Abstract and Keywords
This article introduces issues on animal psychology, the moral status of animals, the nature and significance of species, and a number of practical problems about the utilization of animals. This book encompasses a diverse set of philosophical interests and it explores an array of concerns about animal products, farm animals, hunting, circuses, zoos, the entertainment industry, safety-testing on animals, the status and moral significance of species, environmental ethics, the nature and significance of the minds of animals, and so on. It also investigates what the future may be expected to bring in the way of new scientific developments and new moral problems. The book draws on one or more of the following seven areas: the history of philosophy, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of biology, the philosophy of cognitive science, the philosophy of language, ethical theory, and practical ethics.
Humans use animals in a stunning variety of ways. All reflective persons find it difficult to determine precisely which uses of animals are morally justified and which unjustified, and many are confused about how to make their moral views comprehensive and consistent. Since ancient times philosophers have been sporadically interested in questions of animal minds, but only beginning around the last quarter of the twentieth century has a significant philosophical literature developed on the ethics of our use of animals. Scholars then began to view the subject matter as needing sustained scholarly attention. This period saw a dramatic growth of the fields of biomedical ethics and the philosophy of biology, both of which for the first time became important and flourishing fields of philosophy. Philosophers also became attracted to investigations of the nature of animal minds and the ethics of many forms of human interaction with animals. The literature came to have a primary focus on animal psychology, the moral status of animals, the nature and significance of species, and a number of practical problems about our utilization of animals.
This book presents the issues as they stand today and looks to the next stages of this still young and developing field. It is remarkable how much has been achieved during the last thirty-five years in the study of moral and scientific questions about animals. A subject that could be described as virtually moribund four decades ago, and of virtually no interest to philosophers, has come to occupy a considerable place in philosophy. The field continues to expand every year. Several chapters in this volume explore matters that, to the editors’ knowledge, have never previously been examined by philosophers.
The authors of the thirty-five chapters come from a diverse set of philosophical interests and explore an array of concerns about animal products, farm animals, hunting, circuses, zoos, the entertainment industry, safety-testing on animals, the (p. 4) status and moral significance of species, environmental ethics, the nature and significance of the minds of animals, and so on. They also investigate what the future may be expected to bring in the way of new scientific developments and new moral problems. The contributors draw on one or more of the following seven areas:
(1) History of Philosophy
(2) Philosophy of Mind
(3) Philosophy of Biology
(4) Philosophy of Cognitive Science
(5) Philosophy of Language
(6) Ethical Theory
(7) Practical Ethics
The cryptic term “animal ethics” is a convenient label for the diverse literature on animals that has emerged from these areas of philosophy as well as from disciplines other than philosophy. The term “animal rights” is the most common term used today to refer to views supportive of the protection of animals against human misuse, and it might be thought that this book should be entitled Oxford Handbook of Animal Rights. However, this title would be presumptive, insufficiently comprehensive, and in general a poor choice to capture the range of issues and positions that philosophers have been investigating. Given the history and power of rights language, many framers of declarations about protections for animals understandably chose rights language as the basic terminology. However, many others interested in animal welfare and the nature of animal species have chosen not to use the language of animal rights; and some philosophers are actively opposed to this terminology. Both the title of this volume and many of the authors within leave open questions about which terminology and types of theory are most suitable for discussion of the range of moral problems about animals that have arisen.
The remainder of this introduction is an orientation to each of the six parts and each of the thirty-five chapters. The section numbers in the introduction correspond exactly to the numbering of the parts in the volume, as displayed in the table of contents.
Part I. The History of Philosophy
Although most of the moral and scientific questions about animals that dominate current literature are of recent origin, some date back to the ancients, several of whom were aware of psychological and moral problems about animals. The most extensive and imposing ancient account was that of the Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry (3rd–4th c. ad) in his treatise On Abstinence from Animal Food (also translated On Abstinence from Killing Animals). This work analyzes how we should and should not use animals, especially when we treat them as means to our own ends. (p. 5) Porphyry sought an impartial philosophical approach, which he realized was rarely taken. He was against killing animals when nonanimal food sources would do as well or better, and he was concerned to improve the welfare of what he saw as highly intelligent creatures. Perhaps the most revolutionary ancient source was Plutarch's “Whether Land or Sea Animals are Cleverer” and “Beasts are Rational.” He graphically depicted how clever many creatures are, how we should approach evaluation of the practice of eating another animal, and ways in which animals may be more advanced than humans. Quite different and also very influential in the ancient world were Aristotle's thesis that humans alone have reason and the Stoics’ claim that significant language, reason, virtue, and even real emotion cannot correctly be attributed to animals.
This imposing ancient tradition of reflection on animals was carried into modern philosophy. The landmark, early modern Dictionary Historical and Critical, authored by Pierre Bayle, engages the thought of many figures throughout the history of the discussion. Bayle identified and analyzed authors, ancient and modern, who discuss whether animals have souls, whether they deserve some form of moral consideration, and whether there is some form of reason in animals. Less comprehensive, but ultimately more influential reflections on animals are found in the writings of several seventeenth- to nineteenth-century philosophers, most notably René Descartes, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and Jeremy Bentham.
It is unsurprising that throughout this vast history the notion of animal rights went almost unnoticed. Until the seventeenth century, there were no clear doctrines even of universal natural rights. However, with the advent of theories of international rights and natural rights developed by philosophers such as Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke—today often restyled as human rights—the way was paved for an account of animal rights. The first significant such theory seems to be that of Francis Hutcheson in the eighteenth century. However, truly path-breaking developments in moral philosophy in the theory of animal rights would not occur until many decades after Hutcheson.
Only a handful of historians of philosophy have turned sustained attention to the centuries of literature that have discussed animals, but several scholars have in recent years begun to recover the details of this history. The essays in part I of this volume are devoted to this pursuit. (The reader interested in this history will also profit from the discussion of several leading figures, including Descartes, Hume, and Kant, in chapters after part I.)
In “Animals in Classical and Late Antique Philosophy,” Stephen R. L. Clark explores a large array of conceptions and theories in the ancient world, with an emphasis on what the ancients thought of both themselves and the other “animals.” Though Classical and Late Antiquity in today's framing in philosophy consists primarily of Greek Philosophy, Clark's survey is broader. The scope is immense in terms of leading schools of philosophy: the Pre-Socratics, the Golden Age of Athens, the Hellenistic period, and the Late Antique period (including Christian thought under the category of “Patristics”). But even these categories are not entirely satisfactory, in Clark's assessment, because cultural and philosophical diversity was so (p. 6) vast in the ancient world. Clark argues that while it is true that the so-called Western tradition inherited the view that plants are for animals and animals for dominion by humans, the conceptions of the ancients are more nuanced than such a generalization captures. One generalization that does seem to hold is that non-human animals commonly were viewed as foils—beastly in habits and without minds of moral significance. Clark assesses the ancient, classical, Greek, and Mediterranean attitudes as complicated and often contradictory. In general, animals were seen as entirely unlike us, but humans also were seen as capable of a descent into beastly behavior—to the point that humans were in effect seen as no more than animals. Animals were also seen in the ancient world as propelled by external stimulation and habit, as are those humans who fail to transcend the fundamentally animal side of their nature.
In “Animals and Ethics in the History of Modern Philosophy,” Aaron Garrett examines the history of early modern philosophy, principally in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He explains why early modern philosophers and jurists seldom reflected deeply about animal life and why the arrival of a decent theory of animal rights in early modern philosophy was a remarkable development. He begins with the general background of rights theory as it was developing in political philosophy. He discusses why these conceptions were not fruitful in acknowledging that animals might have rights. He uses as an instructive example eighteenth-century experimentalist Robert Boyle and his thesis that there is a duty to experiment on animals. This study of Boyle leads Garrett to an explanation of the philosophical conceptions that prevented development of a theory of animal rights. He describes the steady movement toward both a rejection of Boyle's view and toward the view that we have moral duties to animals. Eventually, Garrett argues, this historical trend leads to the “invention” of animal rights at the hands of Scottish moral philosopher Francis Hutcheson. However, just as Hutcheson came to his anticipation of later theories of animal rights, the theoretical framework of natural law and natural rights on which Hutcheson had relied itself came under attack. Garrett also discusses how animal welfare concerns in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century produced some remarkable ideas about the interests and needs of animals that hastened the arrival of animal welfare legislation in Britain and Germany.
Part II. Types of Ethical Theory
The terms “ethical theory” and “moral philosophy” are typically used to refer to reflection on the nature and justification of moral rights, moral obligations, and standards of moral character. Philosophers use their theories to introduce clarity, substance, and precision of argument into the discussion of moral rightness and wrongness, the virtues, social justice, moral obligations, and the like. They attempt to justify moral standards or some moral point of view by reasoned analysis and argument.
