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North American Philosophical Publications

Do Animal Rights Entail Moral Nihilism? Author(s): Louis Pojman Source: Public Affairs Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Apr., 1993), pp. 165-185 Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of North American Philosophical Publications Stable URL: . Accessed: 09/10/2011 13:41
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Volume 7, Number 2, April1993

Louis Pojman




HAT is the problem concerning the moral status of animals? Just this: On the one hand, we normally regard human beings as possessing high intrinsic worth, dignity. We say with Kant that humans, qua rational beings, are ends in themselves and may not be used as mere means for the good of others. We affirm with our founding fathers that "these truths are self-evident that all" humans are equal and possess "certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." On the other hand, our growing understanding of evolutionary biology leads us to believe that the similarities (common physical properties) between some primates and humans turn out to be greater than the differences. The Absolute Gap Thesis which posits a clear axiological distinction between humans and other animals is false. As Darwin said, "There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher animals." We are essentially animals. Whereas our forebearers judged humans as occupying axiological space between angels and animals, some contemporary views put us between the animal and the computer, as reasonably accurate consciouscalculators. Now put these two propositions together. Since we have intrinsic or inherent worth and animals-at least mammals, such as cetaceans (e.g., whales, dolphins, and porpoises), primates (e.g., chimpanzees and monkeys), and pigs, dogs, cats, elephants, cows, horses, rats, rabbits and mice-are relevantly similar to us, these mammals must also have intrinsic worth. Since intrinsic worth yields basic civil rights, higher animals must be treated with the respect usually accorded to humans. We must recognize that they possess natural rights, including the right of life, the right not to be harmed, and the right of liberty. It follows, given suitable supporting premises, that our present practices, based on the Absolute Gap Thesis, of eating meat, hunting, and animal experimentation are morally wrong.

animals are automata who move and bark and utter sounds like well wound clocks. They are mere machines. the soul is necessary to consiousness. in order to determine whether these radical versions entail moral nihilism. 1 Since humans have equal rights. and three which grant some kind of equal status with ourselves. what Tom Regan called "a consensus view in philosophy. cause them to have claims over and against us. It begins with the Egalitarian Thesis. if I have a duty to some being B.166 PUBLIC AFFAIRS QUARTERLY This is the heart of the Animal Rights Argument. The weak view denies that a being has inherent rights but affirms that we still have duties to those creatures. which is the locus of consciousness and value. So in this weaker sense of rights. and Paul Taylor. The No Status Theory The "No Status Theory" was set forth by Rene Descartes (1596-1650) who held that an absolute gap exists between animals and human beings. Animal or Mammal Egalitarianism. three which grant them little or no status. we can speak of animals having rights even if we do not want to accept a stronger view of natural rights. having been made by the hands of God. In what follows I briefly outline seven theories of the moral status of animals. especially those of Peter Singer. Because they lack a soul. I answer that they do indeed." that all adult humans are of equal worth and proceeds to show that the implications of this thesis lead to viewing animals as having equal positive worth. it follows that animals have them as well. SEVEN THEORIES OF THE MORAL STATUS OF ANIMALS 1. My primary goal in this paper is to consider various versions of the Egalitarian Animal Rights Argument. they have no moral status whatsoever. It . I call this the strong rights view and contrast it with a weak rights view in which rights are simply correlative to duties. "From this aspect the body is regarded as a machine which. according to Descartes. the thesis that we have no moral duties at all. Tom Regan. That is. whether he can claim it or not. animals cannot feel pain or pleasure. In this paper I will primarily use the term "rights" to cover the idea of natural rights. one which grants them substantial but not equal status. Unlike humans animals have no rights or moral status because they have no souls." 2 According to Descartes. Their superiority over man-made machines derives from their source. My arguments are mainly levelled against the stronger thesis. although they are applicable to Singer's version of the weaker thesis. then B has a right against me. and possesses in itself movements which are much more admirable than any of those which can be invented by man. Since. flowing from deontic ("ought") language. is incomparably better arranged. the idea that certain natural properties in animals give them special moral consideration.

driving and riding. "I have the impression. having a similar nervous system to our own. We have no such tie to animals." 6 Perhaps this minimalist view should be called the "Slave Status Theory. but because they are human pleasures. Trapline Ramblings. only that we have an obligation to enhance their pleasure. merely to demonstrate in a practical way man's dominion. Present and Future. not our equals and for this reason it is well to keep up such practices as hunting and fishing. We are bound to men by the universal tie of humanity. gorillas. do feel pain and pleasure. Philosophers like Stephen Stich and R. "Animals should be treated with personal indifference. Higher animals. they should not be ill-treated.'' 5 The nineteenth-century British philosopher J. of human brotherhood. 3 Although implausible in the extreme. Austin adds that while we have no positive duties to animals. Dogs and cats manifest intelligence.ANIMAL RIGHTS AND MORAL NIHILISM 167 is no more morally wrong to pull the ears off a dog or eat a cow than it is to kick a stone or eat a carrot. It is hard to know what people mean by 'cruel' or 'inhumane' . we may use them however we wish. But if a man beats his hound-dog. they should not be petted. G. It should always be remembered that they are our slaves. she suffers because she has an immortal soul. we read the testimony of a hunter. not only because they are pleasures. Frey acknowledge that animals do feel pain and pleasure but deny that they can be said to have interests or . we ought not to be cruel to them. it may yelp some but it won't suffer because it has no soul. based on field observation. "The pleasures of animals are elements of a very different order from the pleasures of man. Witness the words of Roy Johnson in the trapper's journal. "If a man beats his wife every day." for so long as we do not purposefully torture animals. I've heard it defended by hunters and owners of animal factories. The Minimal Status Theory The nineteenth-century British philosopher William Whewell seems to have held a somewhat less radical view of animals than Descartes. We are bound to endeavor to augment the pleasures of men. the Cartesian view still has advocates. They have consciousness and engage in purposeful behavior. They have no inherent value. and chimpanzees exhibit complex abstracting and reasoning abilities and appear to communicate through language. There is every reason to believe that Descartes was wrong. for Whewell doesn't deny that animals have feelings. There are no 'rights' in the natural world-to the victor belongs the spoils." And again in a book sponsored by the fur industry. The differences between humans and other animals are more a matter of degree than of kind." 4 2. that many shot animals do not especially show feelings of pain. are not to be taken into consideration in any utilitarian calculus. Animals and Men-Past.

