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Taking Humanism Beyond Speciesism
Posted: 04 January 2008 10:31 AM   [ Ignore ]
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HERE is an interesting Peter Singer article that is critical of both The AHA’s Humanist Manifestos and, to a less emphatic degree, of The Council of secular Humanism’s The Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles.  The title of this thread is the title of the Singer article.

[quote author=“Peter Singer”]I did not sign Humanism and Its Aspirations, for my aspirations go beyond human interests and the global ecosystem. Why should we ground values in the welfare of human beings rather than in the welfare of all beings capable of having a welfare at all? That many nonhuman animals have interests and welfares is difficult to deny, for they are certainly capable of feeling pain and suffering as well as pleasure and joy. There is no nonreligious reason why the pains and pleasures of nonhuman animals should not be given equal weight with the similar pains and pleasures of human beings. (Of course, if the superior intellectual capacities of one being enable that being to have interests that a being with lesser capacities is unable to have, that may make a difference to how we ought to treat them. But this is not a distinction between humans and nonhumans, for some nonhuman animals are superior in their capacities to some humans, for instance, those suffering from profound intellectual disabilities.5)

In what it says about nonhuman animals, the Council of secular Humanism’s The Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles is a little better than Humanism and Its Aspirations, but not a whole lot. It says that as humanists, “We want… to avoid inflicting needless suffering on other species.” That at least recognizes that the suffering of nonhuman animals matters. But what is “needless” suffering? If confining calves and pigs in crates too narrow for them to turn around makes veal and pork cheaper for those who want to eat it, some will say that the suffering of these animals is not “needless.” Ten billion animals are killed each year for food in the United States alone, and the overwhelming majority of them live miserable lives in factory farms. In the light of pervasive human prejudices that cause such systematic suffering, a stronger statement is needed. It is time for humanists to take a stand against this ruthless exploitation of other sentient beings, which is so powerfully buttressed by the religious view that human beings are God’s special creation and that he gave them dominion over animals.

Singer criticizes humanism (and secular humanism) for not including animals in the moral equation.  I have heard this criticism before and I almost agree with it.  I certainly agree with Singer’s point about animals needing to be included in the equation.  I believe, as Singer suggests in The Great Ape Project that some sort of universal human rights ought to be extended to other species of great apes.  I also believe that humans have a moral responsibility toward the wellbeing of non-sentient species to the degree that they are capable of suffering.

However, isn’t it a bit of a confusion to think that humanism is necessarily speciesist?  As I read them, The Affirmations do not necessarily suggest that humans lie at the center of worldly importance.  Simply that humans are in control of certain human decisions and actions, and that humans need to work these things out rationally and constructively.

I understand that Peter Singer feels that he has something of a “mission” to advocate improvements for animals and I would like to support him on this.  Perhaps this is another reason why humanists ought to embrace the term “ethical naturalist” over humanist.  Not that humanism genuinely places any sort of “higher” significance on the human species, but simply as a means of avoiding societal confusion that it does.

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Posted: 04 January 2008 11:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I agree completely with you, erasmusinfinity.  Unfortunately, true believers often have a hard time seeing simple declarative statements as not attacking their positions.  For example, the statment, “I love humanity” could trigger their reponse of, “What do you have against other species?”  LOL

Occam

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Posted: 04 January 2008 02:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Well, I also agree with Singer that the special place we reserve for hmns in the “chain of eing” is irrational. FWIW, I don’t think we’re likely ever to feel otherwise since a preference for our own species is probably innate, just as the tendancy to prefer our close acquaintances and family members to others is. We can overide the tendancy y delierate rational effort, but it will proably remain as our first reaction.

As for whether you can call a world view “humanism” and notnecessarily privilege humans within it, that’s a bit of semantics. It certainly seems as if the term implies the philosophy is directed preferentially at the intersts of humans, but of course we can transcend that if we choose to. I wonder if maybe Singer’s criticism is not just of the term or the positive content of the Affirmations, but of what is missing from them and of the low priority given to his particular concerns about non-human animal rights? I can understand wy that issue would be pretty low on our agenda given all the other problems we face, and I’m sure he understands that as well. But he feels his issue is important enough to take a larger place, including explicit mention in the Affirmations, and he has a point.

