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The Moral Status of the Non-Human World: Cohen and Warren

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1 The Moral Status of the Non-Human World: Cohen and Warren
Philosophy 220 The Moral Status of the Non-Human World: Cohen and Warren

2 Regan and Animal Rights
Tom Regan makes clear his commitment to the animal rights movement in the article “Are Zoos Morally Defensible.” As he articulates it, that movement has three central goals. Abolition of the use of animals in science. The dissolution of commercial agriculture. The elimination of sport hunting and trapping. Only abolition is possible. “You don’t change unjust institutions by tidying them up.”

3 Some Key Assumptions Regan specifies three assumptions central to his effort to establish that NHAs have moral rights and thus that we are wrong when we treat them like resources. Some creatures are possessed of inherent value. Those that are, are possessed of it equally. Inherent value necessitates respect, where respect is understood (following Kant) as requiring treating possessors of inherent value as ends in themselves rather than means.

4 Advantages of the Rights View
According to Regan, there are a number of advantages to thinking about moral standing in terms of rights. In principle this view finds all forms of racial, sexual and social discrimination immoral. In principle it denies that it is ever acceptable to trample on rights in pursuit of good consequences (zoos are cool, and presumably add a lot of utility, but if animals are rights holders, zoos are morally dubious enterprises).

5 The Argument No appropriately rational argument can limit the scope of this respect to human beings. Can’t specify a non-question begging account of inherent value that doesn’t also include NHAs. The property that explains our inherent value is being “the experiencing subject of a life.” In our other vernacular, this is the property that establishes DMS. We do not know (can not?) how far this notion extends, but we do not need to. It is clear that NHAs exhibit this characteristic. Therefore, they have inherent value and thus the same right to respect as human beings.

6 Cohen, ”Do Animals Have Rights?"
Cohen takes up Regan's argument, ultimately rejecting his claim on the grounds of a different account of DMS. From his account, talk of animal rights is mistaken, as is Regan’s characterization of a Cohen-type position as morally equivalent to racism or sexism (speciesism). He also disputes Regan’s analysis of the moral status of the use of non-human animals on basically consequentialist grounds.

7 Rights and Animals Cohen begins his discussion with a definition of rights. “A right (unlike an interest) is a valid claim, or potential claim, made by a moral agent, under principles that govern both the claimant and the target of the claim” (348c1). Important features: distinction of rights from interests (disputed by other accounts of rights); specification of the function of moral agency.

8 Moral Standing and Rights
Acknowledging the complexity of rights talk, Cohen offers an account of DMS which rules out the claim that animals (or other natural kinds) have rights. “Rights arise, and can be intelligibly defended, only among beings who actually do, or can, make moral claims against one another” (486c1). He ultimately grounds the capacity here indicated in a Kantian notion of autonomy. There is, Cohen makes clear, no CI for non-human animals.

9 What about Speciesism? Here too, the question of DMS looms large.
Without arguing directly against Singer's use of sentience as the defining quality of DMS, Cohen denies that, "…all sentient animals have equal moral standing" (487c1). While racism has, "no rational grounds," insists Cohen, preferring humans to other animals does. They have rights after all?

10 What are the Consequences?
It's easy to guess how Cohen is going to address questions concerning possible consequentialist analyses addressing, for example, animal experimentation. Any such analysis is going to have to provide a weighing mechanism by which we can compare the various utilities and dis-utilities involved. Cohen insists that the only appropriate mechanism should privilege human value over that of non-human animals.

11 Warren, “Rights Compared”
The common moral intuition about the rights of Non-Human Animals seems to be that if they have rights, these rights are limited relative to human rights. If you could only save one would it be your new born infant or a loyal family dog that you’ve had for a decade? Warren thinks that advocates of rights for NHAs need to account for this intuited difference and she aims to provide it.

12 Strength and Content Warren focuses our attention on two different features of rights where differences between rights of humans and rights of NHAs might be apparent. Content: what the right protects. Strength: how strong overriding reasons would have to be.

13 Human v. NHA: Content Given the differences between the forms of consciousness and activity of humans and NHAs, there are going to be many, specific distinctions in content between human and NHA rights. Ex. Freedom of Movement These distinctions should not mask a great deal of commonality in terms of content. Ex. Right to Life

14 Human v. NHA: Strength In those places of overlapping content, the distinguishing feature of human and NHA rights is strength. In general, human rights can only be overwhelmed by reasons stronger than those which would overwhelm the rights of NHAs. Even if this is not true, the lack of autonomy and reciprocity in the granting and respecting of rights is good reason to hierarchize rights holders.

15 Infanticide, Again? Does this argument strand the human infant or the severely retarded individual on the side of the limited rights holders? Warren thinks not, both because they are potentially or partially autonomous and have value for us

16 Curnutt, “Vegetarianism”
Curnutt is convinced that moral arguments for vegetarianism coming from consequentialism and rights-based theories are incapable of addressing all of the issues that have been raised. He offers in replacement an argument grounded in something like the harm principle.

17 The Old Arguments As Regan highlighted, consequentialists like Matheny will find it difficult to argue that the moral value of the consequences of actions will always require vegetarianism. Rights talk is so complex and contentious that even Regan doesn’t get the job done.

18 NEW Review the NEW argument for vegetarianism as it is presented on (364c1). Some Notes: Prima Facie: on its face, presumed to be (but can be overridden). Ultima Facie: on its face, (can't be overridden). Animal: vertebrate. Clearly, (3), (5) and (6) are the key moves in the argument.

19 Killing Animals is Prima Facie Morally Wrong.
Harm: something that adversely affects an individual or entity's interests Severity of harm dependent on centrality of interests. Welfare interests are those that are (a) definitive of basic well-being, and (b) because their realization is the necessary precondition of having interests. Killing NHAs harms them, independent of any consequentialist or rights-based analyses. Therefore, assuming harm is prima facie morally wrong, it is prima facie wrong to kill NHAs.

20 Animal Eating is Prima Facie Morally Wrong
On the basis of the conclusion that killing NHAs is prima facie wrong, the conclusion that eating animals is also prima facie morally wrong follows from the acknowledgment that eating them requires killing them. A possible response comes from the recognition that rarely do animal eaters actually kill the animals they eat. Curnutt rejects this response on the grounds of an analogy with other forms of transfer (holocaust lamp; stolen stereo). Benefitting from a “morally nefarious practice” makes one complicit in the immorality. In some cases, we may have no choice. However, animal eating is clearly not one of them.

21 From Prima Facie to Ultima Facie
The last step of Curnutt’s argument is demonstrating that the Prima Facie wrongness of animal eating is in fact Ultima Facie wrongness. Demonstrating this requires arguments to the effect that the wrongness of animal eating is not overridden by competing moral concerns. Curnutt identifies 4 different claims to overridingness Traditional/Cultural: many obviously immoral practices have been so supported, but that doesn’t change our evaluation. Aesthetic: aesthetic appreciation is not generally regarded as sufficient to override moral concerns. Convenience: again, the fact that something is convenient is insufficient to override its immorality. Nutrition: NEW is not committed to veganism, just lacto-ovo vegetarianism. Absent any persuasive claim to overringness, the prima facie wrongness of animal eating is thus ultima facie.

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