loaned to humanity for our good use. For example. you shall have them for food. His behavior is intentional. which we are obligated to cultivate and protect for God's sake. animals. and fill the earth and subdue it. In order to have interests. In order to have a belief one must be able to conceptualize and entertain a proposition or sentence. First of all. We have indirect duties to dumb animals because we have direct obligations to rational beings. Why? Because they are the property of others who do have moral rights. just as these items are normally in a human animal's interest. if any behavior is. one must be able to have desires. 3. This hypothesis is confirmed when the master opens the door and watches Fido make a dash to a heap of paper at the corner of the room from which Fido procures a bone. God. 'Behold. 7 Frey argues that rights are predicated upon beliefs and interests.168 PUBLIC AFFAIRS QUARTERLY beliefs. There is no consensus of the correct analysis of human beliefs. water. but Stitch and Frey's arguments are not compelling. they seem functionally equivalent with what causes Fido to scratch on the door and make a dash for the stack of papers in the corner of the room. chimpanzees. there seems no good reason for withholding the concept of interests from animals. Animals and the rest of nature and God's property."' Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) hold that cruelty to animals is wrong because it forms bad character and it leads to cruelty to human beings. The creation story of Genesis supports a stewardship model of creation. and this is something that animals don't possess. Likewise. sleep and a comfortable dwelling is in an animal's interest. "And God blessed [man and woman] and God said to them. Since only beings with interests can have rights. they fail to possess rights. Kant argues that we have "no direct rules" to . 'Be fruitful and multiply. Having food.' And God said. at meal time Fido scratches at the door to the next room. and since animals fail to have these. Animals may not have rights. His master interprets that to mean that Fido wants him to open the door so that he (Fido) can fetch his meaty bone. and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. we ought to treat them kindly. such as dogs. and other people who own them. but there is no evidence that animals can do this. according to Frey. I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth. but whatsoever beliefs are. beliefs. but desires also involve propositional content. it follows that animals don't have rights. and every tree with seed in its fruit. and gorillas have memories of where they have placed objects. The Indirect Obligation Theory The dominant position in Western philosophy and religion has been the view that while animals have no inherent rights.

. 4." The end is man . it is not the only thing which is of moral importance. the bad tendency of it upon the whole. p. Each pain (evil) and pleasure (good) is measured according to its intensity. for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealing with men (Lectures on Ethics. If a man shoots his dog because the animal is no longer capable of service. The balance. 239). and developed by Peter Singer in his epoch-making book.. for the dog cannot judge. no one for more than one." applies to all sentient creatures regardless of species. Animal nature has analogies to human nature. we indirectly do our duty to humanity. and those of all the pains on the other. and takes the pleasures and pains of each individual. Utilitarianism is a non-speciesist. Bentham's egalitarian dictum. If he is not to stifle his human feelings. if on the side of pain. the father of classical Utilitarianism. and I have criticized his doctrine . the goal of moral action is to produce the optimal aggregate balance of pleasure over pain.. While such self-consciousness may be the criterion for having full-blooded rights and for being a morally responsible agent. The weakness of the Indirect Obligation Theory is that it makes rational self-consciousness the sole criterion for being morally considerable.ANIMAL RIGHTS AND MORAL NIHILISM 169 animals. he does not fail in his duty to the dog. Moderate Egalitarianism: The Equal Consideration Theory The Equal Consideration Theory was first set forth by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832).. In a classical passage Bentham compares the irrationality of our views toward other races and argues that the important question is not whether creatures can reason. will give the good tendency of the act upon the whole. Pain and suffering are bad in themselves. Our duties towards animals are merely indirect duties towards humanity. fecundity. nearness. if it be on the side of pleasure. and we have duties both to refrain from causing these things and to ameliorate and eliminate them. certainty. for they "are not self-conscious and are there merely as a means to an end. We then are to "sum up all the values of all the pleasures on the one side.. but "can they suffer?" 8 Bentham's hedonic act of utilitarianism has been subject to two hundred years of cogent and familiar criticism. duration. Animal Liberation (1976). he must practice kindness towards animals. weighing them both in the hedonic calculus. "Each to count for one. and by doing our duties to animals in respect to manifestations of human nature. with respect to the interest of that individual person." Pain being equated with the evil and pleasure with the good. but his act is inhuman and damages in itself that humanity which it is his duty to show towards mankind. and purity. egalitarian moral theory in which animals are given equal vote to humans. equally into consideration. whether a mouse or a man.

" 10 Suffering is suffering no matter whose it is. it is not obvious who should get it. that we recognize that rats have interests too. the arbitrary favoring of one's species with racism. Here Singer separates himself from Bentham who simply compares pleas- . and instead bases the equality principle upon our capacity to have preferences..170 PUBLIC AFFAIRS QUARTERLY elsewhere. 9 so I must be content to leave his version and turn to Peter Singer's contemporary rendition of act-utilitarianism. 5). which constitutes a violation of the Principle of Equality. If the child is in greater pain. If a dog and a human are in equal pain and we have only a single pain reliever. Appealing to Benthams's dictum. The principle of equality of human beings is not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans: it is a prescription of how we should treat humans (Animal Liberation. that it reduces moral reasoning to a crude and unworkable hedonic calculus in which agents are mere pain/pleasure receptacles. Singer (like Mill before him) aware of the profound difficulties of classical Utilitarianism. Singer's theory is a type of preference act-utilitarianism in which an act is moral if and only if it satisfies the highest aggregate of preferences. when there is a clash between their interests and the interests of another race. for instance.[gives] greater weight to the interests of members of his own race. the dog should. must be rejected. "The racist." 11 (3) The Importance of Self-consciousness. "What. but the essential point is just that we do see this as a conflict of interest. not an assertion of fact. Rather we should distribute goods on the basis of need and desire.. (1) The Principle of Equality: every sentient being deserves to have his or her interests (i. The interests of everyone affected by an action should be taken into account and given the same weight as the like interests of any other being. Singer rejects the Judeo-Christian notion that human beings have equal inherent value. self-conscious agents. Equality is a moral idea. are we to do about genuine conflicts of interest like rats biting slum children? I am not sure of the answer. There is no logically compelling reason for assuming that a factual difference in ability between two people justifies any difference in the amount of consideration we give their needs and interests. has attempted to set forth a more sophisticated version of utilitarianism.. There is a difference between our ability to suffer and our equal worth as rational. Three further theses are set forth. An act contrary to the preference of any being is wrong.e. p. the child should. Singer compares speciesism. each sentient being is to count for one and only for one. Similarly the speciesist allows the interests of his own species to override the greater interests of members of other species. If the dog is in greater pain. desires) given equal consideration. (2) Speciesism. Status and privilege should play no part in doling out benefits. unless it is outweighed by a stronger contrary preference. yielding a comprehensive ethic and including global duties to animals.

