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STRADDLING DEFENSE: Why go vegan? ‘Flexible vegan’ Peter Singer answers


Peter Singer describes himself as a 'flexible vegan'. He consumes oysters, mussels, and clams, and from time to time he dines on eggs provided by the free-range chickens that he raises.

LEE KYUNG-MI: Peter Singer, the renowned utilitarian philosopher from Australia, has drawn global attention for approaching the relationship between animals and human beings from a new perspective. He touched off a debate over animal rights with his 1973 essay “Animal Liberation,” which he published when he was 27 years old, and his book of the same title released two years later.

Singer’s argument for animal liberation is that if animals experience pleasure and pain equivalent to what humans do, then their pain should be considered equal to that of humans — meaning that we should not discriminate against animals. On that basis, he opposes all forms of exploitation that inflict suffering on animals for the sake of human profit and pleasure, including meat consumption and animal testing.

Singer has published numerous books on applied ethics and animal liberation, and he has been a practicing vegetarian for over 40 years. The New Yorker wrote that he “may be the most controversial philosopher alive; he is certainly among the most influential.”

In October 2021, he published “Why Vegan?” a collection of nine essays about animal liberation. The Hankyoreh 21 spoke with Singer via an email interview in July 2022 to learn more about the philosophy that underpins his veganism and opposition to animal exploitation…

Hani: You said that you went vegetarian when you were 24 years old and you have been maintaining the diet ever since. What joys do you get from being vegetarian and what difficulties have you encountered being vegetarian?

Singer: I feel better without meat — lighter, fitter, healthier. My digestive system works better. In addition, of course, I know that I am not supporting factory farming, which is terrible for animals, for the climate of our planet, and for the local rivers and the air around them. That produces a harmony between my diet and my values. Apart from that, it has been a joy to explore new ways of cooking. In 1970, when I became a vegetarian, there were some difficulties in going out to eat with friends, because most restaurants had very limited offerings for vegetarians. But not anymore.

Singer isn’t an all-out vegan. He says that he became a vegetarian because he didn’t want to support any act that would inflict suffering on animals. On occasion, he will consume oysters, mussels, and other sorts of clams because of the low likelihood of them being able to feel pain on account of their lack of a central nervous system and brain. Singer will from time to time dine on eggs provided by the free-range chickens that he raises. The thinker has described himself as a “flexible vegan.”

His most important standard for choosing what to eat is whether whatever is on his plate can feel pain. Singer’s animal advocacy has its foundations in utilitarianism, which suggests that we must maximize pleasure and minimize suffering, and his dietary standards naturally follow this guideline. In his 1983 book “The Case for Animal Rights,” American philosopher Tom Regan criticized Singer’s calculations of interest and put forth an argument that all subjects of a life, whether human or animal, have equal inherent value. The debate between Singer and Regan has broadened the horizons of the discussion of animal rights. SOURCE…