(p. 7) Each chapter in part II contains reflection on moral problems about animals and our treatment of animals that descend from one or more prominent and influential types of ethical theory. Knowledge of these general theories is indispensable for reflective study in the ethics of our use of animals, because the field's literature frequently draws on the terminology, arguments, methods, and conclusions of these theories. Each chapter in part II provides an overview of the characteristic features of the type of theory under examination, often with an assessment of the theory's value for today's discussions of the human uses of animals.
Several types of theory are discussed: Kantian theory, virtue theory, Humean theory, rights theory, and capabilities theory. With the possible exception of capabilities theory, each of these types of theory has been developed and refined for at least two centuries of philosophical thought. It is safe to say that no one theory can at present be considered the received theory or the most popular theory. We are living through a period in philosophy in which there is no dominant theory.
Kantian Theory. In “Interacting with Animals: A Kantian Approach,” Christine Korsgaard discusses a theory that has often been called deontological (i.e., a theory that some features other than or in addition to consequences and good outcomes make actions obligatory), but now increasingly called Kantian because of its origins in the theory of Immanuel Kant. Korsgaard starts with a characterization of two ways in which differences between human beings and nonhuman animals might be drawn in moral theory: (1) thinking about what is good and (2) thinking about right and obligation. Two general types of argument have therefore been used by philosophers in their attempts either to justify or criticize our uses of animals: “First, there are arguments based on similarities or differences between the ways in which things can be good or bad for human beings and the ways in which they can be good or bad for the other animals. Second, there are arguments based on the grounds of right and obligation.” Korsgaard's concern is to attend to an argument of the second kind, in particular Kant's argument that we have no obligations to nonhuman animals, because obligation derives from a reciprocal relation among rational beings. Korsgaard argues the somewhat surprising theses that Kant's theory (or at least contemporary Kantian theory) can accommodate duties to other animals and that his theory can also show why we have these duties. She defends the view that “Kant's principle requires that when we enter into an interaction with another, we must act in a way that makes it possible for him to consent.” Since animals cannot give consent, we should adopt the norm that we should “interact with other animals as long as we do so in ways to which we think it is plausible to think they would consent if they could—that is, in ways that are mutually beneficial and fair, and allow them to live something reasonably like their own sort of life.” Using this approach, we can justify our uses of animals as companions, aides to the handicapped and the police, search-and-rescue workers, guards, and the like. We can perhaps also justify using animals as providers of wool, dairy products, or eggs, but it is not plausible to maintain that a nonhuman animal would consent to being killed before the end of a natural course of life in order to be eaten or in order to create food and the like, and it is implausible to hypothesize that an animal would consent to painful scientific experimentation.
(p. 8) Virtue Ethics. In “Virtue Ethics and the Treatment of Animals,” Rosalind Hursthouse considers a theory that most philosophers view as deriving historically from the work of the ancient Athenian-Macedonian philosopher Aristotle. Hursthouse shows how virtue ethics promotes the paradigm that we should think about moral rights and wrongs in our treatment of animals in terms of virtues and vices rather than in terms of consequences (as utilitarians do) or rights and duties (as Kantians do). She argues that two leaders in the field of ethics and animals, Peter Singer and Tom Regan, each implicitly picks out one virtue, but one virtue only—a too concentrated focus that renders their moral theories unsatisfactory. According to her virtue ethics theory, we ought to be thinking in terms of all of the virtues and vices pertinent to the moral problems that arise in human uses of nonhuman animals. She thinks that many theories have made this path difficult because of an undue focus on the concept of moral status. Hursthouse rejects this agenda and argues that virtue ethics has no need for the concept of moral status and that the quality of discussion in ethical theory would improve if we eliminated this notion from our discourse. Hursthouse is direct and blunt in her rejection of one of the mainstays of the literature on ethics and animals: “Moral status is a concept that moral philosophy is better off without.” Much of her argument is directed at showing why this concept is superfluous and why virtue ethics offers a superior approach. Virtue ethics does not need recourse to moral status because its “virtue- and vice-rules,” such as “do what is compassionate” and “do not do what is cruel,” direct persons to appropriate conduct without any need to discover to which groups these rules apply or what the moral status of the members of the group is.
Humean Theory. In “A Humean Account of the Status and Character of Animals,” Julia Driver presents a theory inspired by and rooted in the work of the Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume. Hume anticipated some features of Darwinian thinking about animal minds. In particular, Hume believed that when the term “understand” is used properly, animals can understand many features of the world. Hume attributed rationality, or at least the capacity to reason, to some animals, on grounds that these animals are significantly like humans in the principles of their nature, their patterns of learning, and their powers of inference. Driver interprets Hume to hold that animals resemble human beings both in a variety of behaviors and in critical aspects of their mental lives. She finds that these behavioral and psychological similarities form the basis of a Humean argument that animals have moral status, though she acknowledges that Hume is less interested in moral status questions and more interested in animal minds. Nonetheless, Driver argues that the Humean theories of animal character (a part of his theory of mental qualities) provides the basis for “an account of moral standing that acknowledges the moral considerability of animals as resting on a continuum with the considerability of human beings.” Driver interprets Hume to hold that animal species are spread out across a continuum of reason and emotion—a continuum constructed on the basis of the similarities and differences between human beings and animals. Chief among the Humean categories is that animals both reason and feel, which grounds the claim that we owe them moral consideration. Driver judges this continuum of (p. 9) rational and affective capabilities between animals and human beings to be among the most original, distinctive, and defensible aspects of Hume's theory. She also argues that even if Hume overlooks certain deficiencies that would prevent animals from having full moral agency—for example, that they lack the right sort of metacognitive state—this lack is insufficient to undermine claims that Humeans make about moral status and duties of humanity.
Utilitarian Theory. In “Utilitarianism and Animals,” R. G. Frey notes that, of all the traditional, mainstream ethical theories, none has been more disposed over the centuries to sympathetic consideration of the pains of animals than utilitarianism. By using a sentiency criterion of moral standing, Jeremy Bentham ensured that the pain and suffering of animals count in the moral calculus. Their pains confer on them moral considerability; and every utilitarian since Bentham has endorsed the sentiency criterion—to an extent that this criterion has become virtually identified with utilitarian approaches to the moral status of animals. Nonetheless, Frey does not maintain that a utilitarian, to be such, cannot provide a different account of the moral standing of animals, and Frey himself proposes such an atypical utilitarian account based on the comparative value of human life and animal life. Frey is concerned with why utilitarians up to the present day have accepted the sentiency criterion and yet almost routinely failed, with specificity, to include animals within the calculus of utility in their general moral philosophies. Bentham was the first to exhibit this shortcoming. Frey judges that in the last four decades, Peter Singer was the first utilitarian in the 1970s to take animals seriously, and Frey tries to show why a utilitarian can and should view Singer's theory as seriously deficient from the utilitarian point of view. Frey argues that the appeal to sentiency has limitations that go to the very core of debates about our use and abuse of animals. At that core, he argues, lies an unpalatable choice that a consistent utilitarian must face. Frey's theory is intended to make the choice transparent, and to do so in a nontraditional way.
Rights Theory. In “Rights Theory and Animal Rights,” Tom L. Beauchamp presents a theory of animal rights developed from basic categories in moral and political philosophy about the nature and sources of rights. Though he acknowledges the importance of historically influential rights doctrines, including John Locke's, Beauchamp concentrates on aspects of contemporary rights theory that are suited to the analysis and justification of animal rights. He argues that rights are justified claims that individuals, groups, and institutions can press upon others or upon society. If an individual or group possesses a right, others are validly constrained from interfering with the exercise of that right. “Animal rights” in this way give an animal or group of animals valid claims against the harm-causing activities of humans. Beauchamp defends the claim that animals have rights, but he does not treat these rights in terms of the remarkably strong protections of animal interests found in some leading theories of animal rights, namely those that prohibit most of the ways in which humans use animals. Beauchamp nonetheless proposes a robust theory of animal rights that would significantly alter many current practices. A critical part of his argument is that there is a firm correlativity between rights and obligations: all rights entail obligations and all obligations entail rights. Therefore, (p. 10) if we have any obligations at all to animals (e.g., an obligation to feed a farm animal, an obligation to provide exercise opportunities for zoo animals, and the like), they have correlative rights. Finally, Beauchamp uses his theory to generate what he calls a catalogue of the rights of animals.