business owners. Sentience. Finally. torture factories in which animals are raised and prepared for human consumption. transporters. At least. but not all. over and above mere sentience. Social chaos might ensue. pigs." Singer argues that a self-conscious person possesses a concept of himself as a distinct individual with a definite past and a future. are capable of abstract thought and these special needs ~arrant special consideration. they still have problems. How do we weigh the preferences of chicken. The difference between him and Bentham is revealed in Singer's discussion of the killing. Furthermore. we should end most hunting and trapping of animals for fur. If I alone cease eating meat. gives us a base line equality for some considerations. Besides losing the delicious taste of meat in our diet (which by itself might not outweigh the animal's plight) hundreds of thousands of factory farm workers.ANIMAL RIGHTS AND MORAL NIHILISM 171 ures and pains. the utilitarian thing to do would be to work for reforms in the factory farm. But even though humans in general possess capacities which merit special consideration in some areas. and cows? Perhaps. do everything in our power to end the harmful. or the ability to suffer. permitting animals more space. and language and intelligence lie at the periphery. to end the factory farm system. my becoming vegetarian will not make a notable difference. it is not obvious that Singer has made a convincing case against these practices. and butchers would be unemployed. In suffering we are to be given equal consideration. a large part of our morality will have to do with liberating people and animals from suffering. Whereas for Benthamite classical utilitarianism. the end of animal factories and a moratorium of all but the most urgent animal experiments. Frey has argued. "there is no direct significance in the fact that a person's desires for the future go unfulfilled when he or she is killed. He argues that rational self-consciousness has a deep effect on how and what we desire. 12 Furthermore. First point out that his theory doesn't yield the results that he wants: vegetarianism. The outcome of this theory is that we ought to become vegetarians. who is "capable of having desires about its own future. exercise and pleasure. as R. How does Singer know that the abolition of factory farms will result in a net gain of preference satisfaction? Imagine the suffering that would be incurred by such abolition. Critique: Although Singer's views on the prejudice of speciesism compel us to rethink the moral status of animals. G. The Achilles Heel in his argument is the idea of preference. this fact becomes irrelevant when it comes to suffering. Since sentience lies at the core of our moral thinking." Humans have more complex needs than animals. Their families would suffer. we ought to curtail the vast majority of scientific research on animals which promotes unjustified suffering. gradual or sudden. probably not one less pig or chicken . even if we should take steps.

because we've deprived ourselves of preference satisfaction (10. Suppose the loss of the taste of meat adds up to 10.000. And so they don't. I wouldn't hesitate to operate on my grandfather.000 preference points. The utilitarian might respond that this may be true because the child will live longer than the dog and have painful memories of the pain for a longer time. For exampel. If my grandfather were in danger of losing a leg and forty dogs were each in danger of losing a leg. In fact. But there is a deeper problem with Singer's Preference Act Utilitarianism which resides in the very notion of preference itself. Each has a strong preference that my grandmother die so that they can pay their bills. Even though a dog is suffering more pain than a child.000 students and faculty suddenly decide to become vegetarians. thus saving 10. No matter how many dogs' legs I could save. so that McDonald's stays open and we vegetarians end up with a minus aggregate preference balance. The utilitarian thing to do by a factor of 100 would be to become a vegetarian. we've been immoral. The total of their preference-units is 1. but this is not to get us to the conclusion that preferences should be considered equally or that preference maximization is the only relevant criterion to be considered. For Singer the morally right act is the one that yields the highest preference satisfaction. and I could either save my grandfather's leg or all the legs of the forty dogs. suppose that 10.000 veal calves in a year and making it uneconomical for Old McDonald's Factory Farm to continue. Besides. it seems to me that I should prefer my grandfather's vital interests more than the preferences of all the dogs in the world. So let's proceed further. so that my suffering the loss of the taste of meat will yield a net disvalue in the scheme of things.172 PUBLIC AFFAIRS QUARTERLY will be raised for consumption. If the child is my child.000. I'd feel it my duty to save my grandfather's. Suppose that ten people will inherit my grandmother's vast wealth. Suppose my grand- . Singer.000 preference points and the closing of one animal factory results in 1. No doubt that an animal's desire not to suffer outweighs my desire for the taste of meat. All the Meat Lovers of America have to do is eat more meat this year. I still sense that it would be right (or at least not wrong) to give the pill to the elderly man. But not necessarily. of course.000 preference units) for no reason. I take it as deeply counter-intuitive to say that we have a duty to give the single pain reliever to the dog. By utilitarian standards. meat eaters could always nullify any move on the part of vegetarians to create a positive situation simply by devouring more meat themselves. Isolated institutions prove nothing. might argue that this only proves that I am still an immoral speciesist. then imagine that it is an elderly man who is not likely to live longer than the puppy. then I think I have a strong duty to give it to him or her-even if the dog is my dog. Well.

