Animal ethics is involved with arguments over several key issues. The most basic issue concerns the basis of the moral value or moral status of animals. Why should animals count morally? This part includes excerpts from several influential theorists in the field of animal ethics.
Tom Regan’s answer as well as that of Paola Cavalieri is based on the concepts of rights to which a being is entitled. Regan develops the concept of “subject-of-a-life” as an expansion of Immanuel Kant’s focus on rational beings. Cavalieri uses the concept of “intentional beings” as an expansion of universal human rights theory. For Regan and Cavalieri animals have desires, intentions, feelings, and a psychological identity over time—there is “someone home” in an animal. Animals should be included in our moral community as beings with rights. Unlike Regan, Cavalieri grants the same value to the lives of all intentional beings. Carl Cohen rejects Regan’s argument. While Cohen does not deny that animals have rudimentary desires and interests, he does deny that having interests is relevant to having moral rights.
Peter Singer rests his argument on the moral principle of the equal consideration of interests, the utilitarian principle which affirms that all sentient individuals, those capable of experiencing pleasure or pain, must be considered when we are contemplating an action. Singer advocates preference utilitarianism, a form of utilitarianism which takes into account what an individual wishes to do. He does not advocate equal treatment but rather equal consideration of animals’ interests. Singer states that we have different obligations toward rational and self-conscious animals as contrasted with our obligations to animals lacking such capabilities.
Josephine Donovan critiques the overreliance on reason by Regan and Singer. She maintains that feminist care theory, developed in order to emphasize the significance of emotional responses such as sympathy, empathy, and compassion, also acknowledges the importance of animal communications. She confronts some recent criticisms of care theory.
R. G. Frey critiques Regan and Singer from a different perspective. He maintains that animals, because they lack language, do not have interests in the sense of having desires; thus it is not necessary for scholars to address what relationship there might be between interests and rights.
In many theories of animal ethics, painless death is considered to be morally acceptable. Frederike Kaldewaij challenges this view. She argues that both humans and conscious animals are harmed by death because it deprives them of the goods that continued life would have brought them.
Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka argue that all animals who are conscious should be viewed as having inviolable rights. This means that the basic interests of sentient animals cannot be sacrificed for the greater good of others.
Armstrong, S. J. (ed.) (2004) Animal Ethics, Essays in Philosophy 5.2 www.humboldt.edu/~essays/archives.html
Carruthers, P. (1992) The Animals Issue, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
DeGrazia, D. (1998) Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status
, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Donovan, J. and C. Adams (eds.) (2007) The Feminist Care Tradition in Animal Ethics: A Reader, New York: Columbia University Press.
Jamieson, D. (ed.) (1999) Singer and His Critics, Oxford: Blackwell.
McKenna, E. and A. Light (eds.) (2004) Animal Pragmatism: Rethinking Human-Nonhuman Relationships, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Midgley, M. (1998) Animals and Why They Matter, Athens: University of Georgia Press.
Pluhar, E. (1995) Beyond Prejudice: The Moral Significance of Human and Nonhuman Animals, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Regan, T. (2004) Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Rollin, B. E. (1992) Animal Rights and Human Morality, Amherst, MA: Prometheus Books.
Sapontzis, S. F. (1987) Morals, Reason and Animals, Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Scully, M. (2002) Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Singer, P. (ed.) (2006) In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave, Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Sunstein, C. R. and M. C. Nussbaum (eds.) (2004) Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, New York: Oxford University Press.
Turner, J. and J. D’Silva (eds.) (2006) Animals, Ethics and Trade: The Challenge of Animal Sentience, London: Earthscan.
Warren, M. A. (1997) Moral Status: Obligations to Persons and Other Living Things, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Tom Regan bases his argument on the concept of “subject-of-a-life.” Do you agree that this concept identifies the crucial difference between a being with moral status and one without status? Explain your reasoning.
- Carl Cohen identifies what he believes to be an equivocation in Regan’s use of “inherent value.” Do you agree with Cohen’s point? Why or why not?
- What might be some advantages for animal ethics of Cavalieri’s emphasis on rights as protection from institutional interference?
- Peter Singer uses the principle of equal consideration of interests to guide our practice concerning animals. Do you find this principle more or less convincing than Tom Regan’s use of the equal inherent value of moral agents and moral patients? Explain your choice.
- Do you agree with Donovan that Regan and Singer place too much emphasis on reason? What role should sympathy and compassion play in our treatment of nonhuman animals?
- Frey argues that having desires requires having the capacity for language-based beliefs. Do you agree? Why or why not?
- Kaldewaij argues that animals are harmed by premature death, whether it is painless or not. Do you find her reasoning persuasive?
- In your view, which of the authors in this part presents the best approach to the moral status of animals? Are there significant modifications you would make to the view of the author you chose?
- Do you agree with Donaldson and Kymlicka that self, being conscious, is the foundation of the recognition of moral rights?
- The recognition of animals as selves with inviolable rights would have earth-shaking repercussions for many common practices. In what area do you think change is most likely to occur, if it occurs at all?
Moral Agents and Moral Patients
A helpful place to begin is to distinguish between moral agents and moral patients […]. Moral agents are individuals who have a variety of sophisticated abilities, including in particular the ability to bring impartial moral principles to bear on the determination of what, all considered, morally ought to be done and, having made this determination, to freely choose or fail to choose to act as morality, as they conceive it, requires. Because moral agents have these abilities, it is fair to hold them morally accountable for what they do, assuming that the circumstances of their acting as they do in a particular case do not dictate otherwise.
