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Evaluate Singers And Descartes Arguments About Animals.

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In this essay I will evaluate the arguments by Descartes about animals which he uses in order to verify his arguments on the immortality of the soul. In turn I will evaluate the more contemporary arguments of Peter Singer put forward mainly in his book Ð''Animal Liberation.'

The concept of animal sanctity branches as far back as one can imagine. In ancient times animals were considered to have intelligence and even a language all of their own. This was an early view on animals stemming from pre-agrarian living which is commonly seen to have little significance in today's debate. Somewhere along the way animals lost their position of sentience and this is reflected in the arguments of Descartes that will be discussed later. In Descartes arguments he carefully denies animals the kind of intelligence that is attributable in most cases to human beings. Around this time the historical debate over animal sanctity lost its supposition that animals may have a degree of intelligence over human beings.

The debate was now placed for the question whether animals, being with or without intelligence, deserve a degree of rights, and if so what degree of rights do they deserve? This question is what Peter Singer grapples with today, and which I will discuss in the second part of this essay.

Descartes begins his argument about the soul by comparing the human body to machines and animals. Here he says that machines and animals both have something in common, as animals and humans have something also in common. Animals and humans on the one hand have what he terms the Ð''animal spirits' which control bodily organs, movements and involuntary actions. While animals and machines share that they may appear to be thinking but do not actually think. He writes that "if any such machines had the organs and outward shape of a monkeyÐ'...we should have no means of knowing that they did not possess entirely the same nature as animals." 1. (1)

So one is left here to make ones own distinction between what separates animals and machines, which according to the information provided by Descartes, can only be attributable to the Ð''animal spirits.' He makes no note of an animal being able to actually experience or feel any more than a machine does. At this point is where Descartes intentions to prove the existence of an immortal soul become collateral in an argument about animal rights.

Descartes has a very simple argument for why animals are not to be considered at all intelligent. He says that "animals do not lack the necessary organs, for we see that magpies and parrots can utter wordsÐ'...(yet) they cannot show that they are thinking what they are saying" 1. He then goes on to say that there are "no men, no matter how dull-witted or stupidÐ'...that they are incapableÐ' make their thoughts understood" 1. So according to Descartes it is this ability of communication that proves a creature to have possession of reason. .1

Fair enough. No arguments there about reason. The question that was overlooked in the context of Descartes argument was whether an animal's reactions to pain can prove that the animals can feel, and therein experience this feeling. Even setting other emotions aside, we are already touching on a very lengthy debate about the nature of consciousness. Although, according to Descartes original assumptions that intelligent communication on a physical level dictates reason within the mind, does not a physical reaction to pain dictate that pain exists also on the mental level? We now seem to be entering into an argument on behaviorism; is it valid for Descartes to make judgments about mental activity based only on the behavior of a creature? If it is ok then we can see that by the behavior of the animal it is definitely experiencing pain. If it is not ok then Descartes entire theory on the immortality of the soul is invalidated therein or at least slightly flawed in its premise.

After declaring that animals can in fact experience pain, I am taken to the contemporary view and to that of Peter Singer, modern animal rights liberationist. According to Peter Singer the proof that animals feel pain is as obvious as the assumption that all humans feel pain. He words this by saying "If it justifiable to assume that other human beings feel pain as we do, is there any reason why a similar inference should not be justifiable in the case of other animals? Nearly all the external signs that lead us to infer pain



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