Barks and Books – Practically Ethical

Book lovers, welcome to our third installment of Gilligan’s Barks and Books book reviews!

Ever since Gilligan arrived in his new forever home, one of his favorite pastimes has been to curl up next to Papa while he enjoys a good read. It didn't take too long before Gilly started nudging at Papa to include him somehow in whatever activity this was. One thing led to another, and Papa found that Gilligan actually enjoys sitting quietly while the book is being read aloud. And thus, the tradition of "Gilly's story-time" was born.

Last time in our second installment, we brought you a review of Saturn by Ben Bova, a fantastic journey that gives us a glimpse into a society struggling to organize itself while traveling out to the depths of our solar system.

We will be back with reviews of other books from Bova’s Grand Tour series in the future, but today’s feature takes a more academic turn as we bring you our review of a classic of modern philosophy…

Practical Ethics: Third Edition by Peter SingerSONY DSC

We quoted and mentioned a bit about Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics: Third Edition during our post this past Martin Luther King Day. This work by Singer is praised for its thoroughness and “lucid” style as it walks us through possibly the most important problems and ideas in the field of ethics.

Singer is also author of an earlier work, Animal Liberation (1975), and is often noted as the founder of the popular movement by the same name.


Practical Ethics uses sound logic to carry us through discussions of a number of important ethical questions. In the book’s its first chapter, Singer starts with the following premise:

It seems that during… evolution, we developed a moral faculty that generates intuitions about right and wrong.

… We have inherited a set of moral intuitions from our ancestors. Now we need to work out which of them should be changed.

The basic idea Singer puts forth in his introduction is that there are concrete realities about what is ethically right and what is wrong, and that these ethical values are not merely subjective or dependent on the society one lives in; Right is Right, and Wrong is Wrong. 

The rest of the book concerns itself with exploring how we should determine what is right across a number of contemporary topics of varying complexity. In general, we operate with a rule that pleasure and the fulfillment of desires are good (associated with Right), whereas pain, suffering, and the squelching of desires are all bad (associated with Wrong). As you might imagine, these applied (or “practical”) ethics are not so simple, and throughout the discussions Singer helps us understand them through various lenses of contemporary and historical schools of philosophical thought, often providing convincing arguments about which line of reasoning we should accept and which conclusions we should draw.

Next, we’ll dive into some of these topics. We wont explore every one that the book covers since there are so many, AND since (full disclosure:) Gilligan nodded off during some of the topics not related to non-human animals…

Animal Equality

Early on, Singer explores the boundaries of when we should give equal consideration to the sovereign rights of various individuals, asking tough questions and criticizing the fairness of ethical judgments that are made on the basis of intelligence/education, preference for family members over strangers, and most interestingly to Gilligan, judgments based on what species one happens to be.

You are invited to imagine Gilligan doing a little dance to express his deep support of the conclusions Peter Singer draws on this last topic. Specifically, he firmly asserts that any notion that the interests of human beings are entitled to a higher level of ethical consideration simply because they are human beings (that is, members of the homo sapiens species), has no basis in logic and should be immediately dismissed as “speciesist.”

So he establishes that the interests of our beloved canines, for example, should have the same right to ethical consideration as any other species of animal. The discussion gets more complicated (and more interesting) when Singer discusses what our criteria should be for determining what level of consideration to accord each species. For example, he has us consider whether a species of animal (or even a human individual) that doesn’t have a capacity for suffering should require ethical consideration. Singer’s conclusion on this note is essentially, “no,” and this is why he does not incorporate plants into the realm of having ethical rights. That said, he tends to take the cautious route and seems to say that if we have reason to think that a being could be capable of suffering, it is Right that we avoid causing the suffering and do what we can to prevent it.

Products and The Suffering of Animals

Perhaps the hardest of Singer’s arguments for Gilligan and his Papa, both carnivores, to digest (pun intended), is his very convincing one highlighting the wrongness of supporting products that cause suffering to animals. This includes consideration of products that inflict unpleasant testing on animals, but more predominantly speaks to the animal meat industry. Singer argues throughout the book that it would be ethically preferable for all humans to switch to a vegan diet or vegetarian diet consistent of food not produced by means that cause suffering.

His argument against the conventional meat industry goes beyond just criticizing how it produces a large population of animals often made to live through a large amount of suffering, but also points out the harms to the sustainability of the global environment that come from the byproducts of this industry, most notably the extra methane gas in the atmosphere which is deteriorating it over time.

