The Moral Equality of Humans and Animals

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Singer argued from a preference-utilitarian perspective, writing that speciesism violates the principle of equal consideration of interests , the idea based on Jeremy Bentham 's principle: "each to count for one, and none for more than one". Singer argued that, although there may be differences between humans and nonhumans, they share the capacity to suffer, and we must give equal consideration to that suffering. Any position that allows similar cases to be treated in a dissimilar fashion fails to qualify as an acceptable moral theory.

The term caught on; Singer wrote that it was an awkward word but that he could not think of a better one. It became an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary in , defined as "discrimination against or exploitation of animal species by human beings, based on an assumption of mankind's superiority". Paola Cavalieri writes that the current humanist paradigm is that only human beings are members of the moral community, and that all are worthy of equal protection.

Species membership, she writes, is ipso facto moral membership. The paradigm has an inclusive side all human beings deserve equal protection and an exclusive one only human beings have that status. She writes that it is not only philosophers who have difficulty with this concept. Such people are morally offended by the suggestion that they should treat someone who is not kin as if he were a brother, or a nigger as if he were white, or a queer as if he were normal, or an infidel as if she were a believer.

They are offended by the suggestion that they treat people whom they do not think of as human as if they were human. When utilitarians tell them that all pleasures and pains felt by members of our biological species are equally relevant to moral deliberation, or when Kantians tell them that the ability to engage in such deliberation is sufficient for membership in the moral community, they are incredulous.

They rejoin that these philosophers seem oblivious to blatantly obvious moral distinctions, distinctions that any decent person will draw. Much of humanity is similarly offended by the suggestion that the moral community be extended to nonhumans. Nonhumans do possess some moral status in many societies, but it generally extends only to protection against what Cavalieri calls "wanton cruelty".

According to the argument from marginal cases , if infants, the senile, the comatose, and the cognitively disabled marginal-case human beings have a certain moral status, then nonhuman animals must be awarded that status too, since there is no morally relevant ability that the marginal-case humans have that nonhumans lack. American legal scholar Steven M. Wise argues that speciesism is a bias as arbitrary as any other.

The Moral Equality of Humans and Animals | Mark H. Bernstein | Palgrave Macmillan

He cites the philosopher R. Frey — , a leading animal rights critic, who wrote in that, if forced to choose between abandoning experiments on animals and allowing experiments on "marginal-case" humans, he would choose the latter, "not because I begin a monster and end up choosing the monstrous, but because I cannot think of anything at all compelling that cedes all human life of any quality greater value than animal life of any quality".

Richard Dawkins , the evolutionary biologist, argued against speciesism in The Blind Watchmaker , The Great Ape Project , and The God Delusion , elucidating the connection with evolutionary theory. He compares former racist attitudes and assumptions to their present-day speciesist counterparts. In the chapter "The one true tree of life" in The Blind Watchmaker , he argues that it is not only zoological taxonomy that is saved from awkward ambiguity by the extinction of intermediate forms, but also human ethics and law.

Dawkins argues that what he calls the "discontinuous mind" is ubiquitous, dividing the world into units that reflect nothing but our use of language, and animals into discontinuous species: [28]. The director of a zoo is entitled to "put down" a chimpanzee that is surplus to requirements, while any suggestion that he might "put down" a redundant keeper or ticket-seller would be greeted with howls of incredulous outrage. The chimpanzee is the property of the zoo. Humans are nowadays not supposed to be anybody's property, yet the rationale for discriminating against chimpanzees is seldom spelled out, and I doubt if there is a defensible rationale at all.

Such is the breathtaking speciesism of our Christian-inspired attitudes, the abortion of a single human zygote most of them are destined to be spontaneously aborted anyway can arouse more moral solicitude and righteous indignation than the vivisection of any number of intelligent adult chimpanzees! The only reason we can be comfortable with such a double standard is that the intermediates between humans and chimps are all dead. Dawkins elaborated in a discussion with Singer at The Center for Inquiry in , when asked whether he continues to eat meat: "It's a little bit like the position which many people would have held a couple of hundred years ago over slavery.

