What philosopher Peter Singer has learned in 45 years of advocating for animals (2023)

Forty-five years ago, Australian philosopher Peter Singer published the book Animal Liberation. The arguments it made — that animals can suffer; that it is morally wrong to inflict extraordinary suffering upon them; and that we consequently have to rethink our farming and food systems — are ones that many consumers today will have heard.

At the time, however, Singer’s perspective was a deeply unusual one. There were animal advocacy groups, certainly, but they tended to focus on the plight of abandoned pet animals, like cats and dogs, with no major organization working on the plight of farmed animals (more on this below).

In a 1999 New Yorker profile, journalist Michael Specter wrote that Singer “gave birth to the animal-rights movement.” Singer’s book, activist Ingrid Newkirk wrote, “was a philosophical bombshell. It forever changed the conversation about our treatment of animals. It made people — myself included — change what we ate, what we wore, and how we perceived animals.” Simply put, the animal welfare movement would not be where it is today without Singer and his book.

Now, 45 years later, he’s revisiting the topic in a new book — a collection of his essays called Why Vegan?, released for sale in the US last week. I spoke with Singer about the history of the animal welfare movement, what progress we’ve made since Animal Liberation came out, and what it will take to change the world he’s been criticizing for nearly half a century now.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Kelsey Piper

You first wrote about the case for caring about animals 45 years ago. What has changed?

Peter Singer

A lot has changed, really. There has been a huge amount of change in awareness. Quite frankly, there is an animal movement now, which is concerned about all animals, not just about dogs and cats and horses.

And there really wasn’t in 1975. It’s not that there weren’t sort of tiny organizations. There were so many vivisection organizations [which work to combat the practice of animal vivisection for research], actually. But in terms of farm animals, there was really nothing going on. There was a small organization called Compassion in World Farming in the UK when I got into it, which is now a sort of quite large global organization. But it was run by one guy out of his home, I think, at the time, and there was no legislation to protect the welfare of farm animals.

Now, the entire European Union has prohibited some of the worst forms of confinement that I described in Animal Liberation. And so has the state of California. And I think six or seven other states in the US also have legislation protecting farm animals. So that’s a big change.

Then there’s a huge change in the availability of vegetarian and vegan food. Nobody would have known what vegan meant in 1975. There was this very small British organization that was founded in the late ’40s, called the Vegan Society. That was probably pretty much all of the vegans in the UK. And virtually none in the US either. There’s been a huge growth of awareness — organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, to courses in animal law being taught at Harvard. There was none of that happening at all [in 1975].

(Video) Peter Singer: Animal Liberation, Forty Years On

So that’s an immense amount of change. But there hasn’t been nearly enough change in the way we treat animals.

Kelsey Piper

There’s change, maybe, in people’s interest in the issue and how we think about it, but still a pretty bad situation on the ground, and in some ways getting worse, right? Because we have more automation, we have more technology. We’ve bred birds differently.

Peter Singer

Yeah, the breeding of chickens in particular is a really bad aspect of it. They grow faster, they put on weight faster, and they seem to be in more pain just standing up now. That’s one difference, which you’ve written about.

The other thing that I would say is — it isn’t bad that China and a lot of other countries are more prosperous. That’s great because there are fewer people in extreme poverty. But there are also hundreds of millions more people wanting to eat meat, [previously] unable to afford to eat meat. And China, in particular, has no national laws about animal welfare at all. The multiplying factory farms, what conditions the animals undergo — they’re pretty terrible. When you go to China, you see [animal abuses] that are pretty horrible you wouldn’t see here in the US.

Kelsey Piper

I’m also curious about the philosophy side of this. Are the arguments that you put forward 45 years ago still what you see as some of the strongest arguments for animals?

Peter Singer

I think the arguments that I put forward in 1975 are still the basic arguments, which seemed to me the most cogent. So what happened after I wrote Animal Liberation is that a number of different philosophers use different approaches. [American philosopher] Tom Regan’s animal rights argument, for example, wasn’t really in the literature beforehand, not in the form that Tom put it in, and a variety of other different views. [Regan argues that from a Kantian perspective, at least some animals have intrinsic rights as humans do, because they are what he called “subjects-of-a-life.”]

So there is more pluralism about different approaches, philosophically, that lead to somewhat similar conclusions. But I remain a consequentialist. [There are] rights-based approaches — for those who like that approach ... [they] are out there, and that’s a good thing. Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approach comes to a similar conclusion as well. [Nussbaum’s approach argues that ethics should be focused on the freedom to achieve well-being, and understood in terms of how many real opportunities to do that someone has.]

