Throughout the lecture on animal rights and speciesism, I felt a question was absent from the discussion: why are non-humans are tested on in the first place? The answer to this question cannot be answered solely with ethical concerns: for example, testing eye irritants is preferable on rabbits because their eyes do not generate tears to expulse irritants, unlike human eyes (which, not to mention, have different tolerance thresholds for generating tears). This question spawns additional concerns, however, as there are obvious issues with applying the results from experimentation on non-humans to humans.
While I agree with Peter Singer’s premise that non-humans should not be subject to unnecessary harm, I do not agree that by the same token, non-humans (or humans, for that matter) have a right to experience pleasure. All organisms, upon inception as independent beings from their host (egg, mother, etc.), have only the right to attempt to survive in an attempt to pass on their genetic legacy and maximize it.
In The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, defines life as a condition where an organism is aggressively trying to resist succumbing to the conditions of its environment. (For example, my body’s internal temperature is 98.6F. The outdoor temperature is currently 52F. If my body’s temperature becomes 52F, the biochemical processes in my body will be unable to sustain the conditions that qualify me to be considered “alive.”) The process of being alive, that is, an internal system resisting the conditions of an external environment, are innately hostile and are incompatible with the right to experience pleasure.
To continue on Peter Singer’s statement, diagnosing what qualifies as a “trivial human interest” is a nebulous task. While dismissing the importance of testing the potential of mascara as an eye irritant seems valid, one has to agree that such an argument dismisses the importance of aesthetics (which may or may not be problematic depending on who you’re discussing this with). A more nuanced argument would involve the possibility of using Rhesus monkeys as test subjects for remedies for a rare disease that affects a small percentage of the population. Would the rarity of that disease qualify the research as “trivial”? Is animal testing for, say breast cancer cures, less trivial/more significant? Additionally, an argument can be made that any biomedical research is trivial because there are seven billion humans on the face of the Earth. In a nutshell, I find that the idea of describing certain research as “trivial” or “non-trivial” as too subjective.
I find Carl Cohen’s interpretation of non-humans as non-moral agents to be problematic for a variety of reasons: One is that biological research has found evidence of non-humans displaying behavior that is consistent with “morality.” Another is that such a view is dangerous to developing empathy.
For personal reasons, I find inter-species empathy to be a reflection of the greatness of human consciousness, reason, and capacity for rich social interactions which can only serve to elevate the capacity of humans as stewards for each other and, by extension, all life. Perhaps that idea is along the same lines of the logic used by Polyface Farms to justify their business ethics.
(For what it’s worth, I hold Peter Singer in high esteem – his Wikipedia article is worth checking out. He donates a quarter of his income for third world causes. Sounds like a great guy to have a drink with.)