Where lots of people felt morally uneasy about slavery but went along with it because the whole economy of the South depended upon slavery. Michael Barilan, an Israeli physician, argues that speciesism is not the same thing as Nazi racism , because the latter extolled the abuser and condemned the weaker and the abused.

He describes speciesism as the recognition of rights on the basis of group membership, rather than solely on the basis of moral considerations. Thus, rocks and rivers and houses have no interests and no rights of their own. This does not mean, of course, that they are not of value to us, and to many other painients, including those who need them as habitats and who would suffer without them. A common theme in defending speciesism is the argument that humans have the right to exploit other species to defend their own.

Between people and animals, he argues, there are significant differences; his view is that animals do not qualify for Kantian personhood, and as such have no rights. Nel Noddings , the American feminist, has criticized Singer's concept of speciesism for being simplistic, and for failing to take into account the context of species preference, as concepts of racism and sexism have taken into account the context of discrimination against humans.

The central analogy to the civil rights movement and the women's movement is trivializing and ahistorical. Both of those social movements were initiated and driven by members of the dispossessed and excluded groups themselves, not by benevolent men or white people acting on their behalf. Both movements were built precisely around the idea of reclaiming and reasserting a shared humanity in the face of a society that had deprived it and denied it.

No civil rights activist or feminist ever argued, "We're sentient beings too! A similar argument was made by Bernard Williams , who observed that a difference between speciesism versus racism and sexism is that racists and sexists deny any input from those of a different race or sex when it comes to questioning how they should be treated. Conversely, when it comes to how animals should be treated, Williams observed that it is only possible for humans to discuss that question. Williams observed that being a human being is often used as an argument against discrimination on the grounds of race or sex, whereas racism and sexism are seldom deployed to counter discrimination.

Williams also argued in favour of speciesism which he termed 'humanism' , arguing that "Why are fancy properties which are grouped under the label of personhood "morally relevant" to issues of destroying a certain kind of animal, while the property of being a human being is not? Williams then argues that the only way to resolve this would be by arguing that these properties are "simply better" but in that case one would need to justify why these properties are better if not because of human attachment to them.

Grau argues that to claim these are simply better properties would require the existence of an impartial observer, an "enchanted picture of the universe", to state them to be so. Thus Grau argues that such properties have no greater justification as criteria for moral status than being a member of a species does.

Grau also argues that even if such an impartial perspective existed, it still wouldn't necessarily be against speciesism, since it is entirely possible that there could be reasons given by an impartial observer for humans to care about humanity. Grau then further observes that if an impartial observer existed and valued only minimalizing suffering, it would likely be overcome with horror at the suffering of all individuals and would rather have humanity annihilate the planet than allow it to continue.

Grau thus concludes that those endorsing the idea of deriving values from an impartial observer do not seem to have seriously considered the conclusions of such an idea. Another criticism of animal-type anti-speciesism is based on the distinction between demanding rights one wants and being put into those one may not want. Many people who are now over 18 but remember their time as minors as a time when their alleged children's rights was legalized torture doubt if animal rights do animals any good, especially since animals cannot even say what they consider to be horrible.

A distinction is made between people who are extrinsically denied their possibility to say what they think by 18 year limits, psychiatric diagnoses based on domain-specific hypotheses, or other constructed laws on one hand, and marginal case humans intrinsically incapable of opining about their situation on the other. The former is considered comparable to racism and sexism, the latter is considered comparable to animals. One example that has been pointed out is that since we do not know whether or not animals are aware of death , all ethical considerations on putting animals down are benighted.

Ayn Rand 's Objectivism holds that humans are the only beings who have what Rand called a conceptual consciousness, and the ability to reason and develop a moral system. She argued that humans are therefore the only species entitled to rights. Objectivist philosopher Leonard Peikoff argued: "By its nature and throughout the animal kingdom, life survives by feeding on life. To demand that man defer to the 'rights' of other species is to deprive man himself of the right to life.

This is 'other-ism,' i. Douglas Maclean agreed that Singer raised important questions and challenges, particularly with his argument from marginal cases. However, Maclean questioned if different species can be fitted with human morality, observing that animals were generally held exempt from morality; if a man were to kidnap and try to kill a woman, most people would be outraged and anyone who intervened would be lauded as a hero, yet if a hawk captured and killed a marmot, most people would react in awe of nature and criticize anyone who tried to intervene.