From his conclusions, he urges us that it would be right to stop supporting these industries financially; if no one bought the products, then these practices would fade away, and indeed the global market is currently full of products that boast of not being tested on animals and otherwise appeal to this ethic. His thoughts are well captured in the following passage:

[T]he important question is not whether animal products could be produced without suffering, but whether those we are considering buying were produced without suffering. Unless we can be confident that they were, the principle of equal consideration of interests implies that their production wrongly sacrificed important interests of animals to satisfy less important interests of our own.

This notion of which interests are “less  important” than others becomes a key one within many of the more “grey area” discussions throughout the book. Even on this same topic, Singer goes on to demonstrate that there are some situations where causing suffering to animals may have an ethical justification. For example:

[I]f one, or even a dozen animals had to suffer experiments in order to save thousands, I would think it right and in accordance with equal consideration of interests that they should do so.

Dogs are People Too

Once the book establishes that essentially all animals should have the right to an ethical consideration of their interests, it goes on to explore the complexities of how we determine what the interests of an individual being are, and what distinctions are important. While the book does not actually conclude that “dogs are people too,” it does pose a distinction between a “Person” and a “human,” where a Person is said to be a self-aware being who is able to see itself as existing over time. A “human,” on the other hand, is simply a member of the species homo sapiens.


Without exploring the intricacies of the ensuing discussion, we’ll note that it provides compelling arguments about why “Person”-hood as a trait offers good reasons for believing that a being has a higher level of interests to consider than the trait of simply being a “human.” And, under the above definitions of “Person” and “human” Singer points out that there could certainly exist “Persons” who are not human, as well as “humans” who are not “Persons.”

We are settling with the conclusion that, since Gilligan clearly understands himself as a being over time (as demonstrated by his ability to star in this blog, rap, and perform other musings), he is indeed a Person!



For the sake of keeping our book review relatively light today, we will ask you to check out the book yourself for its other very engaging discussions in the chapters on Killing, Taking Life, Rich and Poor, Climate Change, Civil Disobedience, and the question, “Why Act Morally?” Many of these were “too heavy” for Gilligan’s taste, but nevertheless highly recommended for their innate value of helping us better come to terms with what is truly Right or Wrong.

Our Rating* for Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics: Third Edition


Five out of five paws! A fantastic and essential book.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 11.10.42 PMNext week, we’ll be exploring the Dachshund-themed 🙂 short stories of author Stella Dillenbeck’s “Dachshund Rescue Series.”

There are 24 books in total, not all of which have been published. Our upcoming review will share our thoughts on the first 6 books.


Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 11.06.21 PMLiving in Oregon for more than 53 years, Stella Dillenbeck and her husband moved to New Mexico in 2006 where they became involved with New Mexico Dachshund Rescue. Hearing so many stories that needed to be told, Stella began writing soon after retiring.  We are excited to share her work with you.

See you then!

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Disclosure: Links in this article that lead to books by author Peter Singer will bring the user to that book’s page on The links themselves are generated using the Amazon Affiliate program, which means that the author of this site will earn a small sales commission on any purchases of the book through these links. Book and other product reviews on are always the honest opinion of the author.

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15 thoughts on “Barks and Books – Practically Ethical

    1. Yeah… honestly I am glad we are switching back to some lighter stuff with the doxie stories. This book was amazing, but I found myself needing to go in the next room while Papa read the parts about euthanasia and more intense topics. Too heavy for my taste! BOL


  1. Hi Y’all!

    Having just returned from a trip, that last part hit hard…We are people too, but try to tell the manager of your first class hotels that that hairy 94 lb retriever is “people” and should be able to stay in a room with their “humans”!

    Y’all come on by,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for joining the blog hop!!

    I hate the factory farming, it’s so disturbing to me. I do know we do need some animal protein in our diets, but whenever possible I try to buy humanely raised and handled. I refuse to eat pork and am guessing at some point I will become vegetarian, but for now I do what I can.


    1. Hi Jodi! I don’t know why, but I am just able to see your comment now! Please excuse the late reply! Based on what I’ve heard, there are efforts being made out there by scientists to try to create “synthetic meat,” or essentially lab-grown meat that doesn’t rely on killing animals or causing any suffering. Sounds a bit freaky, but if you agree with Singer’s arguments you would have to agree that this solution would solve the ethical problem. The issue is, all the resulting “meat” thus far “tastes funny.” They haven’t been able to get things right yet! We can survive without animal protein, but with the state of the food industry currently, it requires a sustained effort to do so (ask any vegan or vegetarian).


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