion” is the key thing.

    Because clearly just having something be part of how you practice your religion isn’t enough. Preventing baby sacrifice, I would assume, is not seen as persecuting a minority in the same way that preventing a group from sacrificing animals is.

    Am I right that most people here would agree that both could be instances of religious practice, but that both aren’t worth of tolerance or allowing? In which case this is less an issue of religious freedom than it is a way of saying that we don’t percieve certain actions committed against animals as yet worthy of enough moral concern to warrant encroaching on religioius freedom?Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      Because baby sacrifices violate the rights of the baby. I’m sure we all agree that there is an implicit “so long as they don’t violate the rights of others” addendum to any statement of “We should allow religions to practice freely”. If you believe animals have rights, so be it. But I turn to you now and ask you to defend why.Report

      • Ethan Gach in reply to Kazzy says:

        But why do babies have rights?

        I would posit that due to their capacity to suffer (unlike, say, rocks), babies have a right not to have suffering inflicted upon them (within most contexts), and that animals that likewise have the capacity to suffer likewise have a right not to have it needlessly inflicted upon them.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Ethan Gach says:

          Do animals, specifically the animals in questions (cows, chickens, etc.), have the capacity to suffer? What evidence is there of this? And how are you defining “suffering”?

          And you say it is needless… but clearly it is not, not in the eyes of Jews and Muslims. It is very much needed to fulfill the requirements of their religion.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

            If it truly were needless, I’d be more okay with banning it. But it is often presumptuous to assume what is or is not needed by others.Report

          • Ethan Gach in reply to Kazzy says:

            But how worth is that need? What level of need would justify the sacrifice of a baby?

            Then we have to ask, in that same vein, what level of need would justify the sacrifice of animals.

            In either case I would say “it’s part of my religion” is an inadaquate response. It just begs the question over again.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Ethan Gach says:

              And saying “It violates the rights of the animal” similarly begs questions. That has been my primary point. Perhaps you are right that the animals do have rights and that these rights supercede the rights of Dutch Jews and Muslims. But you have to make that case, since obviously it cannot be assumed.Report

          • J.L. Wall in reply to Kazzy says:

            Well … to the extent that an animal suffers whenever it is killed, then yes. However, in THEORY, Jewish laws about killing animals are meant to limit the suffering the animal endures: animals that have been violently abused by humans can’t be kosher (I know, I know: contemporary notions of animal cruelty can apply to just about any type of slaughterhouse, so it doesn’t exhaust possibilities of abuse). The method of slaughter itself is, again in theory, supposed to result in immediate lack of consciousness. (Though how could we tell, right? Though one could ask the same of the clear failures of stunning animals and then skinning them alive, as happens on occasion.)

            The myriad rules are there, in part, to limit animal suffering and to constrain a human impulse of meat. The extent to which either is effected by those rules is debatable, but “suffering” — except insofar as it’s inevitable in death — isn’t a requirement.Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Ethan Gach says:

          But why do babies have rights?

          The two most reasonable responses I know of are as follows.

          Kant says in effect that babies fall under the categorical imperative. They are not to be treated as the means to some other end. They are ends in themselves.

          Aristotle says in effect that babies share a common telos with the rest of humanity — to grow in reason and in reflectiveness, to conceive and execute rationally formed plans and to enjoy the fruit of their labor.

          Either one gets you the result you want.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Thanks, JK. This is what I was trying to say but couldn’t.Report

          • Kant’s is lacking (it leaves the same [seemingly] arbitrary divide between animals and babies).

            Aristotle’s doesn’t seem to solve the issue of mentally disabled babies (who will would, by virtue of inherint differences, have a different telos e.g. no reflection [as far as we can tell]).Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Ethan Gach says:

              That assumes we know the outcome for those disabled babies. We don’t.Report

              • Ethan Gach in reply to Kazzy says:

                But no less so than we know about animals, assuming we are speaking medically about what will or will not happen with their neurological systems.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                I’m very happy to champion a position that might be described as “Aristotle, erring on the side of caution.” If you’re genetically human, close enough. Also, minimize overt cruelty to animals that demonstrate some ability for abstract reasoning.Report

              • Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                One could go further without much difficulty: minimize overt cruelty, or perhaps unnecessary suffering at our hands, for all living things, with progressively stricter criteria for what constitutes necessity corresponding to increases in awareness and reasoning.Report

              • Fnord in reply to Chris says:

                See, I have a problem with the jump from “animals” to “all living things”.

                Really, I see no problem with “cruelty” to plants.Report

              • Chris in reply to Chris says:

                No problem whatsoever?Report

              • Fnord in reply to Chris says:

                Well, no moral problem related to the plants themselves. If it has collateral effects that amount to cruelty to animals and/or poor stewardship of resources, which is not uncommon, there are problems.

                I’m skeptical that it’s possible to effectively be cruel to something that lacks a nervous system.Report

              • Chris in reply to Chris says:

                So, to take an extreme example, if you come across a 1000 year old tree in a forest, you think it’s morally permissable to just cut it down or disfigure it for the hell of it?Report

              • Fnord in reply to Chris says:

                It’s not cruel to the tree.

                In many cases, cutting down a 1000-year old tree would constitute poor stewardship of resources. I’m absolutely sure that it’s impossible to be cruel to a rock, but I’d take a dim view of someone defacing a 1000-year old sculpture. Poor stewardship is a crime against other humans (potentially yet unborn) who should have access to the squandered resource, rather than against the resource itself.Report

              • Jeffrey Straszheim in reply to Kazzy says:

                You cannot say “Without evidence I shall assume X in this case, and Not-X in this other case, as it suits me.” If you demand utter certainty of those of us who say animals suffer, I shall demand the same of you. How do I know that *you* suffer?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jeffrey Straszheim says:


                I can if the cases are different enough, which I believe that they are.

                You know that I suffer because I tell you I do. If a monkey walked up to me and said, “Kazzy, I suffer,” I’d take him at his word.

                Well, first I’d say, “HOLY SHIT A TALKING MONKEY!” Then I’d take him at his word.Report

            • Chris in reply to Ethan Gach says:

              Kant’s divide is hardly arbitrary. You may disagree with it, but it is not arbitrary.Report

              • Ethan Gach in reply to Chris says:

                Should have specified: arbitrary in his application of it.

