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Lecture 13 - Animal Ethics
Transcript of Lecture 13 - Animal Ethics
How should we treat animals?
Some questions in
What are our moral duties towards them?
Why do we care about animals?
Can animals 'want'?
morality and more...
Is it wrong
to kill animals?
Animals as moral subjects
Are animals worthy of moral consideration?
What are animals’ interests?
Dependent upon their capacities
Sentience --> interest in not feeling pain (and an interest in experiencing pleasure)
Capacity to hold desires and intentions --> interest in fulfilment of these
Self-awareness --> interest in continued life
ability to conceive of oneself as an individual continuously through time
Degree of psychological unity
Do animals have the capacity to have beliefs, desires and intentions?
What does it mean to ‘believe’ (or ‘desire’ or ‘intend’) something?
Animals can be ‘surprised’ - does this indicate belief not met?
Can we distinguish intent from mere instinct?
formulation of particular mental states?
What would this require?
contiguous psychological unity through time
ability to have desires and preferences about future existence
(in particular that it should continue!)
Are some animals self-aware?
Mirror self-recognition test
some animals pass!
Animals are capable of reasoning
Some animals have been taught to use language in a way equivalent to humans
chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas
Animals are also capable of moral or quasi-moral behaviour
a theory of mind
separation of self/other
Is it wrong to cause
animals to suffer?
Do animal species
have a moral value?
Is it wrong to use animals to benefit humans?
Why should we care about animals at all?
Why would they not be?
We assume that (most) humans are
In general, what is required to confer moral standing?
Bentham: “the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”
But how do we determine whether an animal can suffer or is suffering?
Descartes: animals as automata, non-conscious, do not feel pain in the strict sense?
Humans and other animals
Argument from similarity:
humans are animals
we make assumptions about other humans’ feelings, mental states, capacity to experience pain etc
If animals display the same outward behaviours, the same physiological structures and the same adaptive justification, we should grant them the benefit of the same assumption
Not whether there are any reasons to think that they experience (eg) pain as we do...
but whether there are reasons to suppose they do not.
Do animals have rights? (To what?)
On what are rights based?
Does having an interest in something automatically confer a right over it?
Can we have moral obligations without a corresponding right?
Regardless of whether animals have rights, they can still be subjects of moral concern
Rollins: “Entrance into the moral arena is determined by something’s being alive and having interests in virtue of that life, interests and needs that can be helped or harmed by a being who can act morally”
“All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” (Orwell, Animal Farm)
What does equal consideration entail?
Not identical entitlement to rights; not equal treatment…
but equal consideration on the basis of relevant interests.
To fail to consider animal interests on an equal basis is a form of speciesism (Singer)
Could a non-human animal be a person?
Belief, desire and intention
Could a non-human animal be a person?
"A thinking intelligent being, that has reason, and can consider itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places..." (Locke)
"only a person can want to go on living, or have plans for the future, because only a person can understand the possibility of a future existence for herself or himself..." (Singer)
"the sort of being that has the capacity to value its own existence..." (Harris)
Non-human animals can have capacities that make them the proper subjects of moral consideration in themselves
but are there other reasons we should act in a particular way with respect to animals that are not (solely) based on the capacities of animals themselves?
Human animals have interests too!
How do we balance human and non-human interests?
Problems in animal ethics
Research on non-human animals
Ending animals' lives
experimental procedures may cause pain and distress
animals may suffer mentally or psychologically from experimental housing conditions
social animals kept in isolation
animals with complex mental lives - boredom
Animal needs and interests may be directly compromised by their use in research
But animal research may meet human needs and interests
Research often involves killing animals
to obtain biological samples
to examine results of research
when experiment concludes
Do animals have the sorts of lives of which it would be wrong to deprive them?
animals as persons?
Even if (experimental) animals are not persons... is it wrong to kill them?
if animals have lives that contain benefit,
even if they are not capable of knowing and valuing the benefit their future lives will bring,
is it wrong to deprive them of that by killing them?
How is this different to the 'future of value' theory?
Even if animals are not suffering or being killed...
(or if we do not consider killing them wrong)
... is it wrong to use them instrumentally for our own benefit?
'happy' chickens kept for eggs
bees and honey
If wrong: why?
Current compromise: the '3 Rs'
(Plotnik et al, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2006)
"The substitution of conscious living higher animals with insentient material"
aim to replace use of animals with alternative methods where possible
"The reduction in the number of animals used to obtain information of given amount and precision"
ensure minimum numbers necessary
"Any decrease in the incidence of severity of inhumane procedures applied to those animals which are used."
to experimental methods in order to minimise suffering etc
Welfare-focused (care and use)
but assumes research will happen!
“Research involving animals is morally acceptable if the costs are outweighed by the benefits, but every reasonable step must be taken to reduce the harm to animals.”
The 'on-balance' view
is morally acceptable if the costs are outweighed by the benefits, but every reasonable step must be taken to reduce the harm to
(Nuffield Council on Bioethics,
'The ethics of research involving animals')
Is this a speciesist approach?
Animals in captivity
Is it wrong to keep animals in zoos?
If so: why?
unnatural, against 'telos'
something to do with human character?
Do species have a moral value?
“…every creature, after adapting for thousands or even millions of years… has an intrinsic value.”
“Exterminating other forms of life is not only shortsighted, but wrong”.
(US Dept of Fisheries & Wildlife)
Clearly, some people think so...
Is this plausible or consistent?
Why just today's species? Why not yesterday's... and tomorrow's?
We don't treat all species as if they were equally valuable
'Species' is an arbitrary, human-defined concept anyway
There are lots of very good reasons we should be concerned about conserving species and maintaining biodiversity that DON'T require us to defend the idea that species have intrinsic value
If we want to have an impact on conservation and environmental policy, we're going to NEED good reasons!
what would this mean?
An interest-based account of the wrong of killing
know they are alive
value the fact that they are alive and want to continue living
have interests and desires regarding what happens in their continued lives
Therefore it is wrong to deprive them of that life and frustrate their interests in what happens in their lives
may not be self-consciously aware that they are alive
but can still have interests and desires regarding what happens in their lives
Valuing animal lives
Some animals may be persons; what about others?
What's bad about death?
Is the loss of future benefits that life might bring...
even without a conscious valuing of life and desire to continue living and experiencing those benefits
... enough to make it wrong to deprive a being of those benefits by killing it?
Consider, eg, non-human animals who are (probably) not persons: is it wrong to kill a mouse, dog or chicken?
Identity and the wrong of killing
Jeff McMahan's account
of why killing is wrong
'egoistic interest' in future goods of life
'egoistic interest': my interest that these goods happen to me
depends on how strongly one is 'psychologically related' to one's future self
"It is the psychological unity within a life that gives the life as a whole a moral and prudential significance that the mere sum of its component experiences lacks..."
including the desire to continue living and to experience other desired goods
In relation to mice, dogs and chickens:
the wrong of killing depends on the extent to which they can be said to be the same mouse, dog or chicken from one day to the next
the extent to which that animal's life is good
"Imagine a sentient creature whose mental life consists of a stream of consciousness without any psychological connections... Our creature lives entirely in what is known as the 'specious present'... It cannot remember what happened to it a few seconds ago. It is not self-conscious and has no conception of the future. All it has, we may suppose, are experiences... Would there be reason to care, for this creature's own sake now, whether it would continue to live?" (McMahan 2002 at 75)
Tom Regan on animal rights:
'soap bubbles' of experience
Are there human lives that are lived in 'soap bubbles'?