Maclean thus suggests that morality only makes sense under human relations, with the further one gets from it the less it can be applied. Maclean further argued that species membership is used to humanize other people and create concepts such as dignity, respect and the capacity to be treated as something more than creatures driven by survival and reproduction. The British philosopher, Roger Scruton , regards the emergence of the animal rights and anti-speciesism movement as "the strangest cultural shift within the liberal worldview", because the idea of rights and responsibilities is, he argues, distinctive to the human condition, and it makes no sense to spread them beyond our own species.

Scruton argues that if animals have rights, then they also have duties, which animals would routinely violate, with almost all of them being "habitual law-breakers" and predatory animals such as foxes, wolves and killer whales being "inveterate murderers" who "should be permanently locked up". He accuses anti-speciesism advocates of "pre-scientific" anthropomorphism , attributing traits to animals that are, he says, Beatrix Potter -like, where "only man is vile.

Thomas Wells, while agreeing that humans should have duties towards the natural world, argued that Peter Singer's arguments were incoherent. Wells argues that Singer's call for ending animal suffering would justify simply exterminating every animal on the planet in order to prevent the numerous ways in which they suffer, as they could no longer feel any pain.

Wells also argued that by focusing on the suffering humans inflict on animals and ignoring suffering animals inflict upon themselves or that inflicted by nature, Singer is creating a hierarchy where some suffering is more important than others, despite claiming to be committed to equality of suffering.

Wells also argues that the capacity to suffer, Singer's criteria for moral status, is one of degree rather than absolute categories; Wells observes that Singer denies moral status to plants on the grounds they cannot subjectively feel anything even though they react to stimuli , yet Wells argues there is no indication that animals feel pain and suffering the way humans do.

Wells thus concludes "The inconvenient topography of sentience, and the hierarchy of interests it implies has to be flattened out, lest the reader conclude that something more sophisticated than hedonic utilitarianism is required. The Rev. John Tuohey, founder of the Providence Center for Health Care Ethics, writes that the logic behind the anti-speciesism critique is flawed, and that, although the animal rights movement in the United States has been influential in slowing animal experimentation, and in some cases halting particular studies, no one has offered a compelling argument for species equality.

Some proponents of speciesism believe that animals exist so that humans may make use of them. They argue that this special status conveys special rights , such as the right to life , and also unique responsibilities, such as stewardship of the environment. This belief in human exceptionalism is often rooted in the Abrahamic religions , such as the Book of Genesis "Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.

Proverbs mentions that "The righteous one takes care of his domestic animals. The first major statute addressing animal protection in the United States, titled "An Act for the More Effectual Prevention of Cruelty to Animals", was enacted in It provided the right to incriminate and enforce protection with regards to animal cruelty. The act, which has since been revised to suit modern cases state by state, originally addressed such things as animal neglect, abandonment, torture, fighting, transport, impound standards, and licensing standards.

Bills such as Humane Slaughter Act , which was created to alleviate some of the suffering felt by livestock during slaughter, was passed in Johnson , was designed to put much stricter regulations and supervisions on the handling of animals used in laboratory experimentation and exhibition but has since been amended and expanded. Ryder and Peter Singer would later popularize in the s and s. Great ape personhood is the idea that the attributes of nonhuman great apes are such that their sentience and personhood should be recognized by the law, rather than simply protecting them as a group under animal cruelty legislation.

Awarding personhood to nonhuman primates would require that their individual interests be taken into account. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The ethics of speciesism

This article is about the general concept. For the film, see Speciesism: The Movie. General forms. Related topics. Further information: Animal rights and the Holocaust. Further information: Great ape personhood and Great Ape Project. Animals portal. Reducing Risks of Future Suffering. Retrieved 2 December The Stone.

New York Times. Retrieved 3 December Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Only humans make moral judgements and moral choices.

Animal Ethics. Tallahassee, Fla. Retrieved 10 January Retrieved What emerges loud and clear from his analysis is the arbitrariness of assuming that human interests are inherently superior sub specie aeternitatis. We are left wondering to what extent giving pride of place to human interests is conceptually nothing more, to paraphrase Nietzsche, than turning our biases and hang-ups into a metaphysic.

