Animal Ethics

Dogs on drugs

drogs, by weegeeboredThat people in all cultures around the world use plant drugs to heal, intoxicate, or enhance themselves is well known. What is less well known – at least to me – is that many cultures give drugs to their dogs to improve hunting success. A new paper in Journal of Ethnopharmacology by B.D. Bennett and R. Alarcón reviews the plants used in lowland Ecuador, Peru and elsewhere.

They find a wide variety of drugs used. Some are clearly medicinal or just hide the dog’s scent. Others are intended as enhancers of night vision or smell. Some are psychoactive and intended to influence behaviour – make it walk straight, follow game tenaciously, be more alert, understand humans, or “not become a vagrant”. Several drugs are hallucinogenic, which may appear bizarre – how could that possibly help? The authors suggest that in the right dose they might create synaesthesia or other forms of altered perception that actually make the dogs better hunters by changing their sensory gating. Is drugging dogs OK? Continue reading

Interview with Christine M. Korsgaard on Animal Ethics by Emilian Mihailov

By Emilian Mihailov

Cross posted on the CCEA blog

 

Why should animals have the same moral standing as humans?

Ask yourself on what basis human beings claim to have moral standing.  I think the best way to understand this is in terms of the relation between something’s being good-for-someone and something’s being just plain good.  When we say that something is just plain good (not in the evaluative sense of a good this-or-that, like a good teacher, a good knife, or a good person, but in the sense in which an end or a life or a state of affairs is good) we mean that it is worth pursuing or realizing: that there is reason to bring it about.  Now, most of us believe that various things are good-for ourselves or for our loved ones, and we suppose there is reason to bring those things about, to make them happen, unless we see that they are bad for others.  That means that we claim that the things that are good-for us (and those whom we care about) are just plain good, as long as they are compatible with the things that are good-for others.  But why?  Why should I think that the fact that something is good-for-me (or for anyone) is a reason to bring it about?  I think there is no further reason: I treat it as something that is just plain good simply because it’s good-forme.  In treating what is good-for-me in that way, I am claiming to be what Kant called an “end-in-itself,” or rather this is one aspect of making that claim.  But of course I don’t claim to be an end-in-itself because I’m me in particular: rather, it’s simply because I am the sort of being for whom things can be good or bad. That means that when I pursue my own ends, I in effect commit myself to a principle we might formulate this way:  “The things that are good-for-anyone for whom things can be good or bad are good, unless they are bad-for-others.”   Animals fall under that principle:  things can be good-or-bad-for-them in the same sense that they can be good or bad for us.  Their good matters in the same way that ours does.

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Turning 40: Animal Liberation in perspective

Practical ethics should be all about really having an impact on the world. This requires, among other things, working on the topic regarding which we are expected to produce the most good. Plausibly, these are topics that have been traditionally neglected or at least that remain under-researched. These are also moral issues that may seriously affect a great number of individuals.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of Animal Liberation, in 1975. With it Australian philosopher Peter Singer initiated one of the highest impact careers in philosophy of the last century. It is not surprising that in 2005, Time magazine included him among the list of the 100 most influential people. It is remarkable, though, that the growing respect for Peter Singer has not been accompanied by a similar change of attitude regarding animal ethics —precisely the field in which he is recognised to have made a greater difference.

Animal Liberation boosted the contemporary academic debate on animal ethics and inspired the work of many other philosophers. This book contributed significantly to the growth of the movement for the equal consideration of nonhuman animals. It has influenced countless individuals to adopt veganism and to become activists in defence of animals. Even though the end of speciesist attitudes lies in the far future, very few other moral aims can produce a similar or greater good. Given the importance of the book, it is worth reviewing, on occasion of its anniversary, the position that Singer defended in it as well as some of the controversies it raises and issues it leaves open.

Animal Liberation is a non-academic book targeted at the general public. It is written by a  philosopher with a particular moral outlook —utilitarianism— and with particular views about specific moral problems. Its aim is clear: denouncing speciesism and abandoning the consumption of animals, especially for food. Its method is effective: using arguments that most people already accept without having to commit to some of the author’s most controversial views.

The book’s main thesis is that the interests of all those who can suffer and enjoy should be equally considered. This is derived from the combination of two premises many of us find uncontroversial. Firstly, the widely shared and robust intuition about the equal consideration of all human beings and, secondly, the need for consistency in moral reasoning. The acceptance of the first idea is what leads us to reject assigning different weight to the interests of some individuals based, for example, in certain biological attributes such as sex or skin colour. Analogously, inasmuch as species membership does not condition the weight of an individual’s interests, it should also be rejected as a morally relevant attribute. The unequal consideration of similar interests based on the species of individuals should thus, for the sake of consistency, be abandoned as another form of discrimination (speciesism).

