Animal rights activists are aghast at the news that their intellectual godfather, Australian philosopher Peter Singer, is prepared to support animal experimentation in some cases. The British website Arkangel for Animal Liberation said that he had fallen for vivisectionist lies: “the man talks rubbish and the sooner the notion that he has any place in the modern animal rights movement is dispelled the better”.
Singer responded to the growing controversy amongst his erstwhile admirers with letters of clarification to British publications. In these he attempts to correct the mistaken impression that he believes that experimentation can never be justified. As a utilitarian, he contends that actions are justified by their consequences. Hence, if animal experiments could lead to immense benefits, they could be defensible, at least in theory.
However, he does not accept that humans are more worthy than animals, so the bar has to be set very high. His letter says: “a test for whether a proposed experiment on animals is justifiable is whether the experimenter would be prepared to carry out the experiment on human beings at a similar mental level – say, those born with irreversible brain damage.”
The controversy is thinning the ranks of Singer’s friends. One of his critics, Gary Francione, an American animal rights activist and legal expert at Rutgers University, points out in his blog that Singer has never believed in animal rights — or in any rights for that matter. Both humans and animals can, in his system, be used as means to another’s ends.
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