Kelsey Piper

I have seen it said that animals mattering, and being of moral significance — and accordingly, factory farming being very bad — is something of a rare area of agreement in moral philosophy.

Peter Singer

Yeah, absolutely. And even people who disagree on some of the points, like Roger Scruton, who died recently, was a conservative, British philosopher. Some sort of religious bent, I think, because he talked about [how] we should have piety towards animals. He certainly continued to eat them, and even champion eating them, but he certainly opposed factory farming.

Kelsey Piper

I’m curious what you see as the strongest, simply put argument for being vegan.

(Video) Peter Singer: Animal Equality

Peter Singer

I think that it removes you completely from complicity in practices that are not morally defensible about the raising and killing of animals for food.

There are more complicated arguments about whether you’re justified in bringing animals into existence who would not otherwise have existed and have a good life, about animals raised in suitable conditions and humanely killed. So you know, there are arguments for defending some forms of animal consumption. I don’t know what the impact of that is on attitudes to animals and whether it reinforces the idea that animals are still things for us to use.

Kelsey Piper

Are you personally vegan?

Peter Singer

Strictly speaking, no. For example, I don’t think that bivalves — mussels and clams — I don’t think they can suffer, so I eat them. I would certainly eat cellular-based meat, once it was available. And I’m not really strict about avoiding free-range eggs.

Kelsey Piper

That’s been one of the struggles in our family, finding eggs that we are confident come from chickens who were well-treated.

Peter Singer

Yes, that’s right. I think it’s somewhat easier to get genuinely free-range eggs in Australia [where Singer lives] than in big American cities anyway. It’s not always that easy to sort out which are labeled free range, but actually kept in big warehouses with small patches where they can go outside. In Australia they report the stocking density.

Kelsey Piper

In 2020, of course, there’s lots of old arguments about animal farming that are still relevant. But there’s also some new sorts of concerns on everybody’s horizon — like the potential for pandemics and the potential for contributing to climate change.

Peter Singer

The last essay in the collection is a 2020 essay about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, flu, and whatnot. It talks about wet markets, and the combination of cruelty and health risk that involves.

When I published Animal Liberation, I was focused entirely on the animal aspect of it. Then, during the ’80s, I became aware of the climate change issue, and of the role of animal production in that. So there was a second major argument for avoiding animal products. When I talk to people who’ve become vegan in the last few years, I find climate has played quite a significant role.

And then in recent years, I’ve become aware of the risk of pandemics coming out of factory farming. So what I say in the book is — there’s now this third reason: animals, climate, pandemics.

(Video) Non-Human Animals: Crash Course Philosophy #42

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What philosopher Peter Singer has learned in 45 years of advocating for animals (1)

(Video) Moral Philosopher: Peter Singer


What is the Singer's animal theory? ›

Singer's theory of animal liberation requires that we reject speciesism, which would, for example, prevent the use of animals in experiments in those situations in which we would not use humans who had the same interests at stake.

What philosophy does Peter Singer believe? ›

Peter Singer is a rationalist philosopher in the Anglo-American tradition of utilitarianism. He teaches “practical ethics,” which he defines as the application of morality to practical problems based on philosophical thinking rather than religious beliefs.

What is Peter Singer known for in reference to animal research? ›

Singer holds that researchers should be required to demonstrate that the benefits of their research would outweigh the suffering of the animals involved. He recommends that ethics committees, with members representing the welfare of animals be established to oversee the experiments.

Who is animal rights activist Peter Singer? ›

Singer is a cofounder of Animals Australia and the founder of The Life You Can Save.
Peter Singer.
Peter Singer AC
Singer in 2017
BornPeter Albert David Singer 6 July 1946 Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
EducationUniversity of Melbourne (BA, MA) University College, Oxford (BPhil)
Notable workThe Life You Can Save Animal Liberation
14 more rows

What is singer's conclusion in all animals are equal? ›

4. Conclusion: Singer concludes that “all animals are equal”. That is, as we strive for equality, we should strive for equal consideration of the interests of human beings and non-human animals alike!

What is the objection to Peter Singer all animals are equal? ›

Objection #1: But animals and humans are so factually different they can't be morally equal. They have vastly different characteristics; e.g., humans are more intelligent than animals. Singer's Reply: Moral equality does not require factual identity.

What does Peter Singer teach? ›

After teaching in England, the United States and Australia, he has, since 1999, been Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. He first became well-known internationally after the publication of Animal Liberation in 1975.

Which ethical theory is closest to Peter Singer's? ›

Which ethical theory is closest to Peter Singer's when it comes to famine relief? Utilitarian.