one which could be used (as it was by Aristotle) to justify slavery and to justify the secret killing of innocents. But attempts have been made to salvage the essential core of Singer's program in a inter-species compromise. Finally. To this we now turn. It is compatible with Nietzsche's Superman with his magnificent Will (read "Preference") for Power. is the kind that leaves no trace. then. It's simply that instead of people being pleasure/pain receptacles. including killing people. The Principle of Equality is merely the rule of impartiality: Apply your principles in a disinterested manner. doesn't my preference win out over yours? Likewise. just so long as his or her preference (or the aggregate preferences of his group) outweigh the preference of the victim? If you suddenly become despondent and no longer value life. and can ensure that only minimal bad sideeffects will follow. couldn't we justify slavery just by brainwashing the slaves to prefer slavery to freedom or at least not to value freedom more than we value having slaves? In the end Singer doesn't gain any advantages over Bentham's crude hedonic calculus. why is exploitation wrong? If I desire to exploit you more than you dislike being exploited.ANIMAL RIGHTS AND MORAL NIHILISM 173 mother's desire to continue to live is only 900 units." It is purely a formal principle without any substantive force. can't the Preference Utilitarian do anything he or she wants. In fact. It fails in particular to give a strong argument for vegetarianism or the abolition of animal factories. it turns out that Singer's Principle of Equality is not really about equality at all. why can't I utilitarianly kill you if it satisfies a preference to do so? If I can get you to care less than you do about your Mercedes Benz." Well. as a utilitarian. taking their property. all I have to do is be pretty sure that the poison I administer to grandmother's tea which induces a heart attack.-wouldn't I have a duty to kill my grandmother as painlessly as possible? "No. Singer's preference utilitarianism gets us no further than classical utilitarianism. and unequals unequally. To conclude. not according to irrelevant ones. "For you have forgotten the unintended side-effects of creating fear in the minds of others that this might be done to them so magnifying the negative preference points. according to the relevent criteria. and breaking promises to them. "Treat equals equally. Self-consciousness gives higher animals more consideration than merely sentient ones. Wouldn't I. . supposing that I. can pull it off without too much guilt." the Preference Utilitarianism exclaims. In the words of Aristotle. And it fails as a theory to establish the kind of equal consideration of interests which he aims at. Well. can I not steal your car with complete utilitarian approval? Perhaps you would reply that this would be exploitation. they now become preference receptacles.

Although the Split Level Theory seems commonsensical. The above applies to higher animals who have a highly developed nervous system. Rational self-consciousness does make a difference. If we suddenly discovered that termites and mosquitoes were highly self-conscious. Donald VanDeVeer. The Split Level Theory combines the insights of both types of theories. but they err on two counts.174 PUBLIC AFFAIRS QUARTERLY 5. For example. (1) in holding that animals don't have this quality at all (we know now that some do to some extent). whereas the need for having our tastes satisfied is a trivial need. but these views tend to neglect the aspect of rational self-consciousness as setting the majority of humans apart from the majority of animals. and (2) in holding that only rational self-consciousness gives one any rights. it needs a sup- . So while humans have the right to kill animals if animals are necessary for health or life. If there are equally good ways of finding nourishment. the need for sustenance and the need not to be harmed are important needs. we may continue our present practices. human needs override animal needs. Weak Anthropocentrism: The Split Level Theory The Split level theory is found in the work of Martin Benjamin. we do not have the right to kill higher animals simply to satisfy our tastes. so that we ought to treat humans with special respect. enabling them to suffer and develop a sense of consciousness. it is permissible to exterminate the termites and kill the mosquitoes when they threaten our interests. At the other extreme. This view rejects Singer's equal consideration of interests principle. and Louis Lombardi. and the Indirect Obligation Theory contain the insight that rational self-consciousness endows human beings with special worth. the Equal Consideration Theory and even more radical the Equal Status Theory (see below) recognize the importance of sentience and the ability to suffer as morally considerable. It says that with regard to important needs. and severely retarded people). may have an element of rational self-consciousness and some humans may lack it (say. 13 It aims at correcting the above positions. but animal's important needs override human trivial needs. This theory distinguishes between trivial needs and important needs. we would be obliged to act differently. the Minimal Status Theory. or makes one morally considerable. Since there is no evidence that termites or mosquitoes have a sense of self. the senile. A higher sort of being does emerge with humanity (and perhaps some higher primates and dolphins). but until we have evidence to that effect. babies. fetuses. then humans have an obligation to seek those ways and permit animals to live unmolested. The Cartesian No Status Theory. like chimpanzees and dolphins. It is non-speciesist in that it recognizes that some animals. The Split Level Theory recognizes that both sentience and rational self-consciousness are important in working out a global inter-species morality.

knowledge. Doesn't Lombardi commit the naturalistic fallacy in moving from a natural capacity to an inherent value? Speed. Until he does so. Having this greater range of capacities endows humans with superior inherent worth.ANIMAL RIGHTS AND MORAL NIHILISM 175 porting argument. premise (3) needs a defense. Secondly. but functional value is only an instrumental value. nevertheless. not an inherent value. beauty. why can't a large amount (say 10 units) of one capacity in entity A equal a small amount of that capacity (5 units) plus a small amount of another capacity (5 units)? A dog's superior ability to smell might equal our weak capacity to smell plus our weak capacity for taste. pleasure. Lombardi's distinction between a kind of capacity and a degree of that capacity is made to do more work than is justified. and additional type of capacity. some have superior inherent worth. (4) Humans have all (or most of) the basic capacities that animals have but significant additional ones besides. the higher the degree of its inherent worth. literacy. (3) The greater the range of an individual's capacity. the ability to smell or see may be functionally valuable to different individuals. There are several problems with Lombardi's argument. If an additional capacity gives a species additional inherent worth. We might set forth the argument this way. By virtue of what criterion do we decide which capacities are not merely functional but inherently valuable to the degree that their possession gives individuals inherent value? Until Split-Level Theorists like Lombardi set forth their grounds for inherent value. who argues that while all animals have inherent worth. An eagle's capacity for sight and flight may equal or exceed our capacity for deliberations. (1) Animals and humans are different types of living things. why doesn't the greater degree of that capacity give an individual greater worth than others with less of it? Furthermore. (5) Therefore humans are of more inherent worth than animals. (2) These types are differentiated by the range of their (individual's) capacities. 14 Inherent worth is tied up with a being's possessing valuable kinds (rather than degrees) of capacities. we may well doubt his conclusion. practical rationality. If rationality is inherently worthy. The clearest attempt at such an argument is given by Louis Lombardi. why doesn't possessing more of it grant an individual more inherent value than possessing less of it? Lombardi needs to explain why it is that only kinds of (rather than degrees of a kind) count. First of all. Human beings have the capacity for moral agency. which while it may not be superior to the other kinds of capacities. . their theory must remain merely an interesting hypothesis. is.