                For example, claiming that animals are not ends in themselves.Report

              • Chris in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                No, that’s not where his division comes from. He has a reason for selecting humans above animals. Again, you may disagree, and it is a reason he came up with more than 200 years ago, but it’s a reason, and that by definition makes it non-arbitrary.Report

              • Chris in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                That reason, by the way, is either man’s rationality (Groundwork and the second Critique), which has a fairly specific meaning in Kant’s work, or self-awareness (in his lectures).

                If we accept his later reason, self-awareness, as his ultimate position on what makes humans moral animals in a sense that other animals are not, then we’d have to add the various animals who’ve demonstrated self-awareness: chimps, whales and toothed-whales, elephants, etc.

                There are also contemporary Kantian justifications of the distinction, though they are less strict than Kant’s own.Report

              • Ethan Gach in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                If the reason is inconsistant, or inconsitantly applied, it can still be arbitrary.

                Yet Kant’s view of personhood cannot distinguish all and only humans as morally considerable. Personhood is not, in fact, coextensive with humanity when understood as a general description of the group to which human beings belong. And the serious part of this problem is not that there may be some extra-terrestrials or deities who have rational capacities (It seems likely that Kant recognized this when he wrote “man, and in general every rational being”). The serious problem is that many humans are not persons. Some members of humanity—i.e. infants, children, people with advanced forms of autism or Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive disorders—do not have the rational, self-reflective capacities associated with personhood. This problem, unfortunately known in the literature as the problem of “marginal cases,” poses serious difficulties for “personhood” as the criterion of moral considerability. Many beings who’s positive moral value we have deeply held intuitions about, and who we treat as morally considerable, will be excluded from consideration by this account.


              • Chris in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Kantian, but if I were going to argue against the Kantian position, I’d probably try to knock down more recent Kantian formulations of ethics and what it is that separates humans from other (perhaps not all) animals. Korsgaard, then some more Korsgaard, and then Velleman and Reath.

                You’ll find, of course, that virtually any such criteria that considers only the current state of things falls into the familiar traps associated with infants and the severely disabled, of course. But a dividing line has to be drawn somewhere, or ethics become untenable.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kazzy says:


        Also, I wrote practicing your religion. Because I know you’re Jewish, I also know your religion doesn’t involve sacrificing babies. If you worshiped Moloch, I would let you perform lots of other rites, but not that one bit about burning infants.Report

  10. Kazzy says:

    I am likely going to disengage from this thread soon. Not because I don’t think there is fruitful dialogue going on here but because it seems to be distracting from the primary topic here. To the extent that I threadjacked, I apologize to you JL. Twas not my intention. I do think that the supposed rights of animals should be evaluated when considering the rights of animals versus the rights of people, which is really what this whole conversation boils down to: do the rights of animals supercede the rights of Dutch Jews and Muslims to practice their religion? I don’t think you can have that conversation without outlining the rights of animals and from where those rights are derived.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to Kazzy says:

      “Threadjacked”? I didn’t think so; if that’s wrong, then I didn’t mind. I figured there were many directions a conversation could proceed from my original post; just glad to see one take place.Report

      • Jeff in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        I also don’t think you threadjacked. It lead (and probably is still leading) into interesting discussion.

        I would like you to define what you think “communication” is. It seems to be key to your dividing line between human and not-human, and therefore very germane to the discussion.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Jeff says:

          I’ll define communication, for these purposes, to be the ability to articulate with clarity the experience.

          Yes, animals can communicate. My cat meows. It purrs. It wags its tail. It bites. It nuzzles. All of these are forms of communication. But can I say with any certainty what it is experiencing? Not really. I can fashion a guess. But I can never understand the experiences of a cat like I can most humans.

          So, focus less on the word “communicate” in isolation and more on the concept of “communicating their feelings/experiences/emotions/etc”.Report

          • Jeff in reply to Kazzy says:

            Let’s add “over an extended period”, or the poor soul in a country where they don’t speak his language is not human.

            Those of us who’ve had pets think that they communicate their feelings and emotions. What would be the Turing or Voight-Kampff test you would use to determine communication?Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Jeff says:

              I’m unfamiliar with Turing or Voight-Kampff… can you elaborate?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                Imagine a box of text on a computer screen.

                Is there anything this box of text could say to you that would convince you that this text was being written by a human being rather than a sufficiently advanced virtual intelligence?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                With no idea as to the limits (or lack thereof) of virtual intelligence and presuming it can’t simply pull quotes directly from human writings, I suppose I could ask it to describe a number of visceral human experiences and maybe have an idea. There might be a great number of humans who’d fail this test.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                “I was like, whoa, this sucks! Screw this! And I was audi like a Saudi.”Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Dear Computer-

                Explain to me the difference between “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.” If you can do this without short-circuiting, you are most definitely a computer.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

                > Explain to me the difference between
                > “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”
                > and “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.” If
                > you can do this without short-
                > circuiting, you are most definitely
                > a computer.

                Wait, what?

                Did you write that wrong?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                No. I wrote it perfectly. Such a question would explode a normal human’s brain. No one should think about those two movies for more than 5.8 seconds.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

                Explain to me the difference between “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.” If you can do this without short-circuiting, you are most definitely a computer.

                One I remember was more than a little bit amusing. The other sucked even worse than Highlander II: The Quickening.

                Oh dear. Maybe I am a computer after all.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Kazzy says:

                Voight-Kampff is a Bladerunner reference (it’s the machine used to determine whether someone is a human or a replicant). A Turing Test is a test of a machine’s ability to communicate using natural language.

                Originally this was “A machine would pass the Turing Test if you could have a five minute conversation with it and think it was a person on the other end”.

                I don’t see them as particularly useful references here. Determining intelligence is difficult when dealing with non-humans. We don’t even understand our own sapience.

                Personally, I find it a bit unethical to eat or kill anything that I suspect could pass a sensory-accurate mirror test. I’m not sure how unethical, but at least somewhat. 🙂

                The mirror test itself is a bit flawed — I suspect dogs don’t pass it because of the lack of scent, hence the “sensory accurate”. Humans are very visual creatures, most animals less so.Report

  11. CK MacLeod says:

    Of course, the real problem is that our central, defining, universally mandatory, and to the death defended conceptions of government, inalienable rights, and so on, are completely unsound. No biggie.Report

  12. Kris says:

    “Prohibiting Jewish ritual slaughter would, in time, be an effective ban on the practice of Judaism.”

    So, if all the animals on earth -other than humans- died out and we had to eat plants, Judaism couldn’t exist anymore? That’s crazy. Or maybe you mean, Judaism would be less likely to continue if the animal-killing related rituals had to stop. That’s also crazy.

