Philosophy 2800
Week 5

Animal Rights

"If a man shoots his dog because the animal is no longer capable of service, he does not fail in his duty to the dog, ... but his act is inhuman and damages in himself that humanity which it is his duty to show towards mankind. ... We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals." (Immanuel Kant, 205-6)

What is Kant saying here?
Effectively, Kant is taking the view here that animals have only instrumental value, morally speaking.
"... so far as animals are concerned, we have no direct duties. ... Our duties towards animals are merely indirect duties towards humanity." (205)
So, for instance:
"Vivisectionists. who use living animals for their experiments, certainly act cruelly, although their aim is praiseworthy, and they can justify their cruelty, since animals must be regarded as man's instruments." (206)
Peter Singer objects strenuously to a view like this.


Singer's View in Brief: Animal experimentation or consumption is wrong except in a case in which we would be willing to experiment or consume a human with similar capabilities to the animal.

"I am urging that we extend to other species the basic principle of equality that most of us recognise should extend to all members of our species." (208)
Note his comparison to 'Black Liberation' & 'Women's Liberation' movements.
What does he mean by "All Animals are Equal"?
"The extension of the basic principle of equality from one group to another does not imply that we must treat both groups in exactly the same way ". (209)

"There are important differences between humans and other animals, and these differences must give rise to some differences in the rights that each have. Recognizing this obvious fact, however, is no barrier to the case for extending the basic principle of equality to nonhuman animals." (209)

E.g., No right for men to be pregnant.
No voting rights for pigs.
A Typical Response to Singer:
P1: Rationality is the basis of equality.
P2: All humans are equal to one another in virtue of being rational beings.
P3: Animals are less rational than humans.
C: Animals are not equal to humans.
Singer's Response - it's dangerous to base our claims about what makes people equal on the claim that we are all 'factually' equal.

Moral versus Factual Equality

"we can have no absolute guarantee that these abilities and capacities [whichever ones we say are significant] really are distributed evenly, without regard to race or sex, among human beings." (211)
But Singer claims this is morally irrelevant anyway.

"Equality is a moral ideal, not a simple assertion of fact." (213)

What is the Basis of Moral Equality?
Citing Bentham: ''The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?' (213)

"If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration ... the principle of equality requires that its suffering be counted equally with the like suffering - in so far as rough comparisons can be made - of any other being." (213-4)

"The racist violates the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the interests of members of his own race, when there is a clash between their interests and the interests of those of another race. Similarly, the speciesist allows the interests of his own species to override the greater interests of members of other species." (214)

Eating Animals

"There can be no defence of eating flesh in terms of satisfying nutritional needs ... we could our need for protein and other essential nutrients far more efficiently with a diet that replaced animal flesh". (214)

On Factory Farms: "To nonspeciesists, the typical consumer's mixture of ignorance, reluctance to find out the truth, and vague belief that nothing really bad could be allowed seems analogous to the attitudes of 'decent Germans' to the death camps." (from Animal Liberation)

Animal Experimentation
The LD50 test: find out at what dosage 50% of the animals given a particular drug will die.

"The experimenter shows a bias in favor of his own species whenever he carries out an experiment on a nonhuman for a purpose that he would not think justified him in using a human being at an equal or lower level of sentience, awareness, ability to be self-directing, etc." (217)

Would Singer be willing to let thousands die if they could be saved by experimenting on a single animal?

"Would the experimenter be prepared to perform his experiment on an orphaned human infant, if that were the only way to save many lives?" (217)

Groupwork  Question:  Is Singer's view convincing?  Why or why not?  (Focus on one specific point against it/in favour of it.)


Two Principles that Might be Useful for Discussion

1. The Is-Ought Principle
You can't prove claims about how things ought to be just by pointing out that they are that way.
Relevance: If you accept this principle, then you can't prove it's morally OK to eat animals, just by pointing out that we do eat them.
2. The 'Ought Implies Can' Principle
You can't be morally obligated to do something it's literally impossible for you to do.

In other words, to say that, morally speaking, you ought to do something implies that it must be possible for you to do it (i.e., you can do it).

Relevance: If you accept this principle, then nothing about whether it's morally OK to eat animals or not is proved by pointing out that we don't think animals are obligated not to kill other animals.
Why not? Because, while we can choose to become vegetarians, (most) other animals can't make that kind of choice. In fact, they can't even consider the possibility. As such, the 'ought implies can' principle tells us that it doesn't even make sense to ask whether they ought to become vegetarians or not.

The relevant point here is that, as your abilities change, your obligations may also change. So, since we have abilities (most) other animals don't, we may also have obligations they don't.

[Philosophy 2800]