To say we have such value is to say that we are something more than. "There is no rational basis for separating out the human animal. or the deprivation. the suffering. They are of equal worth to human beings. each of us a conscious creature having an individual welfare that has importance to us whatever our usefulness to others. to insure that we do not pave the way for such injustices as slavery or sexual discrimination. something different from. The genius and the retarded child. race religion.176 PUBLIC AFFAIRS QUARTERLY 6. Moreover.. onl5 We call the view that equates human beings with animals the Equal Status Thesis. was 'for the greater benefit of the master race. believe and feel things. 17 What is the basis of the equal inherent value? Just this: "we are each of us the experiencing subject of a life. the brain surgeon and the fruit vendor. recall and expect things. regardless of their sex. intelligence or wealth. and (3) the total elimination of commercial and sport hunting and trapping." .ln time. whether one is loved or admired-or despised and loathed. According to Regan. birthplace. Its foremost proponent is the philosopher. and the exceptional cases are so isolated as to serve only to confuse the issue. . too. what is wrong is not the pain caused. or surgically manipulated. That. Radical Egalitarianism: The Equal Status Thesis The co-director of the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has said. mere receptacles. to be treated in ways that do not reduce them to the status of things. we must believe that all who have inherent value have it equally. the Nazis said. we'll look on those who work in [animal laboratories] with the horror now reserved for the men and women who experimented on Jews in Auschwitz . all of these uses constitute infringements on animal rights.. and all have an equal right to be treated with respect. if they exist as resources for others.. What's fundamentally wrong is "the system that allows us to view animals as our resources. the prince and the pauper. or put in our cross hairs for sport or money. Similarly to be discarded as irrelevant are one's talents or skills." 16 Why is it wrong to treat animals as our resources? Because they have inherent value and are ends in themselves just like ourselves. (2) the total dissolution of commercial animal agriculture. who seeks to achieve three goals related to the treatment of animals: (1) the total abolition of the use of animals in science. here for us-to be eaten. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. Tom Regan. and so on. personality or pathology. all possess it equally. though these compound the wrong. They're all mammals . Mother Teresa and the most unscrupulous used car salesman-all have inherent value. Even though Regan concedes that some individuals' uses of animals for bio-medical experimentation might be justified and free range grazing farming is better than factory farming. We want and prefer things.

3.ANIMAL RIGHTS AND MORAL NIHILISM 177 Regan's Deontological Egalitarianism (Rights and Respect) Argument can be stated thus. following deontologists like Kant and Rawls. First. Regan rejects the notion of differing degrees of inherent value based on differing degrees of self-awareness or some other mental capability. that merely being conscious entails less value than being self-conscious.g.) animals have those same rights.18 . the mentally ill. l. so that there would seem to be degrees of value inter-species and intra-species. almost all (excepting infants. mammals). affirming that this leads to the view that mentally superior people have stronger moral rights than mentally inferior people. 4. All Humans (or all subject-of-life humans) have equal positive value. Intelligence. He simply had not given any evidence for the thesis that all animals have equal worth and are to be treated with equal respect. and freedom are inherent values. Since humans have rights (to life. we must feel dissatisfied with Regan's assessment. such as dolphins. the senile. some may appeal to the threshold view of self-consciousness and argue that all and only those who are capable of rational deliberation and life plans are to be accorded a serious right to life. I have argued elsewhere that the threshold argument is arbitrary.. he hasn't explained why being an experiencing subject entails possessing inherent value. but that is a state less valuable than being fully self-conscious with plans and projects. then it would also seem self-evident to some. especially rationally self-conscious. may also belong to this group. It is desirable to have more reason or intelligence rather than less reason or intelligence. It's true that humans have varying degrees of them. First. How do we know that being "subject-to-a-life" grants one such inalienable positive value? Is it supposed to be intuitively self-evident? If so. 2. but animals have less of them than humans. Several problems arise in Regan's theory of equal inherent value. Someone in a daze or a dream may be minimally conscious. gorillas. There are at least two ways to respond to Regan here. There is no morally relevant difference between humans and (some) animals (e. and unsound. ad hoc. While there may be differences between humans with regard to the ability to reason. not to be harmed. 5. If so. Some higher animals. the seriously retarded and brain damaged) have sufficient ability to be counted within the circle of full moral citizenry. Moral rights derive from the possession of value. and chimpanzees.. but as a species (or on average) we have more of what makes for worth than other species. Therefore all (some) animals have equal positive worth with humans. knowledge. etc.