    It’s like saying banning wine would lead to the end of Christianity because communion inlvolves wine. Of course, they’ll just switch to grape juice.

    I get that rights to practice religion the way you want to are important. But we often have to curtail those rights, e.g. Hutterites have to goive their kids some education, Christian Scientist kids sometimes have to accept blood transfusions.

    How about a parrallel case: Suppose some voodoo priestess claims it is her right and religious obligation to torture and kill dolphins and apes and puppies. (These former are closest to us in cognition. And we are afford special protection to all of these groups.) Suppose also that this practice leads to the near extinction of some subspecies of dolphin.

    Wouldn’t it be right for the government to ban the practice?

    I mean voodoo is all well and good, and Judaism is almost as sensible. But their are limits to religious freedom.


    Anyone who calls Singer an idiot without justification is a fool. Ad hominem and all that.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kris says:

      Or maybe you mean, Judaism would be less likely to continue if the animal-killing related rituals had to stop. That’s also crazy.

      It seems entirely plausible to me.

      Suppose someone nuked Mecca. Would Islam continue? I’m sure it would, but we could very reasonably ask whether it was the same religion without the Hajj and without its most sacred site.

      There are also still a few people who insist that Mormonism isn’t really Mormonism without polygamy. What do you say to them? That your definition of their religion is the correct one? It hardly seems fair, does it?

      As to calling Peter Singer an idiot, no one here has done that so far. Have they? Merely claiming that someone is “wrong” is not ad hominem. Properly speaking, that’s a claim about an argument, not a claim about a person.

      What if anything in the original post suggested ad hominem to you? Please quote. I’d be interested to see it as specifically as you can.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Oh, I guess Fnord did say Singer was an idiot. I stand corrected.Report

        • Kris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Yeah, I was thinking of Fnord most specifically.

          Murali called him an “asshat” on the unsubstantiated charge that Singer doesn’t substantiate his arguments. (How ironic?)

          J.L. Wall asserted that Singer’s real goal is to secularize Jews. (Again without quoting Singer or any evidence.) (Attacking motivations, real or imagined, instead of the position or argument at hand is ad hominem just as mich as attacking intelligence.)

          Glyph agreed, without justification, that Singer is a “doofus” (biting criticism) then later an “extremist.” (I might agree that he is an extreme utilitarian, but that means only that he accepts utilitarian principles and tries to follow those principles to their logical consequence, regardless. But it’s unclear whether extreme utilitarianism is wrong. To say it is wrong requires an argument. Apparently Glyph needs no argument. He just calls Singer extremist and (presuambly) wrong. Game set match, highly respected philosophy professor who has written books and articles that I won’t mention.

          These ad hominems are only making the discourse here more sophmoric. Used to be a good blog.Report

          • J.L. Wall in reply to Kris says:

            Yes, I’m cynical with respect to Peter Singer. I understand that he earned his reputation as an academic, however much I may disagree with him. But when it comes to popular media, he’s taken to saying outlandish things in a way reminiscent of those who say outlandish things for the attention. I’m also cynical with respect to Stanley Fish.

            Singer has been quite clear in the past that he believes that religion is harmful for society, that religious people are a negative influence in politics, and that it would be best for societies if their influence was curtailed. The takeaway is that religious people would be better citizens — whether of the city or the world — if they accepted a particular type of utilitarian reasoning in place of religiously informed beliefs. But I also should be clear: I don’t think he wants just Jews to secularize. He wants everyone to. In this, at least, he’s eminently fair and even-handed.Report

            • CK MacLeod in reply to J.L. Wall says:

              In this, at least, he’s eminently fair and even-handed.

              …and a zealot of the sort whose influence can be harmful to society, a negative influence on politics, etc.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to J.L. Wall says:

              Singer has been quite clear in the past that he believes that religion is harmful for society, that religious people are a negative influence in politics, and that it would be best for societies if their influence was curtailed. The takeaway is that religious people would be better citizens — whether of the city or the world — if they accepted a particular type of utilitarian reasoning in place of religiously informed beliefs.

              I tend to agree with him on all that, actually. And for the record, he’s not just asserting those views, he actually argues them, usually from pretty clear and unambiguous premises. So mere disagreement with the conclusion isn’t enough to rebut him. It takes more than that.

              Of course, I can see how a religious person, especially one who self-identifies as a religious person, might take offense or feel threatened by what he argues. But they shouldn’t. If they can refute, there’s no dispute!Report

              • I’ve been blegging secular empiricists to refute Singer for years now, no takers. I find him entirely reasonable, which is chilling.

                There is hope, however, that Singer is slouching toward a theistic ethics, or at least a natural law or “objective ethics.”


                For there is no other refutation of euthanizing the sick and imperfect, the triumph of a utilitarian eugenics.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Tom, I won’t go too far in defense of Singer’s moral theory (is he still an act uti?) but I do like his arguments, many of which don’t rely on utilitarianism to go through. He’s a clever chap. Definitely not a doofus or an idiot. I have no comment on whether he’s an asshat.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Ahh, he’s a preference utilitarian.

                I find it astonishing that of all the moral conundrums presented to utilitarians of all stripes – and any other theory for that matter – that climate change would lead him to abandon his theory of morality.

                I’m not saying it doesn’t present moral problems, acourse. Just that I’d’ve assumed he’d already thought of those things.Report

              • StillH20, I hope I’m being clear that I consider Singer’s stance valid. That’s the problem, that we flirt with it being our future, such a brave new world.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I’d say “It’s not terribly interesting to have a consistent philosophy”, except most people can’t even get far enough to have anything resembling a coherent philosophy, let alone a consistent one.

                But still, it’s not terribly interesting to have a fairly consistent philosophy if you’re convinced it is closed.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                most people can’t even get far enough to have anything resembling a coherent philosophy, let alone a consistent one.

                Do you think either is possible for minds like ours?Report

              • Well, PatC, “objective” ethics must assume certain self-evident truths. Although I’m a lot more “open” than some blockheads might think [that I can entertain a thought without holding it], I must agree with “the judicious” Richard Hooker that “For to make nothing evident of itself unto man’s understanding were to take away all possibility of knowing anything. . .”

                And although Socrates boasts, all I know is that I do not know, he’s lying.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:


                If you don’t freak out about closure, and focus on the consistent and coherent part, sure.

                You’ll be able to say, “I can be pretty sure I’m aiight inside of these boundary conditions.”

                When people get in trouble is when they think they can reduce *any* possible ethical quandary into a solution, given some finite set of coherent and consistent principles. You can’t; you get screwed and eventually pull out the Ineffable Hat.