Capabilities Theory. In “The Capabilities Approach and Animal Entitlements,” Martha Nussbaum begins with a sketch of our current knowledge about animal thinking. She inquires into what this knowledge suggests for ethics and for public policy. She finds that it challenges what has been the most influential approach to the ethics of animal treatment, namely classical utilitarianism. After rejecting this theory, she proposes a theoretical approach that has two nonutilitarian elements as centerpieces. First, the approach has a Kantian element—”a fundamental ethical starting point [stressing] that we must respect each individual sentient being as an end in itself, not a mere means to the ends of others.” Nussbaum regards this demand as an extension of Kant's approach to human beings, so that we can make it work for animals. Second, the approach has a neo-Aristotelian, capabilities-theory element: “the Aristotelian idea that each creature has a characteristic set of capabilities, or capacities for functioning, distinctive of that species, and that those more rudimentary capacities need support from the material and social environment if the animal is to flourish in its characteristic way.” If we combine the Aristotelian view with the Kantian element, Nussbaum argues that we can justify the claim that we are obligated to respect sentient creatures as ends. Treating an animal as an end requires (negatively) not obstructing the animal's attempts at flourishing through acts of violence or cruelty and also requires (positively) support of efforts to flourish. Nussbaum believes that this theory can, over time, become the basis for an overlapping consensus in ethics among those who differ on many other moral matters. She thinks that “even an ethical Utilitarian can accept political principles based on neo-Kantian or (related) neo-Aristotelian insights,” once they are properly articulated.
Part III. Moral Status and Person Theory
Intelligence and adaptation in animals seem incomprehensible unless we attribute to them some form of understanding, intention, imaginativeness, or skill of communication. To attribute these capacities to animals is to credit them with capacities analogous to human capacities, an assessment that many philosophers find merited. They also think this assessment supports the view that many animals have some degree of moral status in the sense of a grade or rank of moral importance.
In Western history, animals have typically been treated as having, at best, only a low-level moral standing or status—and perhaps no moral status at all. If the latter view were correct, then humans owe nothing to animals and can do with animals as they wish. But this claim has been challenged in recent philosophical accounts that (p. 11) recognize animals as having a significant level of moral status. This commitment need not mean, however, that animals have rights or some similarly elevated form of moral protection. Here we enter disputed territory.
To navigate this territory, one needs a solid starting point that does not beg the central questions about moral status. That there is such a neutral starting point has been difficult to show. One problem is that there are several attractive starting points, and no decisive reason to start from one rather than another. For example, the following is one general and attractive place where we might start: moral status turns on whether a creature is an experiential subject with an unfolding series of experiences that can make that creature's life go well or badly. Such a creature has a welfare that can be positively or negatively affected by what we do or do not do to it. Rodents, dogs, and chimps are such subjects, each with a welfare and quality of life that our actions can cause to go up or down. If one accepts this view as a solid and acceptable starting point, then it is not difficult to identify some of the central concepts and norms in need of development and defense in a general theory of moral status. For example, a defense of this point of view presumably should start by carefully analyzing the notions of “welfare” and “quality of life.”
Another attractive starting point is the view that the more an animal is like a human being in those qualities that capture the essence of humanity, the more the animal's moral status is upgraded. Its status would be still further enhanced if it could correctly be said that the animal has either personhood or autonomy, or both. A category such as “person” or “autonomous agent” seems to elevate the animal to a position approximating that occupied by individuals who have human rights. Not surprisingly, then, person theory plays a vital role in several contributions here in part III.
The mainstream approach to the question of which kinds of entity deserve a significant moral status has been to ask which properties an entity must possess in order to qualify for moral protection. Some say that there is one and only one property that confers moral status. For example, some say that this property is rationality, understood as a certain kind of cognitive capacity. Others say that another property or perhaps several other properties are required in order to reach a significant level of moral status—for example, properties of sentience or properties of moral agency. These different views about the relevant properties and capacities have left philosophers at odds about which theory of moral status is the best theory. Every selection in part III of this Handbook deals with some aspect of these moral and conceptual problems.
Finally, although most theories about the ethics of using animals have relied heavily on the concept of moral status, these theories have proved difficult to apply to many practical problems. It could be that the objective in theories of moral status of showing which creatures matter morally may not be as fruitful in advancing practical (by contrast to theoretical) issues of how animals should be treated. Perhaps we do not need any kind of account of moral status in order to address the moral problems. This issue is considered primarily in section VI below—and in the chapter by Hursthouse in part II.
(p. 12) In “The Idea of Moral Standing,” Christopher W. Morris investigates the idea of moral status for nonhuman animals and how that status compares to the moral status of most humans. He also considers whether some artifacts and natural objects have a significant moral status. He finds much of the philosophical literature confusing, so he starts anew with an innovative distinction between the notion of status and that of standing. He regards standing as a special status that humans and perhaps a limited number of other beings have. Morris takes the idea of “duties to” other beings as critical for his account of moral status. He thinks that something has moral standing if it is owed any moral consideration or duty whatever. He notes that “very few people doubt that we have some duties regarding non-human animals, but there is a major controversy as to whether we have any direct duties to any animals.” This issue is critical for Morris, who is tempted to use a conventionalist or constructivist account of justice to support his theory. However, he thinks that this understanding of moral standing does not provide an adequate account by itself. He argues that moral standing turns on obligations owed to a being, such that it is wronged when these obligations are disregarded. Certain duties of charity and benevolence, in particular, require us to aid animals for their own sake, not that of another.
In “Animals, Fundamental Moral Standing, and Speciesism,” David Copp considers whether we have moral duties that are owed directly to the animals, or whether all duties regarding animals are derivative from duties we have to human beings. Copp maintains that we do have moral duties directly toward nonhuman animals, not merely duties regarding them, and that this claim can be adequately grounded in what he calls the thesis of the fundamental standing of animals (which basically means that we have morally fundamental duties to treat nonhuman animals decently). Nonetheless, Copp finds that the thesis of the fundamental standing of animals is in tension with a very different and intuitively plausible thesis that Copp calls the thesis of the fundamental concern of morality: morality is fundamentally concerned with advancing human welfare by enabling human beings to live together successfully in societies. The problem is that these two theses seem to be in conflict generally and in direct conflict in many circumstances. Copp argues that, despite the appearance of direct conflict, the two theses can be shown to be compatible; even the apparent “speciesism” of the second thesis is compatible with recognizing the fundamental standing of animals. The key to their compatibility is to understand the second thesis as about the nature of morality (a non-normative conceptual claim), whereas the thesis of the fundamental standing of animals is a normative moral claim. In short, the normative thesis that we have morally basic duties to animals is compatible with the metaethical claim that morality is fundamentally concerned to advance human welfare by enabling humans to live cooperatively together in societies. Copp adds that an appropriately structured society-centered conception of morality supports the thesis that there are morally fundamental requirements as to how animals should be treated. He offers the attention-getting thesis that “the content of our fundamental duties depends on facts about human psychology and the circumstances of human life. These facts plausibly imply that (p. 13) our obligations to treat animals decently are as fundamental as any of our obligations toward human beings.”
In “Human Animals and Nonhuman Persons,” Sarah Chan and John Harris start with the assumption that the term “person” in the everyday sense is generally taken to be synonymous with the term “human,” whereas philosophers tend to use the word “person” in the more abstract sense of “those entities who possess a particular moral status and about whom particular moral claims may be made on the basis of that status.” They note that the close association commonly made between the two concepts “human” and “person” produces the widely accepted view that humans are the most important type of creature to whom moral status is accorded, while downgrading nonhuman creatures from consideration as persons and as having moral status. But can such a view be justified? Chan and Harris consider whether a nonhuman animal or any other entity could, under certain specifiable conditions, be a person. They approach this subject through personhood theory and why certain attributes are thought so important to being a person. They then inquire what this account requires of nonhuman animals in order to be deemed persons. They next explore the implications of nonhuman animal personhood—politically, legally, and philosophically. They argue for a conception of personhood that deemphasizes the importance of “being human.” They think that the question we should be asking, including about future generations of humans (perhaps also post-humans) is not whether they will still be human but whether they qualify as persons. In this way the concept of persons becomes the critical conceptual and moral issue surrounding problems of moral status, thereby lowering the importance of all species designations.
