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Human Life is Unique: A Response to Singer

Introduction

Biological ethics or bioethics is a critical aspect of any form of scientific experimentation, especially if it involves sentient and highly intelligent beings, such as monkeys and apes. The given argumentative paper will oppose Singer’s arguments that human life is no more valuable than that of the apes and other species. It is true that some scientific knowledge creation processes involve an immense level of suffering among non-human animals, but it does not mean that they need to be terminated. The main reason is that Singer’s arguments commit a major form of slippery slope logical fallacy that uses outlier examples of human species and apes in order to justify his arguments.

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Human life is unique, not due to some sacred phenomenon, but because Homo Sapiens is generally more intelligent, self-aware, and at least possess a higher degree of consciousness. It is impermissible to conduct scientific experiments on Herb, not because his life is more valuable than Charlie’s, but because he is a part of human society. His suffering translates to the pain of surrounding regular people, and thus, experimentation on Charlie is a master of bioethics. It is also impermissible to consume the flesh of Herb because it would be cannibalism. However, one can consume non-human animals because it is essential for the well-being of humans, whose suffering is indescribably more intense than that of animals with lower cognitive capacity.

Slippery Slope

One of the major pitfalls of Singer’s argumentation of comparing infants with impaired cognitive capacity and intelligent adult chimpanzees is the fact that it uses extreme cases of rare outliers to draw justifications. One should not forget that, in general, humans or Homo Sapiens are significantly more intelligent and conscious than non-human beings. The author states: “in all these respects adult members of the species I have mentioned equal or surpass many retarded infant members of our own species; moreover some of these non-humans surpass anything that some human infants might eventually achieve even with intensive care and assistance” (Singer and Kuhse 248). This type of thinking in terms of outliers generates the slippery slope fallacy, where all other radical argumentation elements are derived from highly intricate and extreme comparisons.

A similar approach can be applied for justifying incest and zoophilic relationships based on the defense point of homosexual individuals. The latter is permissible because no one should be bothered by the fact that two adults are involved in consensual relationships regardless of one’s sex. However, if a person falls into a slippery slope logical fallacy, then he or she can state that two adult siblings can be involved in consensual relationships. This can be extended to mother-daughter, son-father, or grandmother-daughter combinations as long as all members are older than 18 years old. The argument can fall further into justifying zoophilic relationships, where an animal is an adult, and consent is given by the owner.

The key issue here is the use of extreme outlier examples and extending them into different spheres of problems. The author concludes that there is no value in human life because non-human life can sometimes surpass the latter in cognitive capabilities (Singer and Kuhse 245). However, many derived points are based on the comparison of the extremes without properly understanding that Down Syndrome infants need to be saved not due to their intelligence but because they are members of human society. People do not bother about aboriginal people in the Amazon rainforest, who might be suffering from easily preventable issues, such as starvation, malnutrition, or parasites. The reason lies in the notion that they are not members of a society, which is why they are ignored by this type of attitude.

Consciousness

Consciousness is a long-standing problem that was tackled by the greatest philosophers, psychologists, biologists, and doctors with no result. It is even regarded as a Hard Problem of Consciousness, which means that at the current state of scientific knowledge, people do not know the source and purpose of human consciousness. However, Singer states that apes, such as Charlie, possess human-level characteristics of self-awareness and a sense of one’s own existence (Singer and Kuhse 248). One cannot be sure if it is true regarding the consciousness level of non-human animals, but the author is eager to claim that the latter can surpass human beings. It is still unknown whether a highly intelligent AI will possess consciousness or will merely be a complex problem-solving machine without any inner subjective experience. In addition, in comparison to apes, AI possesses vastly more degree of potential and capability for further improvement than any human will ever have. Therefore, Singer falsely assumes that one’s consciousness and one’s cognitive capability go in correlation, when, in fact, it is an assumption with no solid basis.

It is still unknown if consciousness is present only in all living creatures, animals with neurons, apes, or humans. It can be that consciousness and subjective awareness are something similar to Universal law or the result of neuronal interactions. It is also unknown if consciousness is present only in complex multicellular species, or it is the result of certain parts of the human brain. The author repeatedly states that there is no difference between human and non-human beings (Singer and Kuhse 248). Racism and sexism are condemned and morally wrong because the differences are minor and identifiable. The latter elements can be outlined and argued that they are irrelevant in serving as a basis for hate and discrimination. However, in the case of human and non-human comparison, the differences cannot be identified and argued due to a vast number of animals with a wide range of unique features. Some of these distinctive characteristics are incomparable because people do not know what form of subjective awareness and reality a bat or Protista might have due to the former using echolocation, and the latter solely utilizing chemoreceptors.

