An influential approach to the moral failings that mark human relationships to non-human animals gives central stage to the notion of ‘speciesism’.. Others have questioned the implied analogies with racism and sexism, and the exclusive emphasis on a narrow conception of ‘interests’ that may mark this approach. The panel will explore these differences.
While there is, in certain circles, substantial agreement that we must overcome a human centred morality and implicit anthropomorphism in our treatment of non-human animals, and that current relationships between human and non-human animals are marked by very serious moral failings on the part of humans, there exists much less consensus on how those failings are to be characterized and addressed. One particularly influential approach, championed by the philosopher Peter Singer, gives central stage to the notion of ‘speciesism’, defined here as ‘a prejudice or attitude of bias in favour of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species’ (Animal Liberation p 7). In opposition to speciesism, Singer has advocated widening the moral circle by extending the principle of ‘equal consideration of interests’ to non human animals and notes that ‘taken in itself … membership of the human species is not morally relevant.’ (Singer (ed.) In Defence of Animals p 4.) Others, such as Cohen (1980) and Diamond (1978), remain skeptical, arguing that this approach, along with its sometimes explicit appeal to the supposed analogues of racism and sexism (Nibert 2003), casts the key issues entirely in the wrong light, and in so doing provides a significantly impoverished model of human relationships, both with each other and with non-human animals. The panel invites papers from anthropologists and philosophers, whose research touches on any aspects of this crucial and fascinating moral debate.
Matthew Cole (Open University)Kate Stewart