for (only eleven pages after saying that we may not intervene in favor of the sheep) he argues that we . So what are we to say about the rights of sheep and rabbits not to be torn asunder and harmed by wolves and other predatory animals? Here is Regan's reply. and birds from marauding predators. tigers. to make the world safe for pacifist herbivores and plants. Brown. wolves. but they can't say that we have duties to eliminate all predatory behavior. members of the cat family (lions. then we have a duty to try to help him. Furthermore can't Regan's argument be used to prohibit us from saving humans from wild animals? From bacteria? From insane humans who are only following their nature in raping and killing. Consider the policeman coming to the distraught parents of a child who had been brutally raped and killed by a homicidal maniac. we are not claiming that we have a duty to assist the child against the attack of the mad man. Smith brutalizing your daughter. "Well. since ought implies can and the wolf is only doing what is natural and cannot do otherwise. "You see. but then I realized that he was only following his nature as a violent animal. for carnivores can't help their need for meat. deer. How can these animal egalitarians rest until all of nature is turned into the Peaceable Kingdom. If we intervene we are violating the wolf's right to dinner. It fails to explain why we shouldn't intervene in the animal world. so I was obliged to leave him alone. in claiming that we have a prima facie duty to assist those children whose rights have been violated. Both Regan and Paul Taylor (below) have difficulty with the violent behavior of wild animals. If the sheep has a positive right to live in peace. Mrs. It doesn't fit their vision of a Peaceable Kingdom. leopards). Even though the sheep and rabbits have a right to life and a right not to be harmed. we have a duty to the sheep to save him from the wolf. Mrs. wouldn't we be remiss in our duty if we didn't take reasonable steps to get the sheep out of harm's way? Likewise. Shouldn't radical zoophiles go into the wild and protect helpless rabbits. eliminating animal cruelty. even if the wolves' actions are natural. If a boulder came hurling down and was about to crush the sheep.178 PUBLIC AFFAIRS QUARTERLY There is one further problem with Regan's approach which should be mentioned. and other carnivores? Perhaps carnivores could be confined to separate quarters and fed the carcasses of other animals. Their "respect for nature" doesn't allow humans to intervene as environmental impirialists." Or to paraphrase Regan. Brown. the wolf has no duty to respect those rights. where the lion is made to lie down with the lamb? The suffering that wolves cause rabbits or leopards and tigers cause antelope and deer is far more devasting than what the clean shot of an expert hunter's rifle inflicts. I would have intervened when I saw Mr." One should note that Regan is inconsistent. including human beings. 19 I think that Regan is wrong here. let alone all carnivores. since the mad man neither can nor does violate anyone's rights.

224-5) One way to approach animal rights is to break our hold on anthropocentrism altogether and view all of life from a perspective of species impartiality. let alone all mammals over the age of one. We can't digest grass or produce a . It would constitute a Getsalt switch from anthropocentric to biocentric thinking. The leopard values his fiery speed and ability to leap over bushes and branches in the hunt and scorns our need for weapons with which to kill game. one of the most intriguing hypotheses to be put forth in recent years is the Gaia Hypothesis of James Lovelock which views the biosphere as a grand macroorganism. and beauty of the biotic community. the air. even a living creature.. and ability to soar through the air more than he does human rationality. the oceans. as possessing equal worth. From there he argues that since there is no relevant difference between humans and mammals (over the age of one). Super-Egalitarianism: Biocentric Ethics "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity. stability. we should treat all such mammals equally. the land surfaces are parts of a giant system . which provides a basis for his entire moral theory. He holds a deep intuition that all people are of equal worth and appeals to a philosophical consensus on that assumption. [exhibiting] the behavior of a single organism. swinging gymnastically from branch to branch. possess equal positive value. for we are rational. abductive and inductive reasoning in ways that animals can't. Adopting a Gaian Ethic would mean that we seek to promote global or biocentric flourishing. We can use deductive. In this regard. Gaia can and will get along without him. Humans may protest that humans are on average far superior to animals. According to this view Gaia has become self-conscious in Man. why should that virtue count more than the virtues of various animals? The eagle values his visual acuity. whose several parts interrelate and respond to each other as do the various cells and organs of the body. "Living matter. How is this different from a rabid wolf or dog's attacking a sheep? 20 In the end Regan hasn't justified either his position or the implications of that position."21 "Gaia" is the name of the Greek goddess of earth. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.ANIMAL RIGHTS AND MORAL NIHILISM 179 may kill a rabid dog when it attacks a human. We are left with moral nihilism." (Aldo Leopold: Sand County Almanac pp. We do have that virtue. Regan's moral system breaks down and leaves us with no morality at all. 7. We cannot match the monkey's dexterity. True enough. nor the squirrel's tight-rope walking ability. But if there is no reason to believe that all people.. but overall Man is only an epiphenomenon. nor the graceful play of the shark cutting a smooth knife-like path through the sea. but the question is. being dependent on Gaia but causally insignificant in the scheme of things.

They cannot act morally or immorally. and self-servingly prizing ourselves as superior to all others-"homo sapiens"-"the wise ones" we label ourselves-no other creature approaches our arrogance. equally valuable. the cockroach has us beat hands down. The Earth's ecosystem is a complex web of interconnected elements. worthy of consideration. not interfered with. since they are relevantly similar to animals in this regard. whose main talent seems to be destroying the ecosystem. he becomes a steward and plain citizen on a par with other life forms. and the retarded humans have rights or are morally considerable. each sound. do not make moral judgments. wouldn't we be forced to give up our anthropocentric bias and take on a more biocentric appreciation of the matter? Rather than over-valuing reason we would see that it has a special role to play but that other virtues are equally important in the "global scheme of things. While in some ways different from the Gaian hypothesis. but they do not deliberate on right or wrong. The spider seems to enjoy spinning fine. cannot be praised or blamed. To deny that animals (mammals at least) have rights (or are considerable) on the basis of not being rational would force us to deny that small children. who can be helped or harmed. The new vision is one of biocentric egalitarianism in which Man occupies but one niche among many important niches. They have a right to be left alone. doing what comes naturally. A mountain lion who tears up a sheep or deer for dinner or a wolf who ravishes a rabbit is not a bad animal. complex webs which are beyond our power. especially in that it focuses on individuals rather than on wholes. they are worthy of our moral consideration. so they are not morally responsible for their behavior. and if genetic reproduction is the benchmark of evolutionary success. These considerations take on the form of a cumulative argument for biocentric egalitarianism. but are innocent. bumbling. If we take such an impartial Gaian view of the matter. and possibly they should be helped to avoid suffering. where rather than the conqueror. They are just following their nature. Their membership is evolutionarily on the same basis as all the non-human members. animals are not normally considered as moral agents.180 PUBLIC AFFAIRS QUARTERLY quantity of milk that a cow gives. But. They are moral patients. we can't use ultrasonic waves like a bat to get around in the dark. of course. Stumbling." All of life is valuable. . threatening animals. functioning element being mutually dependent on the rest. the senile. Humans are not conquerors but simply plain citizens of the Earth's community." is the most sustained defense of the biocentric approach to ethics. Paul Taylor's theory of "Respect for Nature. land-lubbers are we. But as living beings. 2. clumsy. as it were. 1. 22 Taylor sets forth four considerations which together constitute a coherent picture of a species impartial vision of the value of life.