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Posted: 04 January 2008 07:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I’m looking over the Humanist Manifesto III.  It’s brief and to the point.  Thing is, it is so vague that it depends on what you call exluding non-human animals.

For example:  http://www.americanhumanist.org/3/HumandItsAspirations.php

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.

Then we had better take care of our home, which includes, IMO, taking care of other animals.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.

We have a need for other animals too.  Not just the human species.  Without other animals we won’t last long, so we had better take care of nature, which goes back to my first point.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.

As an individual, I would not be happy without other animals and I’m not happy when they are mistreated.

This sums it all up, though still vague, in a nutshell for me:

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

For me, the well being of all includes other animals.  Diversity, for me, includes the dignify treatment of my girls (cats) and other animals.  “a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty…”  There you go.  It does not neglect other animals.  The manifesto is intentially vague, but it leaves things open to the individual.  It is not a creed, which everyone has to follow word for word, and it is open to interpretation.  It is not set in stone either.  It is not a rule or guide book, but rather a public declaration of the intentions, motives, and views of Humanists, which is what the word manifesto means, and it changes as society changes. It was not written to tell people what to do either, but rather leave it open for individuals to think for themselves.

I’m looking over the Humanist Manifesto 2000 and I don’t see anything about animals or nature:  http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=main&page=manifesto

I don’t see it in the promises part either:  http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=main&page=promise

[ Edited: 04 January 2008 08:05 PM by Mriana ]
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Posted: 04 January 2008 08:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I agree that the most sensible ethics requires extending our concerns beyond humanity. I signed HM III anyway. It seemed to me that HM III moved us forward, even if I didn’t agree with every phrase in it.

One of the biggest mistakes we secularists (Humanists, et. al.) make is in our absolutism. That has always struck me as ironic and even bizarre, since absolutism is something we recognize as a problem when theists engage in it.

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I cannot in good conscience support CFI under the current leadership. I am here in dissent and in support of a Humanism that honors and respects everyone.

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Posted: 06 January 2008 08:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Yes PLaClair.  I agree with your point about absolutism.  At least in this context.  Also, I do not mean to suggest that I reject the various manifestos or affirmations in question.  They are nothing but food for thought and inspiration as far as I’m concerned.  Worthwhile considerations and not fixed laws by any means.  I just think that it’s a shame that Singer didn’t sign, because I think that he’s great and, well, I think that he’s a humanist.

It seems that wherever there are strong personalities there will always be politics, despite the decent and anti-dogmatic intentions of the good persons involved.

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Posted: 06 January 2008 09:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Occam - 04 January 2008 11:34 AM

I agree completely with you, erasmusinfinity.  Unfortunately, true believers often have a hard time seeing simple declarative statements as not attacking their positions.  For example, the statment, “I love humanity” could trigger their reponse of, “What do you have against other species?”  LOL

Occam

I think Occam identifies the main point that the ‘affirmation’ needs to be a consensus document which is a subset of the core ideas of a lot of people—the way for people to get their core ideas into the consensus document is to refuse to sign (like Singer), but this self-marginalizing proves they don’t represent the main group in a ‘democratic’ way.

Erasmus had another post today [ Discussion of Humanist Manifesto III and IHEU 1996 resolution] which I like.  “human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives”.  A problem arises, however,  if they want to tell other people how to shape their own lives.  Singer is engaged in persuading others to share his view based on rational discussion.

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Posted: 08 January 2008 04:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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To bring another manifesto into the discussion, I wonder what others on this forum think about the Declaration of interdependence: a new global ethics, also issued by the IHEU.  Here are a couple of points, taken from it, that I would like to bring to the fore.

[quote author=“point 1”]It is dramatically clear today that our earth is made up of interdependent nation-states and that whatever happens on one part of the planet affects all the rest. Whenever human rights are violated, all of humanity suffers. The basic premise of this global ethic is that each of us has a stake in developing a universal moral awareness, each of us has a responsibility to the world community at large.