Furthermore, the argument from ‘species overlap’ shows us that any attempt to draw a moral line between human and nonhuman animals will ultimately fail. No matter what attribute one may appeal to, some human beings will lack it and/or some nonhumans will possess it. Of course, it is implausible to derive from this that those humans who lack the selected attribute should be denied moral consideration. Instead, Singer claims, equality in the consideration of interests should be extended beyond the human species to cover all sentient individuals. Since suffering has negative value, we have reasons to prevent it or alleviate it whenever we can, no matter the species of the individual who experiences it.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect in Singer’s view has been the one related to the ethics of killing animals. As it is suggested in Animal Liberation, and later clearly stated in Practical Ethics (2011), Singer believed at the time that only those individuals with a capacity to see themselves as extended over time can have an interest in continuing to live and thus be harmed by dying. Singer took this to follow from his version of preference utilitarianism, according to which death can only be bad if it frustrates a desire in being alive. Given that most nonhuman animals lack the necessary psychological capacities to harbour the relevant desire, this would entail that death cannot harm them. Thus, their interests would give us no reasons against killing them. If those reasons exist they will be given by other considerations, such as the maximisation of net positive experiences.

However, recently, Singer changed his view about the badness of death, prompted by his transition from preference utilitarianism to hedonistic utilitarianism. In The Point of View of the Universe (Lazari-Radek & Singer 2014), he acknowledges that all sentient beings with a life worth living (understood in hedonistic terms as containing a surplus of positive experiences) are harmed by death, since they are thereby deprived of the benefits they would have otherwise enjoyed.

Nevertheless, Peter Singer has not yet completely fleshed out his new account of the badness of death and the wrongness of killing animals. In fact, in a recent talk, he identified this topic as one of three most important open questions in animal ethics. The other two are, according to Singer, (a) the problem of performing interspecies comparisons of well-being and (b) whether we have reasons to intervene in nature to prevent or alleviate wild animal suffering.

Even if we disagree with Singer’s general utilitarian approach (e.g., if one believes, as I do, that equality matters as such) we must concede that very few philosophers can be said to have had an equally high impact. Forty years ago, Peter Singer realised that working on animal ethics was one of the most effective ways of doing good. Given the work that needs to be done and the billions that can benefit from it (considering both animals under human control and those living in the wild), that is still true today.

References

Singer, P. (2004). Animal Liberation, 4th Edition. New York: HarperCollins.

Singer, P. (2011). Practical Ethics, 3rd Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lazari-Radek, K. & Singer, P. (2014). The Point of View of the Universe. Sidgwick and Contemporary Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Can the Concept of Species Specific Animal Dignity Refute the Argument From Marginal Cases?   by Henry Phipps

This essay, by Oxford graduate student Henry Phipps,  is one of the six shortlisted essays in the graduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Can the Concept of Species Specific Animal Dignity Refute the Argument From Marginal Cases?    

The argument from marginal cases notes that certain severely disabled humans have cognitive capabilities comparable to certain animals. These humans are not thought to have the status of rational persons, yet we believe that they possess significant moral status and rights. But simultaneously most people believe that animals with comparable cognitive capabilities are not possessed of the same moral status; for instance we regularly kill them for food and in medical experiments. The argument from marginal cases claims that these humans do not differ in any morally relevant respect from certain animals and that therefore we ought to treat these like cases alike. We are then faced with a choice of two options, either extend the moral status and rights that severely mentally disabled humans have to like cases of animals or deny that such humans have significant moral status and rights. Since the latter option seems repugnant, proponents of the argument then claim we have no choice but to adopt the former position that many animals have moral status and rights comparable to those attributed to severely mentally disabled humans. Continue reading

Self-consciousness and moral status

Many share an intuition that self-consciousness is highly morally significant. Some hold that self-consciousness significantly enhances an entity’s moral status. Others hold self-consciousness underwrites the attribution of so-called personhood (or full moral status) to self-conscious entities. On such views, self-consciousness is highly morally significant: the fact that an entity is self-conscious generates strong moral reasons to treat that entity in certain ways (reasons that, for example, make killing such entities a very serious matter).

Why believe that? Continue reading

The Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: How Should Vegans Live, by Xavier Cohen.

This essay, by Oxford undergraduate student Xavier Cohen, is one of the two finalists in the undergraduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics. Xavier will be presenting this paper, along with three other finalists, on the 12th March at the final.

