The contemporary animal rights movement owes a great intellectual debt to Peter Singer's pathbreaking book Animal Liberation (1975), also known as ‘the Bible of the Animal Liberation Movement’. In that book Singer made a break with the dominant but limited Kantian argument that mistreating animals is a bad – inhumane – thing for humans to do. In its place, Singer advanced a case against harming animals, such as by using them for food or experiments, based on their equal moral status, their right to have their suffering counted equally with that of humans.
Singer's book has influenced many people, including myself. Yet, reading and rereading it, I have come to wonder whether it is really a work of good philosophy rather than merely effective rhetoric. Its success relies on pathos - an appeal to the sentiments of the audience. Despite multiple revised editions, Singer's official argument, his logos, is far from clear or compelling.
It is disappointing that the revered urtext of the animal rights movement lacks the intellectual rigorousness it claims. Worse, the flawed utilitarian case pressed by Singer is intended to foreclose the consideration of more relevant ethical accounts, most obviously those that directly engage with sentimentalism rather than being embarrassed by it.