[quote author=“point 2”]Moral codes that prevail today are often rooted in ancient parochial and tribal loyalties. Absolutistic moral systems emerged from the values of the rural and nomadic societies of the past; they provide little useful guidance for our post-modern world. We need to draw on the be moral wisdom of the past, but we also need to develop a new, revisionary ethic that employs rational methods of inquiry appropriate to the world of the future, an ethic that respects the dignity and freedom of each person but that also expresses a larger concern for humanity as a whole. The basic imperative face by humankind today is the need to develop a world-wide ethical awareness of our mutual interdependence and a willingness to modify time-hardened attitudes that prevent such consensus.

[quote author=“point 3”]Humanism, we believe, can play a significant role in helping to foster the development of genuine world community.

[quote author=“point 4, related to point 3”]The overriding need is to develop a new global ethic - one that seeks to preserve and enhance individual human freedom and emphasises our commitment to the world community. Although we must recognise our obligations and responsibilities to the local communities, sates, and nations of which we are citizens, we also need to develop a new sense of identity with the planetary society of the future.

Rhetorical questions- (1) Is it not important, in today’s global society, that human beings come together in establishing some sort of agreement about ethical/moral matters?  (2) Is it possible that we can influence the future of global ethics/morality with a meaningful application of reason and rationality, or must we simply accept that the “law of the jungle” will be the only basis for the the future of global ethics?

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Posted: 09 January 2008 10:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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<>

[ Edited: 22 January 2008 07:53 PM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 09 January 2008 10:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Zarcus, Doug has already warned you and we’ve all been quite patient with your temper, but you need to cease being pointlessly unpleasant to other members or you will be banned from this forum. Please try to maintain a civil tone.

[ Edited: 13 January 2008 09:50 AM by mckenzievmd ]
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Posted: 13 January 2008 09:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Despite our various perspectives on metaethics, is it worth our time or not worth our time to work cooperatively with others and apply reason in establishing global ethics?  Without just being rhetorical, I am genuinely interested in perspectives.

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Posted: 13 January 2008 09:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Well, as a relativist I see ethics as all about finding ways to work with others, to set rules that allow productive, healthy social cooperation. So yes, I think trying to establish ethical agreement is worthwhile. I doubt, however, that any system of ethics is likely to be truly global, since I think the difference in content between the rules of different cultures are arbitrary but profound and passionately held. I, for example, think tolerance of difference is a fundamental principle without which cooperation and understanding can’t happen. Yet tolerance of difference is a de facto sin in so many ethical/moral systems that I don’t see how it could be sufficiently universalized to allow moving forward, at least at this point in history. I suppose trying is necessary even for the conditions under which this might change to develop, but I’m pessismistic about the chances for success.

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Posted: 13 January 2008 04:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 13 January 2008 09:33 AM

Despite our various perspectives on metaethics, is it worth our time or not worth our time to work cooperatively with others and apply reason in establishing global ethics?  Without just being rhetorical, I am genuinely interested in perspectives.

It needs a lot of patience.

I don’t see how global ethics can be “established” particularly if we allow skepticism and free inquiry smile

I think some subset ethical principles might be established but only if there is some advantaget a la game theory.

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Posted: 27 January 2008 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I enjoyed this discussion.  This apparent clash between anthropogenic worldview against care for the environment is something that we were aware of, including Singer’s opinion, when we set up Environmental Humanism 18 months ago.

I see no oxymoron in Environmental Humanism.  If I did, I confess that it probably wouldn’t deter me, as we’re more concerned about getting things done in a part of the world where a little give and take is needed to achieve anything.

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Posted: 27 January 2008 05:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I googled “Environmental Humanism” and an organization in Guyana came up.  Is this what you are referring to?  If so, looks very interesting.

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Posted: 28 January 2008 02:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Hi erasmusinfinity, thats us.  Dougiesmith and one or two others were kind enough to respond to a couple of questions last year.

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