How should vegans live? By Xavier Cohen

Ethical vegans make a concerted lifestyle choice based on ethical – rather than, say, dietary – concerns. But what are the ethical concerns that lead them to practise veganism? In this essay, I focus exclusively on that significant portion of vegans who believe consuming foods that contain animal products to be wrong because they care about harm to animals, perhaps insofar as they have rights, perhaps because they are sentient beings who can suffer, or perhaps because of a combination thereof.[1] Throughout the essay, I take this conviction as a given, that is, I do not evaluate it, but instead investigate what lifestyle is in fact consistent with caring about harm to animals, which I will begin by calling consistent veganism. I argue that the lifestyle that consistently follows from this underlying conviction behind many people’s veganism is in fact distinct from a vegan lifestyle. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: If one is genuinely concerned with the welfare of non-human animals, should one seriously consider the disenhancement of intensively-farmed livestock as a possible method of reducing animal suffering? by Catrin Gibson

This essay, by Oxford graduate student Catrin Gibson, is one of the six shortlisted essays in the graduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

If one is genuinely concerned with the welfare of non-human animals, should one seriously consider the disenhancement of intensively-farmed livestock as a possible method of reducing animal suffering?

It is generally agreed that suffering is bad. However, a countless number of non-human animals each year undergo tremendous suffering in order to meet the human demand for animal products, and this demand is currently increasing. The Food and Agriculture Organisation predicts that meat consumption will rise from 37.4kg per person worldwide (1999/2001) to 52 kg per person worldwide by 2050. The recent development of ‘intensive’ or ‘factory’ farming has greatly increased productivity, so it is likely that there will be an increase in the proportion of factory-farmed animal products to meet this demand. In factory farms, large numbers of livestock are kept indoors in relatively small spaces and suffer from horrific production diseases as a result. These are pathologies that occur due to the methods of livestock production; for example, chickens kept in large numbers have a tendency to cannibalism. Therefore, it is likely that there will be a significant increase in animal suffering in the near future. Continue reading

Consciousness and death’s badness

1. Many think that the wrongness of killing has at least partly to do with the harm and/or badness of death. I assume that is right.

2. Many think that the harm and/or badness of death has primarily to do with the deprivation of a future. In particular, many think that the future contains valuable experiences and states of affairs, and that death robs an entity of experiencing or otherwise attaining these valuable things. Although there are different ways of making explicit how a future is valuable, I assume that the general idea is right.

3. The value in the future is prima facie problematic for those who find abortion permissible. Fetuses seem to have valuable futures. If so, then at the very least there is a (potentially defeasible) moral reason against killing a fetus (cf. Marquis 1989). Continue reading

If you’re an egalitarian, how come you’re a speciesist?

According to Oxfam’s latest report,  by 2016 the richest 1% will own more than all the rest of people in the world. For many, the current and increasing inequality among individuals is deeply worrying. For many of us this is because we believe that equality matters. That is, we hold the view that how desirable a state of affairs is not only depends on the extent to which value is maximised but also on how equally it is distributed among individuals.  The underlying idea is that there are no reasons why all those individuals who can be recipients of value should not receive it equally. Who these individuals are depends on what we take the currency of distribution to be. That is, the particular value that should be enjoyed equally. If we accept egalitarianism of well-being, then equality will apply to every individual that can have a well-being of her own. If we believe that it is resources or opportunities for well-being what should be equalised, then equality will apply to all those that can benefit from them. Of course, one could nevertheless restrict the scope of equality to a subset of these individuals. But that would no longer be an egalitarian view. Just as view that claimed that aggregated well-being should be maximised only on Wednesdays would no longer be a version of utilitarianism. Continue reading

Bentham and butterflies

Rampisham Down, in West Dorset, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. But it soon won’t be. In a decision of dazzling stupidity, the local planning committee has said that it can be covered with over 100,000 solar panels. It accepted that renewable energy was a Good Thing and, in effect, that the loss of biodiversity occasioned by the panels was a price worth paying for the sun-farmers’ contribution to the battle against climate change.

Environmentalists, normally on the side of alternative energy, have been loud in their denunciation of the decision. A good example is Miles King in the Guardian: He observes: ‘….stopping biodiversity loss is as important as stopping global warming.’

Well, no it’s not. The crassness of the decision at Rampisham doesn’t alter the stark fact that  if global warming isn’t stopped, we won’t have any biodiversity of any kind to preserve. The planners were crass because there are plenty of other, better places to put the panels. But their view of the big picture is correct. Continue reading

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