utilitarianism again

In my ethics class we went into Singer’s defense of animal liberation.  I learned that he did this from a Utilitarian view, not a rights-based.  So, I looked up utilitarianism on wikipedia and found this quote from Singer.

“If I have seen that from an ethical point of view I am just one person among the many in my society, and my interests are no more important, from the point of view of the whole, than the similar interests of others within my society, I am ready to see that, from a still larger point of view, my society is just one among other societies, and the interests of members of my society are no more important, from that larger perspective, than the similar interests of members of other societies… Taking the impartial element in ethical reasoning to its logical conclusion means, first, accepting that we ought to have equal concern for all human beings.”

This conclusion — that everybody’s interests should be considered equally when making decisions — is a core tenet of utilitarianism.

Okay.  This leads me to political theory doesn’t it?  This reminds me of the attacks against Democracy and indeed the very reason why Republicans (not the political party, but the political ideaology) say that Democracy doesn’t work.  They say that it is impossible for a group of people to work for the interests of everyone.  However, to counter this, current Democrats (again, not the party but the ideology) might say that what is meant is the very core of the utilty in Singer’s quote, that every vote counts as one vote.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t have executive groups or leaders, but that one person’s vote is as equal as anothers.

From Wikipedia again…
Singer elaborates that viewing oneself as equal to others in one’s society and at the same time viewing one’s society as fundamentally superior to other societies may cause an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance

This is where holes in my philosophical readings really show themselves to me.  While I am well read in some matters, I am not read in others, and hence lack the framework to question, or even define, some thoughts in my head.  However, I should say that this leap by Singer bothers me.  To me it does not necessarily follow that because one views oneself as equal to others in my own society that I must then view other societies as equal.  This seems a great leap to me and I wonder by what mechanism Singer makes this claim.  No serious student takes moral or cultural relativism as viable.  Am I to believe that the government of North Korea, or the past Taliban in Afghanistan, as equal to my own society?  I can view the people as equal to myself in a human manner, and as such seek other means to deal with them without automatically resulting to heavy handed practices, however, it seems pretty easy to see how a regime like the Taliban’s is by no means equal. 

And if Singer takes this trip, doesn’t he then, as is a failure in cultural relativism, have to concede that the society of meat eating animal killers nearby are equal to his own society?  It stands to reason that someone as smart as Singer is not making this mistake, however I’ve not found reference to his answer for this shortcoming.

I found this on the discussion part of the entry…
….consequently ethically superiority was defined as whatever produced the greatest amount of goodness, and not simply pleasure.

But this is scratching the surface.  There are tons of graduate programs only on utilitarianism. 

So I think that in just looking at this, and not reading any Bentham because I do need to maximize my time, I am closer to understanding the Bentham quote a few entries ago.  Perhaps the analogy is misunderstood on my part by what Bentham meant.  Recall the quote…

“Each count for one and none for more than one”.  Another utilitarian, Henry Sidwick, says “The good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point of view (if I may say so) of the Universe, than the good of any other.”

From a Deep Ecology pointt this makes sense.  Yet whereas Singer uses this quote in his article seeking animal liberation, I can take them and go another route.  This route says that humans are no more special to the Universe than ants, or bacteria, or trees.  This, to me then, doesn’t reinforce Singer’s points, but really a more ecological view similar to Leopold’s Land Ethic.

I must go to New Frontier Market to get milk, eggs, and catfood.  I also need to let these things stew inside of me before I attempt to write the paper on Singer.


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