In “Are Nonhuman Animals Persons?” Michael Tooley likewise thinks of the concept of persons as the central issue in moral status debates. He finds questions about whether members of one or more nonhuman species of animals are persons among the most difficult philosophical questions we face today. He locates the difficulty in two sources: (1) how the concept of a person should be analyzed, especially the properties that give an entity a right to continued existence; and (2) how to determine which psychological capacities and which forms of mental life adult members of nonhuman species have. Tooley's concern is primarily with the first of these sources and issues. He begins by attempting to capture a purely descriptive, non-normative sense of “person” that is appropriate to the formulation of a fundamental moral principle concerning when the destruction of something is wrong. He argues that the fact that something is a continuing subject of experiences and has mental states that are psychologically connected over time is crucial to creatures having moral status and having a right to continued existence. Tooley then considers four leading arguments that have been offered by philosophers in support of the view that nonhuman animals do not have moral status: (1) contractarian approaches; (2) moral agency approaches; (3) approaches based on an absence of beliefs, desires, and thoughts; and (4) self-consciousness approaches. Tooley finds the first three theories generally unsuccessful, though variants of the third and fourth he finds difficult to evaluate. Tooley then examines three arguments in support of the view (p. 14) that nonhuman animals do have rights: (1) mere consciousness is sufficient to give something moral status (or at least sentience warrants moral status); (2) being a subject-of-a-life gives higher animals critical rights; and (3) imagistic thoughts of the right sort provide a sufficient basis for moral status. Tooley finds these arguments unsuccessful. In the end Tooley reaches the following firm and yet contingent conclusion: “On the one hand, if the idea of thinking that involves only images, and no use of language, is untenable, then very few non human animals are persons, or have a right to continued existence, or have moral status. On the other hand, if imagistic thinking is logically possible, these issues are very much open, and much further philosophical reflection is called for, though I am inclined to suspect that, in the end, the conclusion may not be all that different.” This leaves the moral status of animals somewhat dependent upon what we learn through further study of the nature of the thought of animals.
Part IV. Animal Minds and Their Moral Significance
It has often been said in the literature on person theory that an individual is a person if and only if the individual possesses one or more of the cognitive properties mentioned previously. The term “cognition” here refers to processes of awareness and knowledge, such as perception, memory, thinking, and linguistic ability. In these theories the possession of these properties, above all other properties, elevates a being's moral standing. As a corollary, anything lacking these properties lacks moral standing. In these accounts there is a clear connection between having a type of mind and being morally significant. The hypothesis is that if animals lack some critical form of cognitive capacity, they lack significant moral status.
Critics of theories that make cognitive properties central take one of two alternative approaches. The first is to argue that some nonhuman animals in fact do have significant cognitive capacities, whereas the second is to argue that some animals have noncognitive mental capacities that are sufficient to confer some measure of moral status. The most frequently invoked properties in the second approach are those of sensation—especially pain and suffering—but also mentioned are properties of emotion, such as fear and anger. These two approaches are not mutually exclusive, and indeed can in principle be used together to present a very strong case for a high level of moral status for animals such as the great apes. Combining the two yields the view that animals have both morally relevant cognitive capacities such as intelligence and morally relevant noncognitive mental capacities such as experiencing pain and suffering—and that these two conditions are jointly sufficient to confer a high level of moral status.
A range of problems about how to understand animal minds is at the root of these moral problems. Most observers of animal behavior today agree that many (p. 15) animals have significant capacities to understand (which does not imply that they have a capacity to understand propositions in a language) and have developed complicated, sometimes elaborate forms of social interaction and communication. Little agreement exists, however, about the levels and types of mental activity or about their ethical significance. Humans understand relatively little about the inner lives of animals, or about how to connect many forms of observable behavior with other forms of behavior. Even the best scientists and the closest observers of animal species have difficulty understanding intention, communication, and emotion in animals. Attributions of emotion, intention, and the like have been criticized by some as an unscientific abandonment of critical standards and precise measurements, as well as an importing of an unsupported anthropomorphism.
It is not surprising that our ability to penetrate animal minds has proven profoundly difficult. Neither evolutionary descent nor the physical and functional organization of an animal system (the conditions responsible for its having a mental life) gives us the depth of insight we would like to have in understanding animal mentality. We also have only a weak idea of what constitutes a minimal mind in a creature. Some living creatures seem literally to have no mind. The more we are in doubt about an animal's mental life, including whether it has one, the more we are likely to have doubts about its moral status, and therefore about whether it has rights. If a theory requires high-level mental abilities in order to qualify for moral status, very few if any nonhuman animals will qualify, but if less demanding cognitive capacities are employed, animals might acquire a significant range of moral protections. For example, if a high-level qualifying condition such as speaking a human language is not required and conditions such as intention and intelligence are substituted, then many animals may have a significant moral standing.
These questions have played a role in the history of philosophy mentioned in part I. We can reach back to the classical philosophers, including Aristotle, who held that animals have intelligent minds, but lack reason, a defect regarded as sufficient to exclude them from the moral community. Other philosophers, among them David Hume, held that animals have both mind and reason and may have moral emotions, but still lack capacities of moral judgment and agency. Finally, some philosophers, including René Descartes, assess animals as lacking all mental capacity—all feeling and even consciousness. Descartes suggests that animals, being devoid of minds, are like plants. His views are still frequently discussed in literature on animals and ethics, and his theories find their way into some of the chapters here in part IV.
The term “morality” is often used to refer to learnable standards of right and wrong conduct that are widely shared so that there is a secure communal consensus. Many have thought that we can find morality in analogous ways in some parts of the animal world. Here we would have moral animal minds. Clearly some animals live in communities that require conformity to basic norms of communal life, much as human communities do, but whether there is good evidence of real morality in nonhuman animals is highly controversial. Some observers believe that it is little more than human fantasy to suppose that animals act morally, but other observers find close similarities between the behavior of humans and nonhuman (p. 16) animals—for example, in altruistic behavior. These theses are examined in the last two chapters in part IV.
In “Animal Mentality: Its Character, Extent, and Moral Significance,” Peter Carruthers continues the discussion of whether animals possess moral standing, which he understands to be the question of whether they are deserving of our sympathy and concern and whether they possess moral rights. Carruthers thinks that the question of moral rights should receive a negative answer, even though he believes firmly in the evolutionary and cognitive continuities between humans and other animals. The first half of his chapter argues that pain and suffering of a great many animals do appropriately make them objects of sympathy, and it shows that they have minds with structures often similar to those of humans. He thinks that some moral theories are therefore forced to the conclusion that all such creatures thereby gain moral standing, a view Carruthers finds indefensible. He also judges that those philosophers who require extremely demanding conditions of consciousness, rationality, or spoken language as conditions of our moral concern for animals are making excessive and indefensible demands. His assessment is that a great many animals are genuinely agents with a perception-belief-desire psychology and with goals that can be frustrated. It follows that these animals are properly the objects of sympathy and concern. However, in the final half of his chapter Carruthers turns to a defense of a contractualist perspective, which is that all humans, and probably no other animals, possess moral standing. He acknowledges that this position seems counterintuitive, but he thinks the problem goes away once we see that we can still have indirect duties towards animals. From his contractualist perspective, morality is the outcome of an idealized contract among agents who can then constrain and guide their relations with others. The upshot is that, at Carruthers’ hands, almost all humans, and no other animals, possess what really should be meant by moral standing.
In “Mindreading and Moral Significance in Nonhuman Animals,” José Luis Bermúdez starts with the current state of the discussions about the moral significance of nonhuman animals and the basic capacities that have been stressed in the leading theories: sentience, basic forms of consciousness, animals’ capacity for making long- or short-range plans, self-awareness, and the like. The goal of his chapter is “to extend the territory of this debate by exploring the moral significance of what researchers in cognitive science, developmental psychology, and comparative psychology term mindreading—that is, the ability to understand the mental states of others.” His work is almost entirely centered on mindreading as a cognitive ability that intersects with the basic capacities put forward in theories of moral status. He thinks we have much to learn from empirical studies of both nonhuman animals and human children. Bermúdez is not primarily working as a moral philosopher. His main aim is to make it easier for moral philosophers to incorporate experimental and ethological work on mindreading into their discussions of moral significance. He does so by presenting and analyzing the relevant experimental results and observational data, and then by drawing taxonomical distinctions that are relevant to our thinking about moral significance. One central argument is that propositional attitude mindreading is language-dependent, because it involves metarepresentation. (p. 17) After reviewing experimental findings on mindreading in primates, he tries to show that the data can be interpreted without assuming that the mindreaders are engaged in propositional attitude mindreading. However, his claim is not that primates have no capacity of mindreading. They can enter into basic mindreading and sophisticated forms of social cognition that do not involve attributing propositional attitudes. “Nonlinguistic mindreading,” Bermúdez concludes, “is a powerful tool in the animal kingdom.”