The majority of the book is devoted to an equally careful examination of the belief that human life is inherently more valuable than the lives of other animals, an assumption even more ubiquitous than the belief in the primacy of human interests.


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  5. 1. The Moral Considerability of Animals?

While it is not comparatively that difficult to accept Bernstein's argument about interests, the affirmation that animal lives are no less valuable than human lives is extremely counterintuitive. Much in the way that the early philosophers of animal ethics challenged those who would deny animals inclusion in the moral arena asked for the morally relevant characteristic that serves to exclude animals, Bernstein challenges us to specify the characteristic that makes human lives more valuable than animal.

One of the most common arguments in this regard is the claim that animals live more or less in the moment, while human lives are inherently tied up with futural possibilities and plans. It is often argued that killing a person makes a mockery of much of their activities. We study hard not for its own sake, but in order to get accepted into medical school, which in turn derives its value from the future possibilities intrinsic to treating patients. An animal, on the other hand, lacking language and the attendant syntax that allows humans to transcend the current moment, has no such future plans, and thus death is not the misfortune for animals that it is for people.

For this reason, human life is of greater significance than animal life. Humans lose more than animals do when their lives are cut short. It is certainly difficult to deny the distinction between human cognition and animal cognition inherent in the capacity of humans to project into the future. What Bernstein calls into question is whether this difference in fact marks the morally relevant difference between the respective values of human versus animal life.

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What, for example, prevents one from arguing that a life without future plans that can be thwarted and arbitrarily rendered meaningless by untimely death is more morally valuable than a life that is totally self-contained at each moment. From a subjective perspective, for example, the pleasure of human life must of necessity be constrained and tempered by the omnipresent possibility of death and lesser things that can go wrong. For an animal however, this is not a concern, as the animal lacks, in Heidegger's excellent phrasing, the capacity to "understand and think about the possibility of the impossibility of its being," or adventitious negative possibilities.

Why, in other words, is not a life unsullied by deep anxieties about the future not a more valuable life than one that is so tainted? And further, why can one not argue that the animal life is thus in one sense a more, rather than less, perfect life?

Mark H. Bernstein

Just because humans lose more than animals do by virtue of a truncated life, it does not follow that human lives are objectively more valuable. Also, what if the future plans of a human are dedicated to the promotion of thoroughgoing evil? Is such a life more valuable simply by virtue of its formal structure? A significant question we alluded to earlier is occasioned by Bernstein's argument.

He affirms that we do not value the lives of individual humans with highly complex plans or intellects more than those individuals whose aspirations are far more simplistic. In Bernstein's words "We don't believe that Einstein's pain deserves preferential consideration".

I am not at all sure that such is the case but do not have the opportunity to construct the counterargument here. Clearly, Bernstein's discussion raises the well-known issue enunciated by John Stuart Mill. Mill affirms famously and inconsistently that, the key feature in ethical deliberation is the amount of pleasure and pain a given action generates. The more pleasure and the least amount of pain generated, the more morally valuable the action. But Mill also goes on to argue that there are "higher" and "lower" pleasures such that a lesser amount of a higher pleasure for example, reading philosophy is more valuable than a great amount of a lower pleasure such as guzzling beer , thereby committing him to the view that there are things more valuable than just pleasure.

Since animals are incapable of the so-called "higher pleasures," animal life may be said to be of lower value. His discussion of this thesis is quite astute. Mill's argument in support of this claim involves in part an appeal to the opinions of those who experience both higher and lower pleasures. It is by no means clear to me, or to common sense, that such people will invariably choose the higher pleasure. Many people, even philosophers, may well be inclined to choose beer-guzzling!

Bernstein is an extremely clear and engaging writer. In particular, he tends to avoid the sort of philosophical jargon that is prohibitive for ordinary people even when they possess great interest in the issues addressed. Another stylistic advantage is represented by his making the same point in multiple ways and by using colorful and fanciful anecdotes as illustrative. My major complaint concerning his writing style is his tendency to use rather random abbreviations to stand for arguments he has developed at length. He is a good enough writer that he could simply allude to the argument in question and not impede readability.