                Utilitarianism is particularly susceptible to this problem, even if you keep the problem domain closed to humans. You spend all your time arguing about what constitutes utility. Trying to apply utilitarian frameworks to entities without agency is jumpin’ the rails and frolikin’ in the daisies.


                Nothing wrong with objectivity and assuming truths (self-evident or otherwise), provided you don’t reason outside your truths. I expect Singer’s doing that somewhere in his anti-animal-slaughtering collection of thoughts.Report

              • Absolutely, PatC. I have always considered Peter Singer an honest man. He himself is suspecting that the limits he has placed on his moral universe cannot get him where his heart tells him it needs to go.

                Which is an argument against his approach to philosophy, albeit not a philosophical one.


              • Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                StillH20, I hope I’m being clear that I consider Singer’s stance valid. That’s the problem, that we flirt with it being our future, such a brave new world.

                Well, if Hume is right, then we’re just looking to justify what we’d do in any event. You think Hume is wrong. Unfortunately, Hume can account for why think he’s wrong. If he’s right.Report

              • I’m warming up to Hume on this point via Jonathan Haidt, that reason is primarily a justification tool.

                As a natural lawyer, to me that conflicts not at all with the existence of objective truth, that we use our reason to explain to our restless minds the truth we already know in our hearts.

                “Right reason,” of course, of Aristotle’s, not Singer’s, variety.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                The heart can be wrong, too. A felt need to establish the absolute rightness or wrongness of something – anything – whether by means of assumptions about Sky-Beings providing a moral order for the universe, or about the absolute rightness or wrongness of some other things (such as the absolute badness of suffering in Singer’s case) – might be the philosophical error. Much depends on how much importance you place on a philosophy’s arriving at propositions that are true in order not to be in error.

                A morality is conceivable, I believe, that is based entirely on desire, which in turn I believe is what morality as it is practiced in the world actually functionally is based on. (Justice is good, for example, only insomuch as it is is desired by those it concerns in a given instance.) Morality, it could be said, is how we decide which desires we approve of being satisfied. We want to say that there are absolute answers to whether a given person is right to act in a particular way to satisfy a particular desire in a particular situation – that that is a question about which there is “objective [moral] truth,” as Tom describes it, which we, or at least some of us, “know” in our heart. But isn’t it also possible that that “knowledge” is just another form of desire? That our particular psychological and experiential make-ups determine what desires we form with respect to how we’d like to see a particular situation resolved. A desire for something we perceive as a kind of harmony among our neighbors being one of myriad possible kinds of desires? And that these kind of “social desires,” if I may coin a term, become (or are simply from time immemorial) normalized to various degrees in societies, so that they come to be coordinated, regularized, encoded, and even recorded in societies? (Evidence for this is that societies differ as to how these desires become normalized, but it is common to all societies that they do – i.e. cultural moral relativism).

                …All speculation. The point is that, it seems to me, that what we talk about when we talk about morality is the governance of the pursuit of the satisfaction of desires. When we say we think something wrong has been done to us, the main thing we know is that we desire that it hadn’t been. And when we consider whether we want society to be made up of people doing nothing but seeking the unconsidered satisfaction of their every desire, or one in which they are restrained by ideas of morality, it is by reference to our own consideration of what that society would be like to live in and our considered desires with respect to living in it that we conclude that maintaining the idea of morality would be a good thing. We desire it.

                Contra Singer, there is nothing absolutely good about the satisfaction of desires (nor even about the experience of suffering). There is nothing absolutely right or wrong about desire or its satisfaction, but there is something absolute about it: its existence. We know desire exists. And I believe we base morality upon that knowledge. If there is no absolute or objective truth about the rightness or wrongness of desire, then there can be no absolute or objective basis for morality in which things are absolutely right or wrong. However, we can use our desires about questions at higher levels of organization, such as what we desire for the society we’re in to be like or whether we think our aggregate actions are leading to a slow but catastrophic change in our environment and whether we desire to run the risk of bearing the consequences thereof, to govern our desires at lower levels of decision, like whether to earn our living by robbing people at knifepoint or try to live. The problem comes, for Peter Singer and others, when we decide we have to try to show that certain of those action-conclusions resulting from due consideration of our desires at all their levels are not just perhaps likely to lead to something arguably undesirable (at this or that level of desire for thus-and-such reason), but absolutely wrong. That’s when you have to start employing transparently closed-loop assumptions about what already is self-evidently or in some other way absolutely wrong, and inserting them into those desire-considerations, which we all do all the time.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                AWESOME comment, MD.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Thanks, SW. It’s an idea I’ve had for a while now. I remain open to the possibility of moral realism. But assumptions to the effect are beside the point. They just evince various desires for some X or other.Report

              • There is nothing absolutely right or wrong about desire or its satisfaction, but there is something absolute about it: its existence. We know desire exists. And I believe we base morality upon that knowledge.

                Oh, you were just starting to get somewhere, Mr. Drew! Pick up from there.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I hand you the torch, Tom. My advice is to me wary of making desire into something it’s not if you’re interested in truth, however.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                …If not, though, then there’s really no limit to the amount of fun that can be had with this stuff, and I encourage you to while away your hours doing so to your heart’s content.Report

              • Mr. Drew, true philosophizing is eros, not mere “fun.” Jerking off is fun. But it is not erotic.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Indeed, Tom, which is why I made my advice to go with the other, less fun, thing. Part of what makes it less fun is that one of the imperatives is to try to remain within spitting distance of talking about what’s really real. Part of what makes the other potentially more fun is that you don’t have to.Report

              • Sorry, Michael, my eyes glazed over after 3 or 4 attempts to make sense of that last comment. Perhaps someone will explain it.

                Mostly, I liked the bit where you identified “desire” as a reality, hence a component of human nature. You touched the wire there.

                We can say nothing or next to nothing of God, but if “God” created us, and thereby human nature, then we can begin to understand him through his handiwork.

                Us. Man. You were on to something good there.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                That’s okay, Tom, no worries. It wasn’t important.

                Thanks for the kind words.Report

              • Of course it was important, Michael, or I wouldn’t have taken the time to respond.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Oh. Well in that case I’m going to let you figure it out, because I honestly think it’s pretty clear and straightforward. I hope your eyes are okay.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                …Happy to answer any specific questions, though, though I won’t be able to do that until later this evening (at which point I think it’s likely that this topic will be temporarily OTE because of imminent major news).Report

              • Fnord in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Interesting article, Mr. Van Dyke.