living things have interests. With regard to the farmer. I think that 1* commits the naturalist fallacy. so that each may fluorish in its own particular way. and in the interest of humans to live healthy. 5. That is. educated lives." and a ruined businessman may view a huricane as good weather. All living things who have interests. It is in the interest of the flower to fluorish. We each and all thrive in our own particular way. which conscious beings engage in. in the interest of a pig to eat in peace. cooperative. Having a good and being good or possessing inherent value are separate concepts and the inference from one to the other needs justification. Taylor needs to give us an argument for the view that the concept of inherent objective worth is a coherent concept. whereas this may be bad weather for the sun bather. Ivan the Assassin is good at assassinating Tzars and commissars. whereas the skier may call a snow storm "good weather. but I see no reason to say it has inherent worth. Someone may be a good thief without being good. for nothing has been said about positive value in the first four premises. nonviolent. let alone whether the concept is instantiated. a way of fluorishing (maybe many ways). The good of every individual organism has equal worth and deserves our equal moral consideration. pursuing its own good in its own way. Being good and having inherent value seem relative to having an interest. in the interest of a tree to grow tall and spread its branches into the sky. if he has just taken out a million dollar insurance policy on his deteriorating coastal estate. So Taylor needs and additional premise. Indeed. What he offers is something like I* Every living thing which has a good is valuable. are inherently good. To say that something is . the claim that humans by their very nature are superior to other species is a groundless claim. rain may constitute good weather. And a properly functioning Human Immune Deficiency virus (HIV) lodged snugly in a cell is fluorishing.ANIMAL RIGHTS AND MORAL NIHILISM 3. Therefore. Whether weather is good depends on whose interests are being considered. This is not a valid argument as it stands. The natural locus of value seems to be the activity of evaluating. all life forms are of equal inherent positive worth. Whether we are concerned with standards of merit or with the concept of inherent worth. 4. Consider the concept of good weather. 181 Each individual organism is conceived of as a teleological center of life. being left alone by humans. but that says nothing about the value of the thing itself. It is true that everything has a good. Each living being has a particular role to play within a particular niche in the ecosystem. and in the light of (1-3) must be rejected as nothing more than an irrational bias in our own favor. in the interest of the eagle to soar gracefully in the heavens. but that doesn't give him any worth.

By his logic it would be wrong for doctors to kill bacteria or viruses which are threatening the lives of humans. sexism. the HIV virus occupies a niche in the ecosystem. worthless (de trop. A second criticism of Taylor's egalitarian biocentricism is this. 83).. Imagine it simply as one heap of filth. Both Regan and Taylor's arguments seem to lead to this conclusion. it would be better for trees to exist in peace than for both humans and trees to exist if humans unjustly went about cutting down trees. like experimenting scientists or doctors. and then imagine the ugliest world you can possibly conceive. the beautiful one should exist. We . Why prefer a human to an HIV's existence? Of course. unlike yellow. mountins. Imagine it as beautiful as you can . you could say that the AIDS patient himself has a right of selfdefense to destroy the HIV. say for the purposes of making paper for books-even books about environmental ethics. further. only." So we value speedster Spike who runs the mile in less than 4 minutes relative to the standards of humans running the mile in races or in hunting for wild animals. and dorm rooms? Dorm rooms can flourish and run down just like living entities. plants. stars. but known through the intuitions. It would be a good thing for it to exist and a bad thing for the ugly one to exist. isn't biocentrism also a prejudice? Why ascribe value only to living things and not non-living things like computers. cars." Regan and Taylor seem to hold a Moorean Version of the Good. and as such is just as valuable as we are. simple property like the color yellow." (Principia Ethica p. For Taylor. Could we not one-up Taylor's egalitarianism which equates our high worth with that of animals and plants? Could we not argue that Taylor is right to say that we all. We all are valueless.. So much for the dictum "People before Property. apparently. and speciesism are sins. Even if there were no conscious beings who might derive pleasure or pain in either world. Moore avers. but what grounds are there for third parties.182 PUBLIC AFFAIRS QUARTERLY valuable is short hand for the formula "Some conscious agent A wants or commends some entity E relative to some standardS and for some purpose P. But. hired guns to knock off innocent enemies? On Taylor's logic. For Moore "good" refers to an unanalyzable. It's not empirically identifiable. it is nonnatural. as Sartre would say). Moore asks us to "imagine one world exceedingly beautiful. helium atoms. Taylor goes so far as to advocate reparations for offended species. rocks. Spike's talents are less impressive. so if we accept that emendation then it is just as bad or wrong to smash a rock or destroy a computer or dorm room as it is to kill a student who lives in a dorm room. if racism. to take sides and engage in viral destruction? Are our scientists and physicians well-paid hit men and women. animals and humans are of equal value-but wrong in thinking that we have any positive value at all. Relative to the speed of a cheetah or leopard or sports car or a light wave.

parasites. From these the community of life could recover. Ecosystems would return to their proper balance. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. Life communities in natural ecosystems would gradually return to their former healthy state. and child could disappear from the face of the Earth without any significant detrimental consequence for the good of wild animals and plants. The poisoning and polluting of their environment would come to an end. Spilled oil.ANIMAL RIGHTS AND MORAL NIHILISM 183 must atone for our former crimes and give special treatment to wetlands and wild flowers. But how do we pay the bees for all the honey we have stolen from them or the salmon for all the fish we have eaten or all the flukes or roundworms or viruses we have annihilated-we genocidal monsters! What infinite compensation do we owe nature? How can we possibly repay the termites that we have exterminated in favor of our lifeless property? In the end Taylor's position equates to a moral misanthropy. Killing a wildflower is tantamount to killing a human and may be worse. would again be able to make their full contribution to a life-sustaining atmosphere for the whole planet. and beauty of the biotic community. as it has so often done in the past. 25 The conclusion seems to be: annihilate humanity for the good of the ecosystem! CONCLUSION I have argued that while the Cartesian view on the status of animals has the facts wrong. From the point of view of the ecosystem humans are unnecessary. Tropical forests. lakes. cease doing their terrible work. The destruction of their habitats by human "developments" would cease. and even radioactive waste might finally. It goes as follows. On the contrary many of them would be greatly benefited. 24 Note Aldo Leopold's famous dictum (quoted above). and oceans of the world would (perhaps) eventually become clean again. gratuitous. Taylor develops his thesis in great detail. air. The river. stability. which are now even more perplexing . Note similar sentiments in Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire where he says that he would sooner shoot a man than a snake. their demise would not be a bad thing. human genocide would be justified. Singer's act utilitarianism cannot withstand the classical criticisms of that version of utilitarianism. plastic trash. stability and beauty of the biotic community. Every last man. 23 Since humans are the conscious perpetrators of anti-biocentric behavior. "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity. But the ecological disasters now perpetrated on it by humans-disasters from which it might not recover-these it would no longer have to endure. The well-being of humans is dependent on the well-being of the biosphere (ecosystem) rather than vice-versa. for example. The Earth's land. woman." It would follow that if the destruction of the human race would promote the integrity. and water would no longer be subject to the degradation they are now undergoing as the result of large-scale technology and uncontrolled population growth. after many centuries. spongers. suffering only the disruptions of natural events such as volcanic eruptions and glaciation.

