Peter Singer / Harper Perennial / 368 pages
Animal Liberation Now: The Definitive Classic Renewed is the latest update to Peter Singer’s seminal 1975 book, Animal Liberation. While the facts and figures have been updated, the ultimate message has not changed significantly. Now, as then, Singer focuses on two principles: utilitarianism and equality. Utilitarianism provides that a moral action is one that minimizes suffering or leads to the greatest happiness. Equality requires not identical treatment of everyone, but rather equal consideration of everyone’s interests.
Traditional utilitarian calculations only involve human happiness and suffering. However, Singer asserts that the capacity to suffer—i.e., sentience—rather than membership in the human race is the characteristic that entitles a being to equal consideration of their interests in the utilitarian calculation. Science has shown that all vertebrate animals (and at least some invertebrates) are sentient; they can suffer, both physically and mentally, and have an interest in not suffering.
In Singer's view, to fail to consider the interests of nonhuman animals is speciesism—the primary examples of which are the hundreds of millions of animals used in research and the more than 100 billion animals farmed for food each year. He feels that, overall, the extreme suffering experienced by animals in laboratories is unjustified by the derived benefits. Regarding factory farms, he observes that “with most intensive animal production, when economics and animal welfare point in different directions, economics wins.” Singer thinks much of this suffering is unnecessary because most humans can thrive without consuming animal products or products tested on animals. Therefore, from a utilitarian standpoint, one should avoid doing so as far as is reasonable and practical to individual circumstances.
Whether one agrees with Singer or makes a different utilitarian calculation (as does the author in Treated Like Animals), Singer’s book will make the reader rethink the consideration we give to nonhuman animals’ interests.