Who was Peter Singer inspired by? ›

What does Peter Singer argue for? ›

Main argument

Peter Singer's core argument in 'Famine, Affluence and Morality' is as follows: "if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it."

What is utilitarianism Peter Singer? ›

Peter Singer, "Equality for Animals" Singer accepts utilitarianism as an ethical theory. Definition of Utilitarianism: The morally right act is the one whose consequences maximize the total balance of pleasure (interest satisfaction) minus pain (interest frustration) when considering all beings affected.

What is the philosophy of animal ethics? ›

Animal rights is the philosophy according to which many or all sentient animals have moral worth independent of their utility to humans, and that their most basic interests—such as avoiding suffering—should be afforded the same consideration as similar interests of human beings.

Who is Peter Singer giving what we can? ›

Peter Singer is an Australian moral philosopher, author, public intellectual and a founding member of Giving What We Can. He is currently the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and a Laureate Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne.

Are all animals equal Peter Singer? ›

Peter Singer argues that all animals are equal and that it is not right to eat or kill animals. For the reason that animals are capable of feeling pain and pleasure, they matter and we should consider them as equals.

What is in Peter Singer Ed in defense of animals? ›

In Defence of Animals: The Second Wave is a 2005 book edited by the philosopher Peter Singer. It contains chapters by Gaverick Matheny, Richard Ryder, Paola Cavalieri, Paul Waldau and others. The authors makes several arguments why harming animals is bad.

What is the main conclusion of Singer's argument? ›

CONCLUSION: We ought to prevent some absolute poverty. [In fact, we ought to prevent as much absolute poverty as we can without sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance.]

Why does Singer think animals deserve moral consideration? ›

Singer attacks the views of those who wish to give the interests of animals less weight than the interests of human beings. He argues that if we attempt to extend such unequal consideration to the interests of animals, we will be forced to give unequal consideration to the interests of different human beings.

What moral theory is Singer applying to animal ethics quizlet? ›

He believes that an animal has interests that must be given the same consideration as a human being's interests. He is also a utilitarian.

What is Peter Singer's ethical perspective with respect to non human animals his primary concern? ›

Singer then laid out his main principle regarding the treatment of animals—that of equal consideration of interests. In other words, the interests of non-human animals should be considered equally with human interests.

What is Singer's reason for thinking that speciesism is wrong? ›

As we have seen, Singer thinks speciesism violates the moral principle of equal consideration of interests, which requires that we give the interests of any given being — including animals — the same weight as the 'like' interests of any other being (including humans).

What are key facts about Peter Singer? ›

Peter Singer, in full Peter Albert David Singer, (born July 6, 1946, Melbourne, Australia), Australian ethical and political philosopher best known for his work in bioethics and his role as one of the intellectual founders of the modern animal rights movement.

Why is Peter Singer not vegan? ›

Singer isn't an all-out vegan. He says that he became a vegetarian because he didn't want to support any act that would inflict suffering on animals.

What does Peter Singer believe about charity? ›

According to Peter Singer, people in affluent societies have a strong moral obligation to donate much, if not most, of their resources to charitable organizations that prevent death and suffering.

What ethical dilemma is Peter facing? ›

Firstly, the saturation of market was a big risk Peter faced. Secondly, as online presence was crucial but it should be cost effective. This idea of Peter initially did not convince the top executives who pressurised him to achieve the target by hook or by crook.

What does Peter Singer say about ethics? ›

if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.”

What ethical theory supports animal rights? ›

Utilitarianism entails rejecting animal exploitation and reducing wild animal suffering. The first utilitarian theorists in the 18th and 19th centuries argued that the interests of nonhuman animals should be respected equally to those of humans.

What did Peter do that for utilitarians is morally right? ›

Peter's act of stealing is morally right because it produced more good than bad. In other words, the action produced more pleasure or happiness than pain or unhappiness, that is, it increased net utility.

Which philosopher talks about animal rights? ›

While Western philosophy has not historically been concerned with animal rights or animal welfare, it has more recently become an important part of animal advocacy conversations and movements. The three historical philosophers that are most discussed are René Descartes, John Stuart Mill, and Immanuel Kant.

Does utilitarianism apply to animals? ›

Utilitarians think that animal interests are just as important as human ones, and I have argued here that Kantians should accept that as well. Kant's own view that animals have no moral standing is almost universally rejected.

What are the three main ethical theories applied to animals? ›

Different views on the significance of value concepts, deontic concepts, and moral worth concepts form the basis for the three most prominent types of ethical theory: consequentialism, deontological ethics, and virtue ethics. These theories can inform approaches to assessing the ethics of animal research.