In “Minimal Minds,” Bryce Huebner starts out by observing that we often speak in a loose manner as if beings all the way down to viruses have something like beliefs, desires, and intentions. Even some scientific discourse suggests desires, wants, and objectives in very low-level beings. Huebner sets aside these ways of speaking to see how far down the chain of being there might be true mentality—minimal mindedness. In the case of viruses and many kinds of beings, Huebner argues that it is unlikely that they have the computational and representational capacities necessary for cognitive states or cognitive processes. They are much more like “complex biological robots.” Nonetheless, profound theoretical issues confront attempts to provide a general strategy for distinguishing mentality from witless and mechanical behavior. Huebner tries to establish the minimal conditions. He argues that the explanatory resources provided by contemporary cognitive science provide compelling reasons for thinking that even invertebrates such as cockroaches, termites, and honeybees possess genuine cognitive capacities. Huebner recognizes that many may be skeptical of this claim, but he supports the idea that invertebrates possess minimal minds in two ways. First, he argues that minimal mindedness can be realized without linguistic representations, so that minimal cognitive states and processes need not be beliefs or desires—and are unlikely to be so in invertebrates. Second, he argues that the evidence for invertebrate mindedness warrants the extraordinarily unusual and underexplored theses that some collective behaviors are best explained in terms of collective mental states and processes. Put another way, if invertebrates have minimal minds, then so do some groups of invertebrates have a mind. Even if this conclusion can be supported, Huebner notes, we would still face ethical questions about the kinds of minds that have moral status and warrant our compassion.
In “Beyond Anthropomorphism: Attributing Psychological Properties to Animals,” Kristin Andrews discusses “anthropomorphism” in the sense of the attribution of uniquely human mental characteristics to nonhuman animals. One philosophical problem is to figure out how we can identify which properties are uniquely human. Humans and nonhuman animals share a vast number of biological, morphological, relational, and spatial properties—as well as psychological properties such as the ability to fear or desire. Andrews maintains that one goal of animal-cognition studies is to determine which cognitive abilities animals use and whether some identifiable cognitive properties are found only in the human species. If the properties are uniquely human, then asserting that some other animal has that property would be false and an example of anthropomorphism. In the empirical and the philosophical literatures, features that have been described as uniquely human include psychological states such as beliefs and desires, personality traits such as (p. 18) confidence or timidity, emotions such as happiness or anger, social-organizational properties such as culture or friendship, and moral behavior such as punishment or rape. But are these in fact uniquely human “psychological properties”? Several connected questions arise: first, is it scientifically respectable to claim to be able to examine questions about the mental, psychological, cultural, and other states of animals? Andrews argues that there is no insurmountable problem in asking and answering such questions. Second, questions surround how investigation into these questions is to be conducted. Andrews proposes that we use an approach to animals based on parallel assessments of prelinguistic children. A specific psychological attribution will be warranted if it takes into account the species and cultural-normal behavior, it has predictive power, and it mirrors the attribution of a similar property in prelinguistic infants. Andrews does not maintain that nonhumans are limited to psychological properties of human infants, but she does maintain that this general approach, modified to be species appropriate, can productively be used in the study of animal psychology. She also argues that there remain many dangers of false attributions of psychological properties to nonhuman animals.
In “Animal Pain and Welfare: Can Pain Sometimes Be Worse for Them Than for Us?” Sahar Akhtar probes the widely held view in philosophy and the biological sciences that the amount and ways in which a nonhuman animal can experience pain, by comparison to the human animal, is limited to the feeling of physical pain. The justification for this view is often said to be that animals are less cognitively sophisticated than humans because they lack awareness of self and a sense of the past and the future. If pain is inflicted on animals, it is thought that, while animals may be able to feel the pain itself, they are not capable of the higher order suffering that may accompany the feeling of pain in humans. This view suggests that pain for animals is not as bad as pain is for us. Akhtar presents a notably different approach to the understanding of animal pain. She uses welfare analysis and decision-making frameworks to argue that pain may be worse for animals than the comparable amount of pain is for humans. She hypothesizes that pain may not always play a significant role in human welfare both because the intensity of pain can often be mitigated through expectations, memories, and the consideration of and attention to other interests and because humans are able to engage in calculations about their interests, so that they can discount pain in order to achieve longer term interests.
In “Animals that Act for Moral Reasons,” Mark Rowlands argues that some animals are moral subjects in the sense that they can be, and sometimes are, motivated by moral considerations. Although tradition has it that animals in many well-known scenarios are not acting compassionately, Rowlands challenges the claim. He notes that it does not follow from such claims that we have no reason to think that animals cannot be morally evaluated for what they do. Rowlands argues that there are no empirical or conceptual obstacles to regarding some animals as motivated by moral concerns. To suppose otherwise, he thinks, is to fall victim to certain views that invest quasi-magical properties in “meta-cognition”—properties that afford humans a status of a sort possessed by no other beings. Perhaps these animals cannot self-reflect and scrutinize their motivations and cannot ask themselves (p. 19) whether they are engaging in appropriate responses or whether what they are doing is something that they should or ought to be doing. Perhaps they are only pushed this way and that by their sentiments. But Rowlands strongly resists these perspectives. He thinks that the sentiments of animals can be genuinely moral ones and that there are no compelling reasons to suppose that these animals are not moral subjects that can be morally evaluated—even if they cannot be moral agents.
In “The Moral Life of Animals,” Michael Bradie raises two main questions: “Do non human animals have minds?” and “What implications, if any, does the answer have for their moral status?” Bradie argues that a former tide against animal mentality and moral status has changed over the past 150 years, leading us to our present muddled set of opinions. He thinks that the prevailing opinion now is that the question “What determines mental status?” is likely to determine the answer to the question “What determines moral status?” This situation drives philosophers to be concerned about numerous questions about animal minds. Do animals have qualitative, internal experiences? What do we mean by attributing a “mental life” to anything? It is widely agreed that animals communicate with each other, but not widely agreed that animals possess a language relevantly comparable to human languages. Bradie argues that several lines of empirical evidence now support the claim that animals possess enough mindedness to count as moral patients or partial members of a moral community. On some views there is even sufficient evidence to count animals as moral agents and full members of a moral community. He thinks that evolutionary evidence supports the claim that there are no significant qualitative differences between humans and other animals. For example, neuro-physiological evidence supports this conclusion insofar as homologous brain structures and systems implicated in the cognitive and affective capacities of human beings are widespread in the animal kingdom. Also, evidence from cognitive ethology indicates that many animals possess the neural architecture necessary for sophisticated cognitive and affective behavior, and that they manifest moral sensibility. Despite what critics say, Bradie thinks that the default presumption ought to be that animals experience emotions and act on moral sentiments, properly understood. His assessment is that the burden of proof is on those who reject the attribution of cognitive and emotional states, as well as moral sensibilities, to animals. Bradie reaches this conclusion: “[h]uman beings are one among the animals [and] from this, human cognitive capacities are one among the cognitive capacities of animals. Finally, human moral systems are one among the moral systems of animals.”
Part V. Species and the Engineering of Species
Prior to the work of Charles Darwin, many biologists and philosophers argued that some of the above-discussed problems about moral status and cognitive capacities (p. 20) are resolvable in terms of critical dissimilarities between the human species and other species—primarily differences of reason, speech, and moral sensibility. Darwin thought that animals often exhibit considerable powers of deliberation and decision-making, excellent memories, and imagination in their actions He wrote about the intelligence, sympathy, pride, and love found in many animals. Darwin criticized the hypothesis that only humans have significant cognitive powers. In general, Darwin was suspicious of the ways in which members of the human species distance themselves from the members of other species, without carefully examining the empirical evidence.
Darwin assessed the idea of species through the lens of his evolutionary biology rather than in terms of rigid and fixed differences between species. In The Descent of Man, he catalogued numerous similarities in mental ability between humans and apes. He then argued that despite “enormous differences” in degree of “mental power,” no fundamental difference exists in kind between humans and many forms of animal life. The differences are in degree. The nonhuman apes are highly intelligent, similar to humans in emotional responses such as terror, rage, shame, and maternal affection, similar in character traits such as courage and timidity, and even similar in the use of systems of communication that approximate human language and human conceptual abstraction. Like some contemporary thinkers, Darwin proposed multiple levels of mentation that are shared across species, from basic pain receptors to intentionality.
This continuity-across-many-species model can coexist with what might be called a continuity-across-individual-species model. The latter holds that nature does not divide sharply into biological species in the sense that the members of each species all share some property or set of properties (so-called species essentialism). If “dog” is a species, it may not be the case that all members of the species share some property or properties of dogness. There may only be family-resemblance-like properties. This point can be generalized to the conclusion that there are no sharp or absolute species divisions in nature: A species is merely a group of individuals who interbreed. Across the population, they may share no defining property. Unlike dog shows where judges try to find the best representative of the animals on display, the species non-essentialist says that there is no paradigm dog and no perfect member of any species. Occasionally some group of the members of a single “species” becomes isolated from other members, and, when the path of evolution is subsequently cut, the two groups become two different species; and yet they may still have many properties in common.
In light of the evolution and disappearance of species, questions arise about whether we have general duties of species preservation, especially when humans cause the disappearance. Environmental ethics has brought a diverse array of concerns about ecosystems and with these concerns has come the idea that there is a general duty to preserve species. But do we have a duty of species preservation? If so, what is the basis of this duty? Sometimes, goals of species preservation come into conflict with goals of protecting the interests of other animals. It seems unreasonable to propose that species preservation always merits the highest priority. Even if (p. 21) an obligation of species preservation is stringent, it will not be strong enough to prevail in all circumstances of conflict with other obligations. Moreover, it is doubtful that there are any moral obligations of species preservation merely because a species would be preserved (by contrast to preserving species because they have some instrumental value). Perhaps, then, there are no general duties of this description. Several problems of this sort are considered in part V.