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Speciesism

Singer’s arguments are prone to the slippery slope logical fallacy, where the entire argumentative basis is derived from extreme comparison. However, it is important to note that the issue of speciesism is real, and it is a major problem. The point is not that human beings are superior to non-humans because they are. Speciesism is problematic because some animals are treated differently compared to other animals. For example, millions of cows are slaughtered every year, and it is perceived as a normal occurrence, but slaughtering dogs usually causes outrage and disgust. This form of unequal treatment of animals is wrong, and dogs should not have a unique position compared to pigs or sheep. However, the place of human beings is distinctive due to their vastly more developed cognitive abilities and the presence of consciousness. Condemning speciesism does not mean that cow slaughtering needs to stop because they are essential for human survival as a source of nutrients, and veganism is still subject to controversy in regards to health benefits.

However, speciesism should be addressed by realizing that dogs, cats, pandas, or other “cute” animals are not better than cows or sheep. All of them should be put into one category, and one’s willingness to consume them should not be considered as wrong or inappropriate. Evidently, this does not mean that other restrictions based on the rarity of the species and anti-poaching become irrelevant because these regulations should still be enforced for their own reasons. However, if Koreans use dogs as a source of meat, other cultures should stop being “speciesist” towards non-human species and accept it as a norm. Therefore, speciesism is relevant, but not in Singer’s approach of equating human life to non-humans. It is relevant because cultures should drop their false assumptions about dogs or cats being special and better than cows or pigs. Therefore, speciesism takes place as one more reason to be more culturally accepting and feel less discriminatory towards foreign cultural elements.

Cannibalism

In the context of Singer’s arguments, it is permissible to eat Charlie, and it is not permitted to eat Herb. The former statement is true because the chimpanzee is not a human being despite the fact that he possesses comparable cognitive abilities. The main reason is that Charlie’s level of consciousness is unknown, and being a member of a completely different species, one cannot be informed on his subjective experience and reality. Therefore, if the consumption of Charlie’s flesh eliminates human suffering caused by nutrition deficiency, then it is plausible. However, in practice, consuming Charlie is unnecessary because he is a member of rare species, and he might not be a good source of food. He also might possess various infective agents that are easily transferrable between chimps and humans.

In the case of consuming a person with mental impairment, such as Herb, it is impermissible because it will be an act of cannibalism. Cannibalism is wrong due to both technical and moral reasons. It is unethical to inflict harm and suffering on human beings with consciousness, who possess a full degree of awareness, not solely due to higher cognitive capability. It is also a dangerous activity because infective agents, such as prions, can be easily transferred during cannibalistic action (Liberski 232). The prions, like most infections, are highly specific to a particular species, and cannibalism will inevitably increase the occurrence rate of various pandemics.

Bioethics

In the case of painful medical experiments on a chimpanzee, it is impermissible to conduct such experiments not because the animals’ lives are equal to human ones, but because it is morally wrong without proper justification. Singer states that in practice, most of these experimentations do not result in major scientific discovery that benefits millions of people (Singer and Kuhse 247). In this case, it is unethical to inflict pain on the subjects, but in rare instances, when such an experiment would benefit humanity, it is justified.

However, painful medical experiments on Herb for the same purpose are impermissible because he is a member of the human species, and it is known that he possesses a high-level consciousness. As it was already mentioned previously, there is no solid basis for assuming that one’s consciousness in terms of subjective experience and inner reality is in direct correlation with his or her cognitive capabilities. Therefore, Herb being a human being, is guaranteed to experience immense levels of suffering, and people around him will also experience that due to mirror neurons. However, in the case of Charlie, it is a matter of bioethics and not human/non-human speciesism.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is important to understand that the entire argumentative basis of Singer is based on a rare example of outliers, which does not consider generalities. The further arguments become less relevant because they become a part of the slippery slope logical fallacy. Another Singer’s argument regarding “retarded” infants’ lives being less valuable than adult chimpanzees’ due to cognitive superiority does not necessarily explain the fact of consciousness. The latter is a major issue in a wide range of fields, which still does not have a precise answer, and thus, it is false to assume that one’s cognitive ability dictates the degree of conscious self-awareness and subjective experience.

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The subject speciesism is important not in the context of Singer’s human/non-human comparison but in the context of discrimination among non-human species. Dogs and cats should not be treated uniquely compared to cows and sheep, and the love and affection provided to one need to be given to another. In the case of Singer’s arguments, consuming Charlie’s flesh is permissible, but there are a number of intricacies. However, one cannot consume Herb because it is an act of cannibalism, which is wrong. Lastly, the plausibility of painful medical experiments is not the issue of the sanctity of human life because it is a problem of bioethics.

Works Cited

Liberski, Pawel P. “Kuru, the First Human Prion Disease.” Viruses, vol. 11, no. 3, 2019, pp. 232-257.

Singer, Peter, and Helga Kuhse. Unsanctifying Human Life: Essays on Ethics. Wiley-Blackwell, 2002.

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