A bad start to the debate

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan attempts to summarize the argument of Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, but he quickly begins to oversimplify Singer’s position. Pollan writes,

Equal consideration of interests is not the same as equal treatment, [Singer] points out; children have an interest in being educated, pigs in rooting around in the dirt. But where their interests are the same, the principle of equality demands they receive the same consideration. And the one all-important interest humans share with pigs, as with all sentient creatures, is an interest in avoiding pain. (308)

Singer’s point is both stronger and more complex. Singer writes,

The capacity for suffering and enjoyment is a prerequisite for having interests at all, a condition that must be satisfied before we can speak of interests in a meaningful way. (2001 edition, page 7)

In his summary, Pollan has not only replaced suffering with the narrower concept of pain, but he’s also omitted enjoyment. Furthermore, Pollan suggests that avoiding pain is merely “the one all-important interest humans share with pigs,” whereas Singer goes further. Singer believes that the capacities for suffering and enjoyment are necessary for us to define the notion of interest, so that he isn’t arbitrarily excluding any interests by focusing on these. It is because animals share these capacities with us, he argues, that we should consider their interests.


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