                As with Stillwater, I find myself astonished that climate change, of all things, is what confounds the morality of Mr. Singer.

                Moral realism, of course, is certainly something that secular ethics struggles with. But it seems strange to me that Singer feels that it manifests in the problem of climate change but not that of animal rights.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Fnord says:

                Mr. Fnord, that climate change is the monkeywrench in Dr. Singer’s ethical system confirms my suspicion that he’s an honest man. Much like the late great and justly admired Richard Rorty.Report

              • Fnord in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                That he admits that a monkeywrench exists is certainly a sign of intellectual honesty.Report

              • Chris in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I’m pretty sure the one thing no one has ever accused Singer of is intellectual dihonesty (Rorty, now that’s another story). His whole schtick, since the beginning, has been to start with an argument and show that it ultimately has conclusions that most of us find problematic, even horrifying. He’s always been up front about that, too.Report

            • Kris in reply to J.L. Wall says:

              I’m not saying you should accept what he says on authority. You should be “skeptical” of everyone, Fish, Singer, Einstein, etc.

              “Peter Singer, on the other hand, is trying (poorly) to hide his contempt for religion and religious people behind a shoddy animal rights argument. I highly suspect that his motive is, it’ll maybe help Jews secularize faster, and if it lowers the number of animals killed, then that’s a bonus.”

              1. I think Singer is more concerned about the whole not-killing animals thing. So the suggestion that he is out to secularize everyone is irrelevant. He has spent much of his career trying to get people to not kill animals. That’s what he’s doing here.

              2. Has Singer shown contempt for religious people?

              I’d agree that he thinks there are ideas and claims in religions that are false and pernicious, e.g. the claim that there is a supernatural being, women should obey their husbands but not vice versa, some people are more morally valuable on the basis of their race/religion.

              We would all agree that there are some bad things in some religions. The Judaeo-Christian condemnation of homosexuality is a good example of a horrible, pernicious thing in religion. (There would be homophobia without Leviticus, but it makes things worse.)

              But all of us who disagree with Christians about homosexuality don’t feel contempt for Christian people. Do we? I don’t. I know and like lots of Christians. No contempt. But many of their beliefs -as I will argue with them- are immoral, pernicious, false, or whatever. I argue that out of respect for my Christian friends, not out of contempt.

              So why do you say Singer has contempt for religious people. You said, almost as if to emphasize it?Report

            • dhex in reply to J.L. Wall says:

              “But when it comes to popular media, he’s taken to saying outlandish things in a way reminiscent of those who say outlandish things for the attention.”

              it’s hard out there for a professor in the area of public and media relations; unless you’re curing diseases or digging up stuff that looks awesome in a photo, you’re not going to be of much interest to the outside world. you need a hook. singer has his hook, which hasn’t hurt the proliferation of his views; at the very least, he hasn’t joined a government so he’s got a leg up on leon kass in terms of attempting to make his words flesh, as it were.

              i kinda, sorta, almost get the singer-style contempt for religion in this particular instance. it sorta sucks that the religious in our culture get passes for stuff that i don’t because i don’t belong to a coherent cultural (and voting & donating) bloc organized along those lines. however, that’s also true of any bloc that i’m not a part of, and most of them are at least as subject to whims, traditions, and other intangibles as any judeo-christian-islamo-mormon-scientologist type.Report

          • Glyph in reply to Kris says:

            Hi Kris, sorry to have offended, and lowered the discourse. In retrospect the ‘doofus’ description was uncalled for, Singer’s obviously an intelligent man and from what I have read of his stuff (college, a long while ago), internally consistent. That I don’t always like his conclusions may well be on me, not him.

            It was really a throwaway line, in my experience Singer tends to be so polarizing that I did not want him to become the focus of the question I was asking, so without giving it much thought, I did sort of dismiss or minimize him.

            And…here we are anyway.

            By ‘extremist in his views’ I simply mean he falls well outside most people’s debate parameters on this subject. That may make him right, it may make him wrong, maybe a bit of both, but his prescriptions are, relative to the normative culture, somewhat radical, no?Report

            • Kris in reply to Glyph says:

              That’s cool of you to say. I was wrong to slag the blog or you. I expect a lot from this blog, because it’s cool. I am sorry to be such a douche in my criticisms, but I want to see this place stay excellent.

              I liked much of what you wrote in other posts.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kris says:

                No worries dude (or dudette), I will try to be more careful in choosing my words in future. I have only recently started commenting after a long lurking period and am rusty writing-wise, plus I don’t always have time to do much more than dash these off in between other responsibilities (I work long hours and have very young kids to boot).

                So if my comments are sloppy sometimes that’s why. I look at this like popping into a pretty cool neighborhood dive bar, that happens to have some really smart & pretty funny people in it, shooting the s**t.

                Plus, the word ‘doofus’ always just makes me laugh.

                I mean, look at it. Say it a few times.





              • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Kris says:

                You two are a living example of why I love this blog!Report

          • Fnord in reply to Kris says:

            If I call Peter Singer an idiot while basically agreeing with his argument, it seems odd to call that an ad hominem.

            I’m quick to call Singer an idiot in part BECAUSE, in broad strokes, I agree with many of his positions. But, as someone who agrees with the general outlines of his moral philosophy, it seems to me that he prefers a positions that is provocative to one that’s well thought out. Were he an undergraduate with a blog, he’d strike me as well intentioned and relatively thoughtful. But as a philosophy professor and one of the most visible faces of modern utilitarianism, he annoys me.

            This particular article provides a case study in what I dislike about Singer. While I don’t know enough about the specifics to make a final determination, I think that there’s at least a reasonable argument to be made in favor of this law. But Singer’s “argument” is, in essence, to simply dismiss that his opponents have a real argument at all. As the OP points out, Singer misses an important nuance in the issue of kosher slaughter. He also mentions the Catholic hospital contraception mandate issue; his response to that is simply to repeat the idea that “Catholicism does not oblige its adherents to run hospitals”.

            This is all the more infuriating because Singer is supposed to be a fishing preference utilitarian. Balancing competing utilities is what utilitarian ethics is about. But instead of making a case that the benefits of the policies he favors outweigh the harm they cause, he simply dismisses the preferences of Dutch Muslims and Jews and American Catholics as not valid.Report

            • Glyph in reply to Fnord says:

              This is a good point; though I was attempting to sort of push Singer off to the side in my original comments, to avoid getting people het up just by mere mention of his name, the gist of my comments was really to point out that, you know, there might be cases (hypothetical legless Devil-goat) in which we might be justified in proscribing religious freedom.