Another widely discussed moral problem about species and our preference(s) for certain species is labeled “speciesism.” A speciesist is one who believes that the interests of members of one or more particular species, usually the species Homo sapiens, are to be favored over the interests of the members of other species. Species membership therefore is a factor in determining whether a creature has a high or a low level of moral status. The term “speciesism” is often used pejoratively and by analogy to racism and sexism. In this usage, speciesism represents an improper failure to respect the lives and rights of animals merely because they are other than human. Speciesism in this sense is the name of a form of bias or discrimination on the basis of species; that is, it takes the sheer biological fact that baboons and humans, for example, belong to different species as a reason to draw moral differences between them. But just as gender, race, IQ, accent, national origin, and social status are not relevant properties in morals, neither is species. Species membership, according to critics of speciesism, should not be a factor in making moral judgments. It is not the species, but certain qualities that make an animal morally considerable.
However, speciesism need not be understood in this pejorative manner. Some speciesists willingly, and even enthusiastically, accept the label speciesism. They declare themselves speciesist, meaning that they place a priority on moral relationships with members of the human species because they are human. They point out that humans have a natural feeling of kinship and closeness with members of their own species, just as some human family members feel closer to other family members and just as many animals strongly prefer to associate with members of their species and to have nothing to do with others. Such natural feelings create stronger obligations to members of the relevant group—the family, on the one hand, and the preferred species on the other. Another defense of speciesism is that certain properties associated with the human species—in particular, the cognitive properties discussed previously—give humans a special moral status; it is not species membership alone that justifies special treatment for humans. From this perspective, pro-speciesists maintain that it just so happens that those who possess these special properties are of one and only one species.
Finally, among the most compelling scientific developments in recent years is the human creation of genetically modified animals that have been engineered for certain human purposes. We can now alter animals and create new life forms—new species—in extraordinary ways. These may be transgenic animals, hybrids, or chimeras. A newly created animal could be in large part a human being—part-human and part-animal. But how adequate are our modes of ethical inquiry and oversight to deal with these scientific developments? Do we need more demanding strategies (p. 22) of ethical evaluation? The final two contributors in part V explore these frontier issues.
In “On the Origin of Species Notions and Their Ethical Limitations,” Mark Greene probes the difference between the concerns we have about using individual animals, such as laboratory animals, and the concerns found in environmental ethics, which focus not on individual beings but on entities such as ecosystems, the wilderness, or even the whole biosphere. A concern that cuts across environmental ethics and ethical issues about animals is whether we have a duty to preserve species, most notably those threatened by human activities. Greene's objective is to critically examine the thesis that species themselves, not merely individuals of the species, have morally considerable value—that is, moral status. Greene thinks it is fairly easy to figure out why a species would have instrumental value because of the contributions it makes to other things of value, such as the contributions made to human well-being. Dogs and farm animals might be so viewed. However, this strategy can ground only limited and contingent duties of species preservation, and only for species that make such an instrumental contribution. Greene thinks that once defenders of species preservation have realized that their arguments are entirely contingent on whether animal species make contributions to humans, the defenders of a general duty of species preservation will want to dig in and argue that species must have non-derivative value in their own right. Greene finds this strategy implausible. He thinks that evolutionary biology calls into question the intelligibility of defending the non-derivative value of species. The main lines of Greene's argument are these: because “(1) a general duty of species preservation requires that species have non-derivative value and (2) species lack non-derivative value, it follows that (3) there is no general duty of species preservation.”
In “On the Nature of Species and the Moral Significance of their Extinction,” Russell Powell begins by noting that in the history of life, every species up to presently existing species has become extinct. Complex life itself has been on the brink of annihilation at various points in the evolutionary process. Over time species do not seem to get better at not going extinct. Except for certain accidents of history, even mammals might still be small creatures struggling to survive under challenge by dinosaurs. Powell's problem, given this history, is whether we should regard the causing or the permitting of the extinction of species as a bad outcome to be avoided. Like Greene, Powell queries the intuition that species qua species have moral value. He sees difficulties in justifying this view, and he asks whether it can be made robust enough to structure an ethical framework that might appropriately influence public policy. Powell thinks that so-called common-sense intuitions about these matters are not trustworthy and often do not hold up to theoretical scrutiny. Using the evolutionary and ecological sciences, Powell takes the currently received view—and the one he supports—to be that species should be analyzed in terms of individual lineages and not as atemporal natural kinds. Regarding species in this way will have critical implications for the value that we place on species. Powell then argues, like Greene, that a species does not have the properties that make for intrinsic moral value, but only for instrumental value. He then considers whether there is a morally (p. 23) important difference between human-caused extinctions and those that result from “natural” evolutionary processes. He argues that the degree of “badness” that occurs because a culpable moral agent was involved in the process is minimal, and thus should not affect our conservation priorities or obligations, which are themselves the most important matter.
In “Are All Species Equal?” David Schmidtz considers the defensibility of what he calls “species egalitarianism”—the position that all living things have equal moral standing and therefore all species command our respect. Schmidtz challenges the view that there are good reasons to believe that all living things have moral standing in even a minimal sense. Schmidtz explains why members of other species understandably and justifiably command our respect, but also why they cannot command equal respect. He thinks we can adequately respect species without embracing species egalitarianism. For example, we can hold with most vegetarians that it is worse to kill a cow than to kill a carrot, but we cannot hold this view consistent with true species egalitarianism. Schmidtz thinks that if we treat a chimpanzee no better than we would treat a carrot, we exhibit a failure of respect, not an instance of respect. He argues that we can agree that trees and chimpanzees share equally in the value we place on being a living and flourishing being, but this value cannot support the thesis that trees and chimpanzees have equal value. Schmidtz also argues that there is reason to doubt that species egalitarianism is compatible with true respect for nature. The theory improperly suggests that the moral standing of dolphins is no higher than that of tuna, and that the standing of chimpanzees is no higher than that of mice. Such a view does not give dolphins and chimpanzees the respect they deserve. From this perspective, “species egalitarianism not only takes humans down a notch. It takes down dolphins, chimpanzees, and redwoods, too. It takes down any species we regard as special.”
In “Genetically Modified Animals: Should There Be Limits to Engineering the Animal Kingdom?” Julian Savulescu considers the extraordinary ways in which it is now possible to alter animals and to create new life forms by transgenesis and by the creation of hybrids and chimeras. Transgenic animals are created by transferring genes from one species to another. Hybrids are created by mixing the sperm of one species with the ovum of another. Chimeras are created by mixing cells from the embryo of one animal with those of a different species. In each case, one source of an animal so engineered could be a human being, that is, scientists could use the genes, gametes, or embryonic cells from a human to create an animal with human genes or a human-animal hybrid or chimera. Savulescu uses the term “genetically modified animals,” or GMAs, to refer to these transgenic animals, hybrids, and chimeras. Our capacity to create these novel life forms suggests that as biotechnology progresses, the power to use these life forms will increase. He questions the adequacy of the ethics we currently have in place to exert proper control over and evaluate the creation of GMAs. Savulescu argues for three theses: (1) There should not be an overall general normative evaluation of the acceptability or unacceptability of the creation of GMAs; instead, we should evaluate proposals and new developments on a case-by-case basis. (2) We need richer strategies of ethical evaluation of technology (p. 24) than we now possess. (3) There are no good arguments against the creation of GMAs in general, though there may be such arguments in particular cases.
In “Human/Nonhuman Chimeras: Assessing the Issues,” Henry T. Greely picks up on one area of the problems Savulescu mentions: human/non human chimeras. The term “chimera” has many meanings, but Greely's concern is restricted to living organisms that have, as part of their bodies, some living tissues, organs, or structures of human origin and some of nonhuman origin. Greely confines his analysis to creatures that are, or are viewed as, nonhuman creatures to which human tissues are added. His concern is with the ethical arguments made or implied about—generally against—human/nonhuman chimeras. He points out that most of the discussion took off from scientific study of the Human Neuron Mouse and focused on nonhuman creatures with “humanized” brains. He then describes the arguments and policies that have developed in regard to human/nonhuman chimeras, followed by a discussion of three particularly sensitive types of chimeras. Overall, Greely proposes that we take a pragmatic view about most of the scientific possibilities and the most sensitive types and uses of human/nonhuman chimeras. These developments can be used to create important human knowledge and medical treatments, but they need to be employed only for such good reasons, always being mindful of the evil purposes to which they might be put and the possible negative social reactions. In his conclusion, Greely points out that the Human Neuron Mouse that started much of this discussion still remains not born, but the idea of creating it is still not dead, which may be “for better or for worse.”
