Philosophy in the Contemporary World

Volume 1, Issue 3, Fall 1994

Erin McKenna
Pages 28-35

Feminism and Vegetarianism
A Critique of Peter Singer

Singer’s ethics assume an autonomous, impartial, abstract reasoner. Nonhuman animals, like human animals, have an interest in not suffering; so we all agree on an impartial, rational, consistent minimum standard of treatment that we see must extend to nonhuman animals. While I think this kind of argument works well in the “liberal” context of countries based on social contract reasoning, I am not convinced it goes far enough in achieving the desired attitude shift. We are still encouraged to think in terms of the self-interest of an autonomous, impartial, abstract reasoner, and thus there are many instances in which it is perfectly “reasonable” to harm nonhuman animals. To challenge Singer I use views of the individual proposed by socialist feminist and radical feminist theories. Both of these theories (in all their variety) propose a substantial revisioning of the individual and thereby shift the focus from rights talk to issues of responsibility and care. While there are clear dangers in these approaches as well, I believe there is a fruitful combination of Singer’s argument with these feminist approaches that will help us see the deep nature of our connectedness to nonhuman animals and make us realize that the eating of meat is really a form of cannibalism.