In contrast to moral agents, moral patients lack the prerequisites that would enable them to control their own behavior in ways that would make them morally accountable for what they do. A moral patient lacks the ability to formulate, let alone bring to bear, moral principles in deliberating about which one among a number of possible acts it would be right or proper to perform. Moral patients, in a word, cannot do what is right, nor can they do what is wrong. Granted, what they do may be detrimental to the welfare of others—they may, for example, bring about acute suffering or even death; and granted, it may be necessary, in any given case, for moral agents to use force or violence to prevent such harm being done, either in self-defense or in defense of others. But even when a moral patient causes significant harm to another, the moral patient has not done what is wrong. Only moral agents can do what is wrong. Human infants, young children, and the mentally deranged or enfeebled of all ages are paradigm cases of human moral patients. More controversial is whether human fetuses and future generations of human beings qualify as moral patients. It is enough for our purposes, however, that some humans are reasonably viewed in this way.
Individuals who are moral patients differ from one another in morally relevant ways. Of particular importance is the distinction between (a) those individuals who are conscious and sentient (i.e., can experience pleasure and pain) but who lack other mental abilities and (b) those individuals who are conscious and sentient and possess the other cognitive and volitional abilities discussed in previous chapters (e.g., belief and memory). Some animals, for reasons already advanced, belong in category (b); other animals quite probably belong in category (a).
Our primary interest, in this and in succeeding chapters, concerns the moral status of animals in category (b). When, therefore, the notion of a moral patient
is appealed to in the discussions that follow, it should be understood as applying to animals in category (b) and to those other moral patients like these animals in the relevant respects
—that is, those who have desires and beliefs, who perceive, remember, and can act intentionally, who have a sense of the future, including their own future (i.e., are self-aware or self-conscious), who have an emotional life, who have a psychophysical identity over time, who have a kind of autonomy (namely, preference-autonomy), and who have an experiential welfare. Some human
moral patients satisfy these criteria—for example, young children and those humans who, though they suffer from a variety of mental handicaps and thus fail to qualify as moral agents, possess the abilities just enumerated. Where one draws the line between those humans who have these abilities and those who do not is a difficult question certainly, and it may be that no exact line can be drawn. But how we should approach the question in the case of human beings is the same as how we should approach it in the case of animals. Given any human being, what we shall want to know is whether his/her behavior can be accurately described and parsimoniously explained by making reference to the range of abilities that characterizes animals (desires, beliefs, preferences, etc.). To the extent that the case can be made for describing and explaining the behavior of a human being in these terms, to that extent, assuming that we have further reasons for denying that the human in question has the abilities necessary for moral agency, we have reason to regard that human as a moral patient on all fours, so to speak, with animals. As previously claimed, some human beings are
moral patients in the relevant sense, and it is only those individuals who are moral patients in this sense (who have, that is, the abilities previously enumerated), whether these individuals be human or nonhuman, who are being referred to, in this chapter and in the sequel, as “moral patients.”
Moral patients cannot do what is right or wrong, we have said, and in this respect they differ fundamentally from moral agents. But moral patients can be on the receiving end of the right or wrong acts of moral agents, and so in this respect resemble moral agents. A brutal beating administered to a child, for example, is wrong, even if the child herself can do no wrong, just as attending to the basic biological needs of the senile is arguably right, even if a senile person can no longer do what is right. Unlike the case of the relationship that holds between moral agents, then, the relationship that holds between moral agents, on the one hand, and moral patients, on the other, is not reciprocal. Moral patients can do nothing right or wrong that affects or involves moral agents, but moral agents can do what is right or wrong in ways that affect or involve moral patients.
Individuals as Equal in Value
The interpretation of formal justice favored here, which will be referred to as equality of individuals, involves viewing certain individuals as having value in themselves. I shall refer to this kind of value as inherent value and begin the discussion of it by first concentrating on the inherent value attributed to moral agents.
The inherent value of individual moral agents is to be understood as being conceptually distinct from the intrinsic value that attaches to the experiences they have (e.g., their pleasures or preference satisfactions), as not being reducible to values of this latter kind, and as being incommensurate with these values. To say that inherent value is not reducible to the intrinsic values of an individual’s experiences means that we cannot determine the inherent value of individual moral agents by totaling the intrinsic values of their experiences. Those who have a more pleasant or happier life do not therefore have greater inherent value than those whose lives are less pleasant or happy. Nor do those who have more “cultivated” preferences (say, for arts and letters) therefore have greater inherent value. To say that the inherent value of individual moral agents is incommensurate with the intrinsic value of their (or anyone else’s) experiences means that the two kinds of value are not comparable and cannot be exchanged one for the other. Like proverbial apples and oranges, the two kinds of value do not fall within the same scale of comparison. One cannot ask, How much intrinsic value is the inherent value of this individual worth—how much is it equal to? The inherent value of any given moral agent isn’t equal to any sum of intrinsic values, neither the intrinsic value of
that individual’s experiences nor the total of the intrinsic value of the experiences of all other moral agents. To view moral agents as having inherent value is thus to view them as something different from, and something more than, mere receptacles of what has intrinsic value. They have value in their own right, a value that is distinct from, not reducible to, and incommensurate with the values of those experiences which, as receptacles, they have or undergo.
The difference between the utilitarian-receptacle view of value regarding moral agents and the postulate of inherent value might be made clearer by recalling the cup analogy. On the receptacle view of value, it is what goes into the cup (the pleasures or preference-satisfactions, for example) that has value; what does not have value is the cup itself (i.e., the individual himself or herself). The postulate of inherent value offers an alternative. The cup (that is, the individual) has value and a kind that is not reducible to, and is incommensurate with, what goes into the cup (e.g., pleasure). The cup (the individual) does “contain” (experience) things that are valuable (e.g., pleasures), but the value ...