              Which is another way to say, the man might be wrong on this particular case, but we should not dismiss the basic thrust of his argument in toto out of hand.

              If I had refrained from using the word doofus, that might have come across more clearly.Report

              • Fnord in reply to Glyph says:

                You’re probably right that throwing rhetorical knives in Peter Singer’s direction is not adding to the quality of the discussion.

                I certainly agree with you about the legless Devil-goat. My problem with Singer’s argument is the argument itself, not necessarily his conclusion. Though it’s often a good idea, I don’t think that laws of general applicability always need religious exemptions. One must occasionally say “I’m sorry that your religious practices are being impeded, but we cannot allow your practices to cause harm to others.” However, to say that “you’re doing Judaism [etc] wrong” is contrary to both the principle of religious freedom in a secular society and the precepts of preference utilitarianism.Report

      • Kris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I mean to suggest that a person doesn’t have the right to not educate their children even if they claim “I am not really a practicing real Hutterite if I allow my children to be educated.”

        Once we accept that children do and should have certain legal protections, then certain religious practices infringing on those practices can and must be curtailed.

        Once we accept that animals can and should be afforded legal protections against abuse (these are much more limited protections than we provide children) then we can and must curtail religious practices that abuse animals.

        Clearly Judaism itself will survive these restrictions, just as Hutterites have survived being required to educate their children.


        Here’s another way of addressing your objection.

        “Judaism” can be used to mean lots of different things. I used it the way it is standardly used, to refer to an ancient religious tradition which has changed subtly over centuries and which s interpreted vdifferently by very different people. Let’s call that “Judaism-in-general.” Of course, someone might use “Judaism” to refer to the exact practices that they engage in. Let’s call this “Judaism-exactly-the-way-I-do-it.

        (Notice, if you think “Judaism” means Judaism-the-way-I-do-it, you have to believe that anyone who has any disagreement with you about how Judaism is to be practiced is not following “Judaism.” That’s a pretty strict standard.)

        My contention is that Judaism-in-general would easily survive the ban on animal abuse as it has survived a million other cultural changes. Christianity in general would survive a ban on wine.

        Judaism-exactly-the-way-I-do-it cannot survive an animal rights ban, But of course, it cannot survive any change whatsoever, so that’s hardly surprising.

        I do think people have the right to practice Judaism-in-general and Judaism-exactly-the-way-I-do-it, but no one has a right to infringe on basic protections afforded to children and animals.Report

        • J.L. Wall in reply to Kris says:

          Among many things, we’re also going to disagree on the question of whether kosher slaughtering (A) more cruel than the current standard, and (B) whether it’s worthy of being deemed illegal.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to Kris says:

      Peter Singer asserted, in effect, that nothing in Judaism requires animal products. I wanted to point out that, in fact, the use of animal products from shechted animals is pervasive in Judaism. Peter Singer was, and is, wrong.Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        You’re referring to Judaism as a cultural phenomenon – what I agree most people think of when they think of “religion,” but which is more accurately the religion in its political and cultural dimensions, a definition that extends to religious or religion-based law, but is not actually a religious definition. The popularity of this arguably non-religious understanding of religion may say more about the general state of religious understanding and language than about the essence of the religion. What prevents any particular traditional practice being declared non-essential in light of ethical re-consideration, especially when the Judaic prophecy itself contemplates the eventual obsolescence of the law in its entirety?Report

        • J.L. Wall in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          Let me rephrase: the use of animal products, understood as a divine commandment and therefore a required religious act, is pervasive in Judaism.

          I chose the phrase “pervasive in Judaism” to avoid having to get mushmouthy about the idea of “normative Judaism,” a concept/discussion I find frustrating to begin with.Report

      • Kris in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        But Judaism doesn’t require using animalroducts, because it could continue without them.

        Does Christianity require drinking wine? Drinking wine is widespread amongst Christians.

        On a charitable reading, Singer is not wrong. Your post is largely based on a non-charitable reading.Report

        • J.L. Wall in reply to Kris says:

          Religions require their adherents to do certain things — whether it’s tithing, being nice to strangers, or eating only animals killed with a single stroke of a blade that renders them unconscious instantly, or only making necessary ritual objects with the leftover hides of said animals.

          What a religion requires of its adherents isn’t just what will, over the long span of human history, enable the religion to continue in some shape or form. What a religion requires of its adherents is the very practice of that religion.Report

          • Kris in reply to J.L. Wall says:

            But the phrase “what religion requires” can be intpreted multiple ways, which was my point to Jason. There is no doubt that many Jews feel they ought to slaughter animals. Maybe the even interpret some phrase as saying such. By analogy, Many Islamic men fee they ought to engage in FGM. But it is not clear that Islam requires FGM. Nor is it clear that Christianity and Judaism “require” stoning homosexuals. (As an aside, does banning that practice, whether conducted by private individuals or the government pose a threat to Judaism?)

            By “religion X requires Y” one cold mean that most members of X believe they ought to do Y based on their interpretation of such and such a dictate. It’s clear that some Jews think that they ought to eat meat as a matter of religious principle, so obviously Judaism “requires”killing animals in this sense. In this same sense, Islam requires Jihad suicide bombs and FGM and Christianity requires no abortions, and no euthanasia, no miscegenation, and the keeping of slaves. This is your use of “requires”

            If you interpret Singer charitably, he is saying that Judaism can continue along with minor changes without the animal slaughting in the way that Islam can continue without the FGM and suicide bombings.He is using “requires” to mean something like “necessary” for the religion to exist. He means these practices are innessential elements of Judaism in the way FGM is inessential to Islam. Clearly, he recognizes that some believe that they have a religious justification/obligation for eating meat and killing animals.A good example would be the freedom to meet in churches and to preach Christian doctrine is required for Christianity.

            Actually, there is an important distinction involving the freedom of religion lurking behind our discussion. There’s a difference between banning religious ceremonies and churches or requiring all children to be taught to be Christians, and requiring religious believers to alter their ceremonial practices in order to ensure that they don’t violate basic protections afforded to children, women, the elderly, animals, etc.

            Really, we all have the right to conduct whatever ceremonies we want. In that sense, we all have freedom of religion, even if we aren’t part of an organized religion. We don’t have the right to violate basic protections afforded to others in our ceremonies. So Judaism doesn’t have some special right that the rest of us don’t have.

