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Animal Rights.

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Presentation on theme: "Animal Rights."— Presentation transcript:

1 Animal Rights

2 Direct vs. Indirect duties towards animals
Direct duties: duties owed to the animals themselves (treating animals welfare as an intrinsic good) Indirect duties: duties to act in certain ways towards animals for the sake of ourselves, others or society (treating animal welfare as an instrumental good)

3 Examples of indirect duties towards animals:
Duty to respect private property (animals that belong to someone) Duty to avoid cruelty because it encourages a cruel nature in us, which might then be expressed towards other people Duty not to hurt the feelings of people who love animals by abusing animals Duty to maintain the health of biosystems and nature in general, for our own good Duty to preserve beautiful creatures, for the enjoyment of others and future generations Duty to preserve species that may be sources of other instrumental goods, e.g. medicine

4 Ethical status for animals
Animal welfare as an intrinsic good Kantian and utilitarian ethics traditionally extended to all people, but only people Kant: all rational beings are ends in themselves assumption: only humans are rational (or maybe humans, angels and extraterrestrials) Utilitarianism: the pleasures and pains of all conscious beings are of equal importance assumption (?): only humans are conscious/have pleasure and pain But note: Jeremy Bentham, early utilitarian (pre-Mill): “The question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” (Bentham 1789)

5 Peter Singer Contemporary Australian philosopher Professor of bioethics at Princeton Preference utilitarian Famous advocate of animal rights Animal Liberation (1975) “All Animals are Equal” (1989) (and humans are animals)

6 Animal Liberation Singer sees ethics as evolving. In the past, slaves, women and people of other races were often not treated as persons, and their interests were not given consideration. Now we recognize all people as persons and extend equal consideration to all people. Now we should extend equal ethical consideration to animals as well.

7 Speciesism Discrimination against animals is “speciesism”, analogous to racism To discriminate on the basis of species membership, or even on the basis of intelligence or rationality, is like discriminating on the basis of skin color What matters is sentience. Any animal that is sentient (can feel pleasure or pain) counts as a moral subject. All pleasure or pain, or preferences, should count equally, whether they are the pleasures of preferences of humans or animals

8 The argument from borderline cases
Borderline cases: babies, the severely mentally retarded, psychopaths Argument from analogy: borderline cases are similar to (some) animals (in terms of abilities, sentience, capacity for pleasure and pain), so animals should be treated similarly We routinely grant importance to the interests to human borderline cases – not full rights (e.g. the right to vote), but the right to have their preferences treated as morally important and the right not to be mistreated Animals are not equal to normal adults, and therefore cannot have truly equal rights, but their preferences (e.g. the desire to avoid pain) should be given equal consideration

9 Equal consideration, not equal rights
We don’t discriminate between people on the basis of intelligence or ability. So we should not discriminate against animals because they are less intelligent or lack certain abilities. We treat babies and the severely brain damaged better than we treat animals, but we shouldn’t. Animals have just as much right to consideration as babies (or more!) E.g. an adult ape is more aware, more self-directing and has at least as much capacity for suffering as a baby.

10 Implications Pro vegetarian: taking away a life for a insignificant benefit (satisfying a person’s tastes) is unjustified. Although, Singer allows that it is possible to raise animals ethically for food, if they are raised to have a pleasant and enjoyable life. An animal without a life plan does not suffer from death, and a happy animal can be replaced by another happy animal without net loss to the world. Anti-vivisection: the utilitarian arguments we raise to justify using animals this way would not be accepted as justification for human vivisection, and therefore are not accepted for the case of animals either (except in extreme cases).

11 Implications (cont.) Individual animals have moral standing, not species or biosystems. Thus, killing two common deer would be a greater sin than killing one endangered tiger. An animal’s rights are potentially as important as a human’s. Where to draw the line? At sentience. Where is the borderline of sentience? Singer’s guess: between the clam and the shrimp.

12 Tom Regan Contemporary American Philosopher Deontologist, in the tradition of Kant Specialist in animal rights The Case for Animal Rights (1983) “Animal Rights, Human Wrongs” (1980)

13 Animal Rights Utilitarians are wrong to focus only on pleasure and pain. What is important is respecting the dignity of others, and to treat those with moral standing as ends in themselves, not means (c.f. Kant). What is wrong with eating veal, for example, is not that the animal suffers, rather: “the fundamental wrong is the system that allows us to view animals as our resources, here for us, to be eaten, or surgically manipulated, or put in our cross hairs for sport or money.”

14 Moral Standing Distinguishes “moral agents” from “moral patients”
Moral agents typified by competent human adults Moral patients include everything that has interests, e.g. babies, the mentally incompetent and animals. Both moral agents and moral patients have moral standing, i.e. are ends of themselves and are subject to rights What has interests? Subjects-of-a-life.

15 Subjects-of-a-life “To be the subject-of-a-life … involves more than merely being alive and more than merely being conscious. To be the subject-of-a-life is to … have beliefs and desires; perception, memory, and a sense of the future, including their own future; an emotional life together with feelings of pleasure and pain; preference and welfare-interests; a psychophysical identity over time; and an individual welfare in the sense that their experiential life fares well or ill for them, independent of their utility for others.” Not all animals, but only animals that meet these criteria. Typically “mentally normal mammals of a year or more”, although potentially other animals with the relevant cognitive capacity.

16 Implications The following violate animals’ rights: Raising animals for food or fur Hunting for sport or money Keeping pets Keeping animals in circuses or zoos Vivisection Like Singer, holds that only individuals have moral standing, not species or biosystems. More inclusive than Singer as to what causes harm to animals – e.g. pets, raising well-cared-for animals for food, keeping happy animals in a zoo, etc. Not as inclusive as Singer as to which animals matter: mostly only mammals of over a year old compared to everything that is at least as sentient as a shrimp

17 Against rights for animal
Carl Cohen Contemporary American philosopher Theoretical: rights are reciprocal, among moral agents or members of a community of moral agents Practical: Medical research Animals in the wild

18 Medical research Animal used for vaccines, treatments, of human diseases, e.g. polio, malaria But this research would not be allowed if animals had rights Rights entail duties Rights trump interests absolutely

19 Rights trump duties Regan agrees:
“The harms others might face as a result of the dissolution of [some] practice or institution is no defense of allowing it to continue No one has a right to be protected against being harmed if the protection in question involves violating the rights of others No one has a right to be protected by the continuation of an unjust practice, one that violates the rights of others Justice must be done, though the heavens fall.” (Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, 1983) “On the rights view, we cannot justify harming a single rat merely by aggregating ‘the many human and humane benefits’ that flow from doing it Not even a single rat is to be treated as if that animal's value were reducible to his possible utility relative to the interests of others.” (Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, 1983)

20 Animals in the wild If animals have rights, we have the duty to protect those rights, even in the wild. But this is impossible. And undesirable. Should we protect prey from predators? Should we inoculate wild animals from disease? Should we shoot some members of overpopulated herds (e.g. deer) to prevent mass starvation? How can we judge between competing interests/rights? Would we want to?

21 Other objections to Singer and Regan
Cohen’s objection is that rights for animal is too inclusive: only humans should count. Other argue that Singer and Regan are not inclusive enough: should include all animals, maybe even plants (Goodpaster: anything alive should have moral standing) Ironically animal rights is criticized as being essentially anthropocentric – still maintains that only persons count, but some animals count as persons What about species, biosystems, larger ecological systems?

22 Readings Thomas Nagel (1974), “What is it like to be a bat?”, The Philosophical Review, LXXXIII, 4 (October 1974), at:

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