Does Peter Singer have a disability? ›

“He uses spina bifida as an example of a disability that might warrant infanticide,” Young said.

How much does Peter Singer give away? ›

Singer — who has long said that he gives away about 40 percent of his income — turned to developing his ideas about effective altruism in the books “The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty” (2009) and “The Most Good You Can Do” (2015).

Is Peter Singer an altruist? ›

Peter Singer and William MacAskill are among several philosophers who have helped popularize effective altruism.

What is the principle of equality Peter Singer? ›

Singer's Principle of the Equal Consideration of Interests says that identical interests must be given equal moral weight no matter in what type of being they occur. Thus a moral agent must be species impartial. This principle follows from utilitarian moral theory.

When did Peter Singer publish All animals Are Equal? ›

Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals is a 1975 book by Australian philosopher Peter Singer.
Animal Liberation (book)
Cover of the first edition
AuthorPeter Singer
SubjectAnimal rights
6 more rows

Was PETA 1980 inspired by Peter Singer? ›

PETA was founded in 1980 by Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco, who were influenced by Australian ethicist Peter Singer's book Animal Liberation (1975). PETA's earliest efforts included exposure of and litigation against government and private research laboratories that used animals in testing.

What is Peter Singer's philosophy? ›

Peter Singer is a rationalist philosopher in the Anglo-American tradition of utilitarianism. He teaches “practical ethics,” which he defines as the application of morality to practical problems based on philosophical thinking rather than religious beliefs.

How does Peter Singer justify voluntary euthanasia? ›

Singer thinks voluntary euthanasia is morally justified, and he argues in favour of its legalization under certain conditions. above: If a person does not have a desire to live that could be thwarted, killing her does not involve any wrongdoing.

What moral theory does Singer use to argue for including non-human animals in moral consideration? ›

One might call this "spinism," since most of the species to whom Singer extends his moral concern - those that seem to feel pain like we do - are vertebrates. Singer declares that his concern is to take the interests of non-human species into moral account.

What is the Singer's argument for animal rights? ›

Singer fundamentally believes that the principle of equality that we use to relate to other human beings such as not discriminating on sex, race, religion etc should also be extended to non-human animals.

What is Singer's basic argument explain? ›

Main argument

Peter Singer's core argument in 'Famine, Affluence and Morality' is as follows: "if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it."

What is the contribution of Peter Singer? ›

Peter Singer, in full Peter Albert David Singer, (born July 6, 1946, Melbourne, Australia), Australian ethical and political philosopher best known for his work in bioethics and his role as one of the intellectual founders of the modern animal rights movement.

What do you think is the strongest objection to Singer's argument? ›

Singer identifies 'perhaps the most serious objection' (Singer 1993: 235) to his argument as the objection that alleviating poverty today may lead to greater suffering in the future.

What ethical arguments does Singer make before presenting his proposal? ›

Singer's argument depends on a fairly straightforward moral principle: if we can prevent something very bad from happening without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, then we are morally obligated to do so.

Which moral theory does Singer use to argue that we should treat animals with respect? ›

Singer's Principle of the Equal Consideration of Interests says that identical interests must be given equal moral weight no matter in what type of being they occur. Thus a moral agent must be species impartial. This principle follows from utilitarian moral theory. (Can you explain why?)

What is the moral problem Singer addresses in his essay? ›

In the essay, Singer argues that the inhabitants of affluent countries have a moral obligation to donate a significant portion of their wealth to charities that can save lives around the world.

Is Singer's argument valid? ›

It is a valid argument form called “modus ponens” (or, “affirming the antecedent”). So, this argument is valid. moral importance (namely, by donating to famine relief). 3.

What is the animal theory in philosophy? ›

In the philosophical subdiscipline of ontology, animalism is a theory of personal identity that asserts that humans are animals. The concept of animalism is advocated by philosophers Eric T. Olson, Peter Van Inwagen, Paul Snowdon, Stephan Blatti, David Hershenov and David Wiggins.


1. 3 ethical catastrophes you can help stop, right now | Peter Singer | Big Think
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2. Peter Singer "All Animals are Equal"
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3. Peter Singer: "Animal Liberation: Past, Present and Future"
(Fundació Grífols)
4. Should We All Be Vegan? | Interview with Peter Singer
(Novara Media)
5. Peter Singer: Suffering in Humans, Animals, and AI | Lex Fridman Podcast #107
(Lex Fridman)
6. Live A BETTER & More ETHICAL Life w/ Philosopher Peter Singer | Rich Roll Podcast
(Rich Roll)


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