An interview with Peter Singer
9 de outubro de 2013
por Emiliana Carvalho
Tradução: Charles Exdell
Escrítica – After so many years of proposing, with solid argumentation, a deeper contemplation of ethically controversial themes, do you see significant advances in people’s attitudes or do you feel that the results of your proposals are reserved for a distant future, given that debate has still centered around concepts of ethics and morals?
I see big advances. I don’t agree that debate is still centered around concepts of ethics and morals. The debate about these concepts continues, of course, and rightly so, but there is a great deal of discussion, both in universities and online, about practical ethical questions, including how to do the most good.
Escrítica – In Practical Ethics you say: “I consider an important ethical topic to be that which anyone who thinks a little must confront.” Do you agree that there is a lack of a more effective and consistent position from those that possess an active voice in society, and from those to whom we give credit as thinkers, in relation to important ethical ideas?
I’m not sure what to say in response to this. Some people have effective and consistent positons and others do not. You can’t generalize.
Escrítica – Are taboos and stereotypes still the greatest enemies of the understanding and acceptance of your proposals regarding abortion, euthanasia and animal rights?
It varies with the issue. Regarding animal rights, I think a large part of it is the habit of eating meat, and a reluctance to change this habit. With abortion and euthanasia, I think religious teachings are a major obstacle to reforms that would reduce suffering.
Escrítica – Is it to be expected that when we contemplate or suggest a form of conduct for people, we have to maintain focus on ourselves, inicially, and place ourselves, firstly, within the issues that are raised, evaluate our feelings, actions and reactions in light of their complexity, in the event that they might effect us directly. How was it that you engaged in conceptual struggles with yourself and arrived at your conclusions about so many topics considered to be polemical?
No, I don’t think it is a matter of evaluating our feelings. There are situations in which our feelings can be very misleading. We should rather try to apply our reasoning abilities, as best we can. We should try to take a larger point of view, not only one in which we focus on our own feelings or interests.
Escrítica – In an interview with the magazine Veja, you said: “At no point did I say that we must not eat meat because it is wrong to kill animals. The target of my criticism is the anti-ethical manner in which animals are raised and slaughtered for consumption.” With this in mind, what would be an ethical way of raising and slaughtering animals for consumption?
We could allow animals to lead lives that are suited to their needs – for example, cows grazing in fields, in a social group, with the calves kept with their mothers – and then when the calves became adults and were no longer closely bonded with their mothers, they could be killed instantly and without being transported to a slaughterhouse. That might, at least from the standpoint of animal welfare, be ethically defensible. By that I mean, not that I would eat meat from animals kept in that way, but that reasonable ethical arguments could be made to defend it. (Again, I emphasize, from an animal welfare perspective, though not from the standpoint of protecting the climate of our planet, because cows emit a lot of greenhouse gases.)
Escrítica – You had the opportunity to watch and share on a social network the video in which the little Brazilian Luiz Antonio makes an argument for not eating octopus. What did you think of little Luiz’s “premature activism”?
I thought Luiz was remarkably astute. He argues very logically against eating octopus. Perhaps one day he will become a great moral philosopher!
Escrítica – Hunger in the world, the problem of refugees and civil disobediance have also been a focus of your work. How do you address such questions? At a glance, do they seem to have a common denominator of cause and effect, or am I mistaken?
I don’t really understand what you mean. My concern, with these questions and with all ethical questions, is to find ways to bring about better consequences, by which I mean, in simple terms, to reduce suffering and increase happiness.
Escrítica – What are your influences? What reading material and thinkers have helped you to nourish your philosophy and confront resistance? I am most influenced by the great British philosopher, such as David Hume, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Henry Sidgwick. I have also read Kant, Hegel and Marx, and probably taken something from each of them. Among more recent philosophers, my former teacher at Oxford, R.M. Hare, has been an influence, and among those still active today, I would mention especially Derek Parfit.
Escrítica – O senhor participará, no final deste mês, do projeto Fronteiras do Pensamento (Frontiers of Thought), em Porto Alegre e São Paulo. Em que consistirá sua participação?
I will be speaking on “Ethics for the 21st Century” – focusing on global justice, climate change, ethics and animals, and other issues we face in the century to come.
Condenados, vídeo do fotógrafo e filósofo Marcos Cesário, inspirado em Libertação Animal, de Peter Singer.