vol. equally worthless. NY: Prometheus. which seeks to correct Singer's approach. 4. for the scope of moral patiency is now extended to include all sentient beings. University of Mississippi Received June 20. I think Regan is correct about the egalitarian consensus. (Carr bridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 8 (1991). Perhaps we are forced back to a contractarian approach to morality. John Kleinig. We are all equal. " 26 The animal rights debate forces us back to Square One. Both quotations are cited in Cleveland Amory. the institution of duties and rights? Well. I. 1. trans. 1. vol. Richard Garner made me aware of these citations. Philip Austin. eds. 6. William Whewell. Rene Descartes. and especially Sterling Harwood. I have examined several versions of contemporary egalitarianism in my paper. But all of this calls for a separate study. 233 cited in Animal Rights and Human Obligations. For work on animal consciousness. then there are no relevant moral distinctions. Man Kind?: Our Incredible War on Wildlife (New York: Harper & Row. 1976). Discourse on Method in The Philosophical Works of Descartes. Animal Consciousness (Buffalo. 2. "A Critique of Contemporary Egalitarianism" in Faith and Philosophy. fails to stop the slide to radical mammalian and biocentric egalitarianism since it commits the naturalistic fallacy. "The life of a man is of no greater importance to the universe than an oyster. Haldane and Ross. 219. made helpful criticisms of a previous draft of this paper for which I am grateful. The Split Level Theory. forces us to ask what the point of ethics is in the first place. Michael Levin. If everything is equal. Stephen Stich "Do Animals Have Beliefs?" Australian Journal of Philosophy. but one significant point has to do with the resolution of conflicts of interests in a way that staves off a Hobbesian state of nature. 131. 3. Wallace Matson. In this case. perhaps there are many. egalitarianism nihilism. Our Duties to Animals. 244. p.184 PUBLIC AFFAIRS QUARTERLY for the theory. 1911 ). What is the warrant of practices like rule following. (London: 1885). 5. see Daisie and Michael Radner. . p. since we normally cannot or need not make contracts with animals. Animal egalitarianism leads to biocentric egalitarianism which in turn leads to object egalitarianism which reduces to an absurdity. Lectures. As Hume put it. 1989). wherein no one has value. Peter Singer and Tom Regan (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. 1974). and anonymous reviewer. 1991 NOTES *John Jagger. the correct view may be some combination of the second and third theories discussed: the Minimal Status Theory and the Indirect Obligation Theory on the status of animals.

Frey. Op. The quotation is attributed to Ingrid Newberg. G. p. CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co. XVII. 24. Interests and Rights: The Case Against Animal Rights (Oxford: Clarendon Press. Who Will Die. ed. 26. See references in note 1. G. "Animal Liberation" The New York Review of Books (April 5. 13. 1985). 5 (1983). 1986). cit. Peter Singer. R. "The Quest of Gaia. 1990). 65 (1975). "The Ethics of Respect for Nature" (op. vol. 1986). and Plastic Trees (Belmont. Martin Benjamin. vol. vol. Paul Taylor argues in a similar vein that we may not interfere with animals and kill natural predators of a species... and Rights. p. such as the wolf attacking a deer. cit. 20. 23. Tom Regan. "The Case for Animal Rights. Donald VanDeVeer." The Washingtonian (August 1986). People.). Rights. (Oxford: Blackwell. 12.. 284f. CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. ch. 14." New Scientists. Respect for Nature. ch. Animal Liberation (New York: Avon Books. 1968)." Environmental Ethics. 17. 296." . Thomas Mappes and Jane Zembaty. 1983). 3 ( 1981 ). 57 (March 1979) and R. 8. 9. Section 1. Tom Regan. Killing and Suffering (Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 20. (February 1990) 16. Paul Taylor. p. "Ethics and Animal Consciousness" in Social Ethics. Why non-interference for wolves but not wolf-like men? Respect for Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press. David Hume. 1983). Ibid. Peter Singer. James Lovelock and Sidney Epton. 108. Respect. p. Louis Lombardi. The Case for Animal Rights (Berkeley: University of California Press. Jeremy Bentham. 19.." In Defense of Animals. 25. p. 195. Paul Taylor. eds. p. Peter Singer. 176. 4. McCabe. Penguins. 15. 15. Louis Lombardi. "Inherent Worth. 5. p. 1986). 1982). Paul Taylor. "Who Will Live. Edward Abbey. "The Ethics of Respect for Nature.ANIMAL RIGHTS AND MORAL NIHILISM 185 vol. 1980). 21. 10. 1976). cit. (1990). 304. p. "On Suicide. 18. K. 11. ch. eds. Note that Singer interprets interests broadly as desires. The Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789). 1973)." op." Environmental Ethics. Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong (Belmont. op. 22. Desert Solitaire (New York: Ballantine Books. Frey. and Respect for Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press. In criticizing Regan's position I should note that I have learned much from him and consider his work of a high calibre. and "Beyond Cruelty. "Interspecific Justice" in Donald VanDeVeer and Christine Pierce. cit.