Part VI. Practical Ethics
The term “applied ethics” and its near synonym “practical ethics” came into use in the 1970s when philosophers and other academics started to address pressing moral problems in society and in professional ethics. They almost from the start used ethical theory and political philosophy in their work. At the time philosophers seemed to say that they were putting theory to practical work by “applying” theories. Concentrated work of this sort began first in medical ethics, then quickly spread to business ethics, and then on to ethical issues regarding animals. Factory farms and animal subjects in biomedical research were widely discussed subjects in the early stages of interest in animals, and ethical theories were soon brought to bear on such problems.
Although moral philosophers have long discussed various questions about animals, it is arguably the case that no major philosopher throughout the history of moral philosophy developed a program of, or a method for, what is today called practical ethics. Moral philosophers traditionally formulated theories of the right, the good, and the virtuous set out in the most general terms, but a practical price is paid for theoretical generality: it is usually hazy whether and, if so, how a general (p. 25) theory is to be applied to quite concrete problems in order to generate public policy, settle moral dilemmas, and reduce social conflict and controversy. Many have thought that practical ethics is a “field” or “method” that can fill this gap, and ought to fill it, though many have also pointed out that some of the best pieces of work in practical ethics use arguments aimed directly at pressing and emerging moral problems, with relatively little actual reliance on a general ethical theory.
“Practical ethics” and “applied ethics” are today employed in philosophy to refer to the use of a mixture of philosophical methods and theories to deliberate about moral problems, practices, and policies in professions, institutions, and public policy. Reasoned argument is used to reach policy proposals and practical solutions. The chapters in part VI largely grow out of this conception. This practical commitment makes these chapters notably different in aim and in use of theory than the chapters in part II, which concentrate more on the theoretical side than on the practical side. Nonetheless, the actual differences between theoretical ethics and practical ethics may turn out to be more a matter of the degree of theory used than a real difference in the kind of moral philosophy being done.
Although there remain suspicions in many quarters of philosophy about the goals and methods of so-called practical philosophy, the importance of the issues treated in practical ethics is rarely disputed by anyone.
In “The Moral Relevance of the Distinction between Domesticated and Wild Animals,” Clare Palmer considers whether a morally relevant distinction can be drawn between wild and domesticated animals. This distinction is seldom analyzed in the ethics literature, which leads Palmer to start with conceptual analyses of the terms “domesticated” and “wild.” The term “wildness” she finds to be used in several different ways, only one of which (constitutive wildness, meaning an animal that has not been domesticated by being bred in particular ways) is generally paired and contrasted with “domesticated.” Domesticated animals are normally deliberately bred and confined. One of Palmer's main arguments concerns human initiatives that establish relations with animals and thereby change what is owed to these animals. The main relations of interest in ethics are the vulnerability and dependence in animals that are created when humans establish certain relations with them on farms, in zoos, in laboratories, and the like. Domestication is a pervasive way in which humans make animals vulnerable, and thereby duties of animal care and protection arise in a persistent way. These duties are not similarly owed to wild animals that live independently of the human community. Palmer's argument is not that domestication is the sole way in which humans make animals vulnerable. Wild animals too can be made vulnerable through actions such as habitat destruction. The point is that wherever we have deliberately created animal vulnerability or dependence, we are obligated to care for or assist the animals affected.
In “The Moral Significance of Animal Pain and Animal Death,” Elizabeth Harman addresses the question, “what follows from the claim that we have a certain kind of strong reason against animal cruelty?” Her particular concern is with what follows about the ethics of killing animals. She finds the following common assumption highly puzzling and problematic: despite our obligations not to commit animal (p. 26) cruelty, there is no comparably strong reason against painlessly killing animals in the prime of life. She argues that anyone who accepts this view is committed to the moral position that either we have no reasons against such killings or we have only weak reasons. The thesis that Harman takes to be at once puzzling and widely accepted has two parts: (1) “we have strong reasons not to cause intense pain to animals: the fact that an action would cause intense pain to an animal makes the action wrong unless it is justified by other considerations”; and (2) “we do not have strong reasons not to kill animals: it is not the case that killing an animal is wrong unless it is justified by other considerations.” An example of holding this view is the common belief that while there is something deeply morally wrong with factory farming (because of the suffering caused), there is nothing morally wrong with “humane” farms on which the animals have a high level of welfare until they are killed (because the farms do not subject animals to suffering). Harman closely scrutinizes this “surprising claim” and argues that it is not true. She also considers four views that are defenses of the view that the surprising claim is true, and she argues that each of these views is false.
In “The Ethics of Confining Animals: From Farms to Zoos to Human Homes,” David DeGrazia centers his work on basic interests that animals have in liberty—the absence of external constraints on movement. He takes liberty to be a benefit for sentient animals that permits them to pursue what they want and need. Obviously farms, zoos, pets in homes, animals for sale in stores, circuses, and laboratories all involve forms of confinement that restrict liberty. DeGrazia wants to know the conditions, if there are any, under which such liberty-limitation is morally justified. He first lays out the harms caused by confinement. He then examines and evaluates five possible standards for the justification of confinement: (1) a basic-needs requirement; (2) a comparable-life requirement; (3) a no-unnecessary-harm standard; (4) a worthwhile-life criterion; and (5) an appeal to respect. He reaches the following conclusions about these five standards: (1–3) are acceptable and often useful standards, though (3) is vague and in need of supplementation; (4–5), by contrast, either set an unjustifiably low standard or leave us without adequate guidance. After this theoretical examination of standards, DeGrazia provides a practical moral assessment of the ways in which animals are kept in factory farms, traditional farms, zoos and aquariums, and human homes. His conclusions are that factory farming cannot meet appropriate standards for the confinement of animals and is therefore indefensible, that traditional animal husbandry can meet appropriate standards, that there can be acceptable zoos and aquariums for many species, and that appropriate standards for confinement can be satisfied for some domesticated species of pets. DeGrazia cautions, however, that satisfying the relevant conditions can be far more demanding than many people realize, including even experienced pet owners.
In “Keeping Pets,” Hilary Bok defines “pets” as nonhuman animals that people take into their homes and accept as members of the household. She makes a number of assumptions before she considers the major moral problems. For example, she assumes that cats and dogs are happy living in human households and have better lives than they would if they were in the wild. There is welcomed companionship and (p. 27) often a genuine friendship across species. There can of course be many failures and problems such as animal aggression and human cruelty and neglect, but Bok thinks these problems involve clearly wrongful behavior. They are not the real moral problems, which concern how we should accommodate the interests of the animals we control and the conditions of wronging that it is not easy to see. In some circumstances, the fact that humans can understand in ways their pets cannot creates a situation in which we should require more of ourselves in the way of care and patience than we would require in the case of a competent adult human. Bok thinks it is a mistake to regard duties to nonhuman animals as situated in a hierarchy of moral status in which animals with high-level capacities occupy a higher rank. Sometimes higher capacities translate into an increased array of rights, but the fact that an animal does not have some capacity may require that the animal receive more consideration, not less. Because sacrifice on our part can often promote a better relationship with a pet, we can expect to require such sacrifices of ourselves, and we cannot reasonably expect a comparable level of sacrifice by the pet. Meeting pets’ needs conscientiously requires meeting their needs for attention, affection, and training, which rarely call for serious sacrifice, but require devotion and vigilance, as well as “opening our hearts to animals who are so willing to open theirs to us.”
In “Animal Experimentation in Biomedical Research,” Hugh LaFollette discusses the conditions under which it is permissible and advisable to use animals in biomedical experimentation. He is confident most people think that, in general, we should so use animals, which commits them to what LaFollette calls “the Common View” that (1) there are moral limits on what we can do to (some) nonhuman animals, but (2) humans can use them when doing so advances significant human interests. This view entails that animals have some moral status, but not a demandingly high status. He also thinks that most people believe that medical experiments using animals do wind up benefiting humans. In the end, the view is that, when these conditions hold, the practice of animal experimentation is morally justified. LaFollette distinguishes the Common View from both more lenient views about using animals in biomedical experimentation and stringent views about their use. “The Lenient View holds that even if animals have moral worth, their worth is so slight that humans can use them virtually any way we wish and for any reason we wish. The Demanding View holds that the moral worth of animals is so high that it bars virtually all uses of animals in biomedical research.” Two major moral considerations seem at work in these disputes. First is the question of moral status, and second is the question of the extent to which animal research benefits humans. LaFollette finds that animal experimentation can withstand what the toughest critics say, but the benefits of the practice are also not as compelling as defenders claim. Moral arguments defending the practice have some merit, but there are significant moral costs of the practice and LaFollette thinks that defenders of the practice carry the moral burden of proof, given what we know about the moral status of animals and given that much research often does not yield human benefits. Defenders need to provide more evidence than we usually see that the value of biomedical research exceeds its moral costs.