            Really, the freedom of religion is just a general freedom of though and right of assembly. It is also a freedom not to have your children indoctrinated pro or con regarding any religion. It is not a special license to hurt animals.Report

  13. Kris says:

    That was a joke about Judaism and Voodoo, BTW.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Kris says:

      I went to see the joke about Judaism and Voodoo and was extremely disappointed that it didn’t contain the phrase “That Voodoo that Jews do.”Report

  14. Kris says:

    Now let’s get really picky about whether Singer is wrong.

    Singer claims that there is no requirement in Judaism to eat meat.

    You respond by claiming that killing animals is necessary for certain rituals that are required and so Singer “is wrong.” You cite two pieces of evidence that Judaism requires killing animals.

    However, both commandments -as I will suggest below- can be met without killing animals. That’s the great thing about religions: the rules are so damned flexible.

    Notice, killing animals and eating meat aren’t the same thing. Nowhere have you identified a clear commandment in Judaism to eat meat. Instead, you’ve identified commandments that seem to require killing animals. A charitable interpretation would’ve admitted this.

    1. You write, “I can’t speak for Islam, but Peter Singer is wrong about Judaism. As I am periodically reminded, sometimes in jest and sometimes from concern, there is a religious requirement to be “joyous” (simcha) on the Sabbath and holidays, and a Rabbinic ruling that “there is no joy without meat or wine.”

    As long as you read this “or” as a disjunction, you can have joy without meat, as long as you have wine. No problem.

    And how much wine? Is a tiny drop enough? Everyone is covered as long as they have the tiniest drop of wine. (Does this rule require giving babies wine? Are they commanded to be joyful. Should we allow babies to be given copious amounts of wine on religious grounds?)

    And can the meat be gotten from animals that died on natural causes? Do micro-animals count as animals? If I eat some animal microorganisms, which Singer would be cool with, haven’t I covered the commandment? It seems I have.

    2. “These must, unequivocally, be made from leather or animal parchment. ” I take it this isn’t a lot of leather we’re talking about. The leather can be harvested from animals that died naturally or animals that were euthanized for their own well-being. (Singer is not against euthanasia and surely some animals require euthanasia. Not enough to give everyone meat daily, but certainly enough to meet these religious needs.)

    I hereby conclude that even these two commandments can be easily met without killing animals. Certainly they can be met without eating meat.

    So what Singer said is not wrong given the evidence you have presented.

    Now, please call me an asshat.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to Kris says:

      If my summary were the norms to which Orthodox and Conservative Jews adhere when it comes to what qualifies as a ritually pure animal product, then you’d have poked holes. It was, however, a summary of a much more detailed set of requirements.

      To begin with “meat or wine” is a single sentence — a strong example — out of a discussion that ranges over a thousand years and probably about as many pages. How that “or” is read isn’t the whole story. I didn’t intend it to come across as such, but I also didn’t want to treat the League like my private cheder.

      “Meat,” for Jewish purposes, comes from a list of particular mammals and birds which are religiously fit for consumption. (It’s in Leviticus.) So no microorganisms. My guess is that for those who hold that there IS a requirement to eat meat on the Sabbath, the minimum portion is roughly the volume of an olive, because that’s the standard minimum portion for various Jewish rituals (e.g., bread or matzah after making a blessing on it). Microorganisms don’t count, because they’re a) not halakhically “meat”; and b) even if they were, they’re too small.

      As regards leather and parchment, to be fit for Jewish ritual use, the animal’s death must meet the same standards as in consumption. This excludes animals that have died from natural causes, or which have been euthanized — unless your method of euthanasia is the same practice which the Netherlands is attempting to ban. While you are correct to point out that the number of animals involved is low, killing animals in this method is necessary for procuring them.

      Moreover, a great deal of the Jewish understanding of self-regulation of the human being when confronted by natural desires comes from the regulations around eating meat. I may not eat meat, but if no Jew ever had — or thought they would again — then what it means to be a Jew would be different. (To what degree, I’m not going to speculate.)

      Singer wrote, “prohibiting the ritual slaughter of animals does not stop Jews or Muslims from practicing their religion.” In the short term, if we bracket the eating-meat question, he isn’t wrong. But a true prohibition would, in the long-term, stop Jews from practicing the religion as understood by the denominations that account for over half of practicing Jews in the United States, and a much higher proportion globally — other nations have significantly weaker Reform/Liberal movements, and Jewish populations that self-identify much more strongly as “Traditional”/Orthodox.

      So yes, he was wrong.Report

      • J.L. Wall in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        If Peter Singer wants to claim that nothing in Judaism requires the slaughter of an animal in accordance with the laws of kashrut, then he has to prove it from within the rules of Judaism as it understands itself. And he can’t — because he’s wrong.Report

      • Kris in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        All I have to go on are the rules you cited, Based on those rules, there is no explicit requirement to eat meat, Only “Be joyful” and one way to be joyful is to eat meat. The other is to drink wine.

        The rule on leather allows that we could find a sick, in need of euthasia animal could be drugged unconscious before killing, no?

        But I have no doubt that some Jews believe that they are required to eat meat, (I didn’t know this until today, so thank you. and the internetz back you up) just as some Muslims believe they are required to blow themselves up. But that’s not the same as saying Islam requires suicide bombing or Judaism requires eating meat.

        The best thing about religious rules is that you can bend them to meet newly discovered moral truths. Christianity says kill the gays, then it doesn’t. Don’t take that flexibility away from Judaism.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        But his argument surely isn’t to dispute the rules Jews accept as constitutive of their religion. I mean, that would be rather silly, right? Everything is what is and not another thing. Once you change something, it’s not the same.

        I think that his argument must be more that prescriptions and rituals are arbitrary outside of a specific religious context. And history has proven that right. Not all Christians take communion, yet they’re still Christians. Not all Jews engage in animal slaughter. And that’s relevant here: if the ritual is incidental to a life of faith in a religious context, the defining rituals are mutable. And if the ritual entails moral harms, then there is reason to change it. Is moral harm a sufficient reason to change long established religious rituals that are constitutive of a persons self-identity in faith? Maybe. Depends on whether the relative harm produced by the ritual is greater than the harm produced by giving it up.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

          That last sentence is a bust. I was trying to phrase it as a utilitarian argument, but I’m not at all sure that Singer would phrase it that way.Report

          • Fnord in reply to Stillwater says:

            Looks like a fine utilitarian argument to this utilitarian. I don’t know that Singer would phrase it that way, but I believe I’ve made my opinion of his opinions clear.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Fnord says:

              Thanks. I haven’t read the entire thread so forgive me if this has been mentioned, but one thing that strikes me about the types of arguments Singer is making is that the relative harm of forsaking the concepts, practices, and beliefs by which a person defines himself cannot be measured on any obvious scale. Those things not only define who a person is, they sometimes comprise who they are. So changing them means not just changing how they think of themselves, but changing who they fundamentally are. They’d be a different person.

