Peter Singer's Last Word on the Bestiality Controversy

After the torrent of criticism that Peter Singer received over his review of Midas Dekkers’ Dearest Pet, which many people viewed as defending bestiality, Singer finally released a clarification of his comments. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have ended the firestorm, since again Singer seems to imply that non-violent sexual contact between human beings and animals may be morally permissible. Here is the entire text of Singer’s statement which was posted to several animal rights e-mail lists:

I agreed to review Midas Dekkers’ scholarly study of sexual interaction between humans and animals not because I support such practices, but because I wanted to reflect on what such sexual behavior tells us about the way in which we are like animals, and at the same time to seek to draw such sharp lines between ourselves and other species. I also wanted to suggest that, if our concern is for the welfare of animals, it is only too easy to find practices on every modern factory farm that are a great deal worse, for the animal, than some forms of sexual contact between humans and animals. (Sex, I might remind readers, does not only mean “intercourse.”) An objection to all forms of sexual contact between humans and animals, in other words, does not seem to be based on concern for animal welfare, in any obvious sense. Those who wish to sustain such a sweeping objection need to look for other grounds.

I thought my review might provoke some people to think about the issue of why some behavior towards animals is viewed as obviously wrong, while other behavior seems entirely acceptable — killing and eating them, for example, or experimenting on them to test the safety of new cleaning agents. Obviously, sexual acts involving violence or cruelty to animals ought to be prohibited. And there may well be good accounts of why the proscription against all sexual acts with animals — including acts that are neither intrinsically violent or cruel — has outlasted many other prohibitions against non-reproductive sexual acts. But very few people seem to have read the article as raising questions. Many seemed to see no more than the fact that it mentioned sex with animals, and that fact was enough to send them into hysterical abuse, including accusations that I myself was a “zoophile.”

Once again, Singer seems to have raised more questions than he’s answered about his position on this matter.

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