To send content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
It has become in vogue for leaders to argue that one of the lessons of the last decade of war is that “technology doesn't matter in the human-centric wars we fight”, as one four-star general put it; but that assumes a definition of technology as the exotic and unworkable. To paraphrase the musician Brian Eno, citing the inventor Danny Hillis, technology is the name we give to things that we don't yet use every day–when we use it every day, we don't call it technology any more. Whether it is a stone or a drone, it is technology, a tool that we apply to a task.
More challenging than the tools themselves in today and tomorrow's strategic context may be the pace of technological change. Many are familiar with Moore's Law, the notion first expressed by Gordon Moore, the cofounder of Intel, that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. Moore's Law was originally intended to describe a phenomenon in the realm of computer hardware, but the broader exponential trends he outlined (where technology multiplies upon itself) have been found to have broader historic patterns, also described as the Law of Accelerating Returns.
Dying before one’s time has been a prominent theme in classic literature and poetry. Catherine Linton’s youthful death in Wuthering Heights leaves behind a bereft Heathcliff and generations of mourning readers. The author herself, Emily Brontë, died young from tuberculosis. John Keats’ Ode on Melancholy captures the transitory beauty of 19th century human lives too often ravished by early death. Keats also died of tuberculosis, aged 25. “The bloom, whose petals nipped before they blew, died on the promise of the fruit” is how Percy Bysshe Shelley expressed his grief over Keats’ death. Emily Dickinson wrote So Has a Daisy Vanished, being driven into depression by the early loss of loved ones from typhoid and tuberculosis.
In the preceding chapter, we examined some general principles about the value of life. In this and the following two chapters, we shall draw from that discussion some conclusions about three cases of killing that have been the subject of heated debate: abortion, euthanasia and killing animals. Of these three, the question of killing animals has aroused the least controversy. Nevertheless, for reasons that will become clear later, it is impossible to defend a position on abortion and euthanasia without taking some view about the killing of nonhuman animals. So we shall look at that question first.
CAN A NONHUMAN ANIMAL BE A PERSON?
We have seen that there are reasons for holding that the killing of a person is more seriously wrong than the killing of a being who is not a person. This is true whether we accept preference utilitarianism, Tooley's argument about the right to life or the principle of respect for autonomy. Even a hedonistic utilitarian would say that there may be indirect reasons why it is worse to kill a person. So in discussing the wrongness of killing nonhuman animals, it is important to ask if any of them are persons.
It sounds odd to call an animal a person, but this may be no more than a symptom of our habit of keeping our own species sharply separated from others. In any case, we can avoid the linguistic oddness by rephrasing the question in accordance with our definition of ‘person’.
For thirty years, Peter Singer's Practical Ethics has been the classic introduction to applied ethics. For this third edition, the author has revised and updated all the chapters and added a new chapter addressing climate change, one of the most important ethical challenges of our generation. Some of the questions discussed in this book concern our daily lives. Is it ethical to buy luxuries when others do not have enough to eat? Should we buy meat from intensively reared animals? Am I doing something wrong if my carbon footprint is above the global average? Other questions confront us as concerned citizens: equality and discrimination on the grounds of race or sex; abortion, the use of embryos for research and euthanasia; political violence and terrorism; and the preservation of our planet's environment. This book's lucid style and provocative arguments make it an ideal text for university courses and for anyone willing to think about how she or he ought to live.
Few ethical issues have been as bitterly fought over during the past forty years as abortion, and neither side has had much success in altering the opinions of its opponents. Until 1967, abortion was illegal in almost all the Western democracies except Sweden and Denmark. Then Britain changed its law to allow abortion on broad social grounds, and in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, the United States Supreme Court held that women have a constitutional right to an abortion in the first six months of pregnancy. Conservative presidents have changed the composition of the Supreme Court, but to date it has continued to uphold the core of the Roe v. Wade decision while allowing states to restrict access to abortion in various minor ways. In recent decades, European nations, including Roman Catholic countries like Italy, Spain and France, have liberalised their abortion laws. Even Ireland and Poland now permit abortion in some circumstances. Worldwide, only a handful of countries, mostly in Latin America, prohibit abortion entirely.