              People have shown that they’re willing to die – and kill – over what I and lots of others view as trivialities. So the assumption that a sacred religious practice or closely held belief can be eliminated from people’s lives casually can easily be viewed as not only insulting to them, but as an attack on who their are.

              Now, I’m sure Singer didn’t intend his argument to imply any of those things. He’s attempting to reason with people about practices he finds objectionable. But for the those who view the practice as constitutive of who they are, he’s not going to make much headway. And yet, how do practices change over time without just these types of conversations and arguments being presented in good faith?Report

        • StillH20, you’re in the zone about ritual and religion. Your last sentence is actually what’s in question in Europe.

          Depends on whether the relative harm produced by the ritual is greater than the harm produced by giving it up.

          From the first of the American Founding, the free exercise of religion has been given primacy through the First Amendment, the burden of proof has been placed on those who would deny it. Their burden of proof is not 51-49, “relative” harm, but absolute harm.

          Polygamy was seen as an absolute harm to nation and society; choking chickens to the Santeria God[s] is an absolute right, 9-0 by the Supreme Court.

          HT: Jeffrey Straszheim—

          in Europe, they have no First Amendment. God Bless America and Fuck Europe.Report

          • Fnord in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            Mr. Van Dyke,

            The finding of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah was that the law in question was not a law of general applicability. It specifically targeted religious ritual, which is clearly not permissible under the first amendment (and is inconsistent with any reasonable principle of freedom of religion). Even to an atheist, the allowing the slaughter of animals for meat but forbidding substantially identical ritual animal sacrifice is absurd.Report

            • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Fnord says:

              Even to an atheist, the allowing the slaughter of animals for meat but forbidding substantially identical ritual animal sacrifice is absurd.

              Mr. Fnord, my best understanding is that the method of slaughtering is not substantially identical, thus the controversy.

              Neither do I think Santeria Fried Chicken would pass aesthetic muster even in the US, home of the First Amendment. Not that Jake Taylor didn’t give it a try.Report

              • Fnord in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                The law struck down in Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah certainly did prohibit animal sacrifices that were substantially identical to killings for food.

                “Indeed, counsel for the city conceded at oral argument that, under the ordinances, Santeria sacrifices would be illegal even if they occurred in licensed, inspected, and zoned slaughterhouses.”

                “If the city has a real concern that [sacrifices in Santeria] are less humane [than the method used in Kosher slaughter], however, the subject of the regulation should be the method of slaughter itself, not a religious classification that is said to bear some general relation to it.”

                “The city concedes that “neither the State of Florida nor the City has enacted a generally applicable ban on the killing of animals.” Brief for Respondent 21. It asserts, however, that animal sacrifice is “different” from the animal killings that are permitted by law. Ibid. According to the city, it is “self evident” that killing animals for food is “important”; the eradication of insects and pests is “obviously justified”; and the euthanasia of excess animals “makes sense.” Id., at 22. These ipse dixits do not explain why religion alone must bear the burden of the ordinances, when many of these secular killings fall within the city’s interest in preventing the cruel treatment of animals.”Report

              • Fnord in reply to Fnord says:

                Even more on point:
                “The proffered objectives are not pursued with respect to analogous non religious conduct.”Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                how about the hmong, that tend to eat their animal sacrifices?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                my best understanding is that the method of slaughtering is not substantially identical, thus the controversy.

                Yeah. It’s right there in the quote attributed to Singer:

                And that, of course, is what one should do, if one adheres to a religion that requires animals to be slaughtered in a manner less humane than can be achieved by modern techniques.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Or to make the point explicit: he’s not arguing against the morality of ritual slaughter, but the methods used in the ritual slaughter.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            Polygamy was seen as an absolute harm to nation and society; choking chickens to the Santeria God[s] is an absolute right, 9-0 by the Supreme Court.

            See, I think they got things backwards. Polygamy in and of itself doesn’t harm anyone. Killing chickens clearly does. That the SC ruled 9-0 against polygamy implies to me (without having read the opinion, of course!) that what they perceived to be objective harm (read: rights violations) is actually better described as either relative harm (that on balance, a society which prohibits polygamy is a better one) or only potential objective harm (ie., that permitting polygamy could lead to objective harms). It’s reallyreally hard to argue without begging questions that polygamy in and of itself violates anyone’s basic rights.Report

  15. Kris says:

    Now I’ve bombed this thread with my comments and will return to lurking.Report

  16. James K says:

    On the whole I’m not a big fan of religious exemptions to otherwise general rules. This is largely because I don’t think the government should prescribe or proscribe behaviour without a very good reason. And if it has a very good reason then everyone should be required to follow the law, religion be damned. If its OK to let some people out of following a law, then I’m inclined to believe it might be OK to let everyone out of following it.

    I’m not sure where I sit on the slaughtering rule itself (I share some of kazzy’s scepticism of animal cruelty laws), but my inclinination is to believe that the law should either stand without a religious exemption, or be abolished entirely.Report

  17. Per Smith says:

    “Religions can do whatever they want, that is—except dissent from secularist, rationalist modernity. That, as we all know, should be illegal.”

    Have you contemplated the alternative to the secularism(s) you bash in this comment? Religious pluralism is now a reality we live with in late modernity. How would you propose managing that pluralism while maintaining a democratic form of government that ensures equitable civil rights to its entire citizenry? How would you propose doing so without forcing religious institutions, groups and individuals to at times assent to the rules of the public sphere that transcends any one of them? I agree that secularism is not always neutral and that we have many areas where we can improve the way we manage religious pluralism, but statements like the one above sound a bit like empty faddy nonsense. Show me the beef.Report

  18. Ethan Gach says:

    I should add, for the record, I’m tots a P. Singer fanboy.Report

  19. Ben says:

    At the risk of sounding nit-picky, can I make a small correction on a technical point? Shabbat has no requirement of “simcha” per se. Only Yom Tov does. On Shabbat there is a similar requirement of “oneg,” which Singer, through his mental gymnastics, could say can be accomplished by eating cherries, huckleberry pie, macadamian nuts, etc., while abstaining from meat.Report