Problem for moral philosophers

If equality is to be related to any actual characteristics of humans, these characteristics must be some lowest common denominator, pitched so low that no human lacks them—but then the philosopher comes up against the catch that any such set of characteristics which covers all humans will not be possessed only by humans. In other words, it turns out that in the only sense in which we can truly say, as an assertion of fact, that all humans are equal, at least some members of other species are also equal—equal, that is, to each other and to humans. If, on the other hand, we regard the statement “All humans are equal” in some non-factual way, perhaps as a prescription, then, as I have already argued, it is even more difficult to exclude non-humans from the sphere of equality…

One solution Peter Singer notes is if humans have unique, innate dignity such as given in the Judeo-Christian tradition. But…

Once we ask why it should be that all humans—including infants, mental defectives, psychopaths, Hitler, Stalin, and the rest—have some kind of dignity or worth that no elephant, pig, or chimpanzee can ever achieve, we see that this question is as difficult to answer as our original request for some relevant fact that justifies the inequality of humans and other animals.

But Singer glides over or perhaps has never heard the answer. The dignity of man in the image of God is that He bears the image of the infinitely worthy God. God’s worth, extrinsic to man, guarantees man’s intrinsic worth.

Peter Singer, Applied Ethics, OUP, 1990, pp.226-228


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