(p. 28) In “Ethical Issues in the Application of Biotechnology to Animals in Agriculture,” Robert Streiffer and John Basl discuss moral problems about the use of modern biotechnology in agriculture that emerged in the early 1990s over recombinant bovine growth hormone, a chemical produced using genetically engineered microorganisms and then injected into dairy cows to increase milk yield. Then there came genetically engineered soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton, and recently genetically engineered animals and cloned animals intended as food or breeding stock in agriculture. Streiffer and Basl provide a moral framework for evaluating these new applications of modern biotechnology as they affect the food supply. They note that issues about genetically engineered livestock are focused on cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, and fish and that feed efficiency, growth rates, fat-to-muscle ratio, and resistance to pests and diseases are the major aims of the research. They assess the public's interest as focused much more on animal biotechnology than on plant biotechnology. They note that all of the livestock are sentient beings with determinable welfare levels, which assures them of some degree of moral status. They point out that the moral importance of animals takes on a massive significance in light of the number of animals in the livestock sector. The livestock sector also is one of the most significant contributors to global environmental problems. Streiffer and Basl address this complex situation by considering issues of animal welfare and whether animal biotechnology will improve or worsen the animal welfare issues that now arise in agriculture. To assess this problem requires them to go into the nature of animal welfare and what improves or worsens it, as well as how various applications of animal biotechnology can be expected to impact welfare and environmental problems such as water pollution, water use, and biodiversity loss. In order to consider immediate practical effects of their analyses and recommendations, they look at problems about Enviropigs and AquAdvantage salmon.
In “Environmental Ethics, Hunting, and the Place of Animals,” Gary Varner notes that deep philosophical differences divide environmentalists and animal welfarists. Environmental ethicists often see the practical implications of animal welfare and animal rights views as anti-environmental; they are seen as sometimes harming ecosystems and as sometimes inexcusably banning interventions that environmentalists support. Varner outlines these differences as well as the status of the current debate. He argues that environmental ethicists have sometimes zealously caricatured animal welfare and animal rights views, and that a close examination of the interests of each group shows that there is more of a convergence of values than many have thought. While it is true that ecosystems and nonanimal species have only instrumental value from an animal welfare or animal rights perspective, an appropriately structured environmental ethic need not deny this claim and can still attribute an appropriate level of value to ecosystems and non-sentient organisms. Varner thinks it is a mistake to reason from the fact that sound environmental policy should focus on species and ecosystems to the conclusion that these holistic entities have more than instrumental value. Likewise, one who emphasizes the sentience of animals and believes that only the conscious experiences of sentient animals have intrinsic value can still appreciate that a sound environmental policy for (p. 29) humans and other animals requires that attention be focused on ecosystems and species. Accordingly, sentientists and holists should be able to agree that species and ecosystems are of paramount importance, and they need not commit to intrinsic value for holistic entities.
In “Vegetarianism,” Stuart Rachels takes up a series of moral problems about industrial farming, which he assesses as a form of cruelty to animals, as well as environmentally destructive, harmful to rural regions, and with serious consequences for human health (because it spreads infectious disease, causes environmental pollution, and the like). He lays out and attempts to document the pertinent facts behind these claims, especially facts about the farming of pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys, and seafood. He attempts to explain why the industrial system has been remarkably successful as a dominant economic force. He argues both that we should boycott industrially produced meat and should not kill animals for food even if the means are humane. He presents what he calls the “argument for compassionate eating,” which is the following: it is wrong to cause suffering unless there is a good reason to do so. Industrial farming causes billions of animals to suffer without good reason. Therefore, industrial farming is wrong. And therefore, you should not buy factory-farmed meat. This argument is not by itself strong enough to support vegetarianism, because one could obtain meat without buying factory-farmed meat. However, Rachels eventually concludes that in practice we should all be vegetarians. He concludes with the observation that “the philosophical arguments for vegetarianism are easy. What's hard is getting people to stop eating meat.”
In “The Use of Animals in Toxicological Research,” Andrew Rowan addresses practical problems about our use of animals to assess the toxicological risks posed by various drugs, cleaning agents, pesticides, cosmetics, and the like. Rowan presents scientific doubts about the usefulness of much of the animal test data for human risk assessment. He argues that there is now a consensus that animal tests are not particularly effective in predicting harms to either humans or the environment. This consensus is rapidly causing interest in toxicology to shift away from animal tests and toward quicker and cheaper alternative test systems, but Rowan thinks we need to move still more quickly away from using animals in testing. Rowan is also critical of the current system of institutional review committees (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees in the United States), which in principle are comprised of people who are chosen as reasonable representatives of the various parties who have a stake in the decisions of these committees. Rowan argues that theoretically such a system could work well to protect the interests of test animals, but in practice these systems do not work. He offers several reasons how and why they fail. He also argues that the current lack of data on animal pain and distress entails that even if a review committee determined to make a serious attempt to assess the cost/benefit ratio for a toxicity study, little empirical data would be available to make the assessment in a suitable manner. Accordingly, most review committees focus their attention on experimental design questions rather than ethics issues. They tend to approve those studies that they assess as carefully designed by investigators, but then they rely uncritically on what investigators (p. 30) report to the review committee about how the study minimizes animal distress and suffering. Rowan finds this a morally unsatisfactory situation that suffers from inadequate information and investigator bias.
In “What's Ethics Got to Do with It? The Roles of Government Regulation in Research Animal Protection,” Jeffrey Kahn begins with the question of whether ethics has much to do with normative questions of government policy for the oversight of animal research. He thinks that ethics is the normative backbone of such policies—both for animal subjects and human subjects. He finds that numerous parallels have evolved with respect to government-mandated oversight regimes in both the human and the nonhuman animal domains: rules regarding acceptable risk, inappropriate treatment of research subjects, prospective review and approval of proposed research, and institutional oversight committees. He thinks that the history of research ethics amply shows that moral argument is influential far beyond standing law and policy in establishing what may and may not be done in both human and animal research. From this perspective, ethics is the anchor of human and animal research oversight, providing the principles at their foundation. Nonetheless, the rules for research on animals depart from those for human research in fundamental ways, and ones that raise moral concerns about whether policies for animal research review are adequate. Policies for human research protections follow and are based on well-articulated moral principles. But the case of animal research has no such clear connection between policies and principles. “For example, assuming that animals do not have the capacity to consent to participate in research, what would be a reasonable substitute for consent in biomedical research that uses them as subjects?” This question is almost completely ignored. Though policies often require minimization of pain and suffering, overall the rules and restrictions are primarily about maximizing human benefit, even at the cost of harm to animals. Protecting the rights and interests of animal subjects drops into the background. It seems, then, that there are moral inconsistencies between human research and animal research policies. If ethics is important for how we think about the acceptability and proper limits of animal research, then the connection between ethical principles and policy must be made more explicit than it has thus far been made. Kahn finds that even though some policies regarding animal research seem to be mature and well developed, the moral rationales for our patchwork of regulations have received almost no serious attention and analysis. Kahn thinks we need to go back to the drawing board and rethink research animal protection policies and the ethical principles underlying them.
In “Literary Works and Animal Ethics,” Tzachi Zamir notes that a number of Anglo-American moral philosophers have turned to literature for insights into moral reflection on animals. This “literary turn” in moral philosophy finds that some sensitivities or aspects of moral reflection are deepened by literary works. The main literary work focusing on animals that has attracted substantial interest from philosophers is J. M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello. Philosophers such as Stanley Cavell, Cora Diamond, Stephen Mulhall, and Peter Singer have all found it a repository of moral insight. Zamir's assessment is that moral philosophers are only (p. 31) beginning to mine rich literary descriptions of animals to gain moral insight and to explore the ways in which the invocation of animals awakens morally relevant dimensions in literary works. The point of Zamir's chapter is to show how literary-oriented animal ethics is capable of unique insights into our dealings with animals. He chooses and analyzes several literary examples that adumbrate the ways in which literature can unsettle a practice, such as the practices of slaughter houses. Zamir tries to show how and why literature can broaden moral perception. Some texts he finds to bring home our deep dependence on animals, and still others probe aspects of the ways in which we perceive animals—and indeed the way we are perceived by them. Zamir argues that a “central motif running through all of these works is how literature questions what one sees when one is looking at an animal.” He is unsure how to gauge the impact of these works and the future of such work. He hopes that literary works can have a lasting and powerful effect, but he knows that, in his own case, the influence brought home to him “the enormity of the animal issue.” (p. 32)