In 1978, the birth of Louise Brown – the first human to have been born from an embryo that had been fertilised outside a human body – raised a new issue about the status of early human life. The achievement of Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe in demonstrating the possibility of in vitro fertilization, or IVF, was the result of several years of experimentation on early human embryos – none of which had survived – and since then more embryos have been used in experiments aimed at improving the success rate of this means of enabling otherwise infertile couples to have children.
In the previous chapter, I gave reasons for believing that the fundamental principle of equality, on which the idea that humans are equal rests, is the principle of equal consideration of interests. Only a basic moral principle of this kind can allow us to defend a form of equality that embraces almost all human beings, despite the differences that exist between them. (The exceptions are human beings who are not and have never been conscious and therefore have no interests to be considered – a topic to be discussed in Chapters 6 and 7.) Although the principle of equal consideration of interests provides the best possible basis for human equality, its scope is not limited to humans. When we accept the principle of equality for humans, we are also committed to accepting that it extends to some nonhuman animals.
When I wrote the first edition of this book, in 1979, I warned the reader that the suggestion I was making here might seem bizarre. It was then generally accepted that discrimination against members of racial minorities and against women ranked among the most important moral and political issues. Questions about animal welfare, however, were widely regarded as matters of no real significance, except for people who are dotty about dogs and cats. Issues about humans, it was commonly assumed, should always take precedence over issues about animals.
The period since the end of World War II has seen dramatic shifts in moral attitudes on issues like abortion, sex outside marriage, same-sex relationships, pornography, euthanasia and suicide. Great as the changes have been, no new consensus has been reached. The issues remain controversial, and the traditional views still have respected defenders.
Equality seems to be different. The change in attitudes towards inequality – especially racial inequality – has been no less sudden and dramatic than the change in attitudes towards sex, but it has been more complete. Racist assumptions shared by most Europeans at the beginning of the twentieth century have become totally unacceptable, at least in public life. A poet could not now write of ‘lesser breeds without the law’, and retain – indeed enhance – his reputation, as Rudyard Kipling did in 1897. This does not mean that there are no longer any racists, but only that they must disguise their racism if their views and policies are to have any chance of general acceptance. The principle that all humans are equal is now part of the prevailing political and ethical orthodoxy. But what, exactly, does it mean and why do we accept it?
Once we go beyond the agreement that blatant forms of racial discrimination are wrong and raise questions about the basis of the principle that all humans are equal, the consensus starts to weaken.
We have examined a number of ethical issues. We have seen that many accepted practices are open to serious objections. What ought we to do about it? This, too, is an ethical issue. Here are five cases – all ones that actually happened – to consider.
Oskar Schindler was a minor German industrialist. During the war, he ran a factory near Cracow, Poland. At a time when Polish Jews were being sent to death camps, he assembled a labour force of Jewish inmates from concentration camps and the ghetto, considerably larger than his factory needed, and used several illegal stratagems, including bribing members of the SS and other officials, to protect them. He spent his own money to buy food on the black market to supplement the inadequate official rations he obtained for his workers. By these methods, he was able to save the lives of about 1,200 people.
Dr. Thomas Gennarelli directed a Head Injury Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. Members of an underground organization called the Animal Liberation Front knew that Gennarelli inflicted head injuries on monkeys there and had been told that the monkeys underwent the experiments without being properly anaesthetised. They also knew that Gennarelli and his collaborators videotaped their experiments to provide a record of what happened during and after the injuries they inflicted. They tried to obtain further information through official channels but were unsuccessful. In May 1984, they broke into the laboratory at night and found thirty-four videotapes.